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Remembering '99: Keeley Dowling

It wouldn’t be a day in the wide world of women’s soccer without a reference to the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup – a historical event of sorts for reasons that span far beyond the words on this simple page. Looking back on myself as that young, impressionable 16-year-old ball girl, I often reminisce about how much that 90 minutes of soccer impacted, rocked and, thus, changed my entire life as I knew it. I stood on the sidelines and watched as my idols not simply passed the ball up and down the field, but also captured my heart and soul with their every step. At that moment, I looked around and said to myself, “Look at the impact this game has on so many thousands of people.” Then, just as quickly as my thoughts entered my mind, they were shaken when a 60-mile-per-hour ball exploded off Julie Foudy’s foot and pelted me in the temple.

Nope. Nope. Wait. That was just what happened in my head after I realized, a week later, that the game was even played. I was definitely not a ball girl and wasn’t at the game at all. As a matter of fact, I may or may not have forgotten the game was on. I’d love to say that this, now a poignantly historic moment in the history books, was a huge phenomenon in my personal soccer evolution. Instead, I was probably out back playing tiddlywinks with my neighborhood crush, having a midday tiff with my mother or maybe was just passed out in a corner somewhere. What I’m trying to say is that at the wise, old age of 16, this born-and-raised Indianan already knew everything about soccer and, well, about life really. After all, I was a teen.

I did, in all seriousness, take a lot from that event. However, it wasn’t the game itself that left a lasting impression. Rather, it was the months that followed that carried the most weight and left the most impact upon me. Not only did the world see the athleticism, talent and passion in women but also, for the first time, we saw a sport rather than a gender. I noticed for a brief time to follow that women ruptured the gender separation in sports, gave soccer a new home in the U.S. and supplied women with a new hope. I saw potential for growth through sports on both a personal and cultural level. Now, 10 years later, that match, in all its glory was a literal foundation to my own ability to continue to play at the highest level.

If I could do it again, I might take an hour and a half out of my busy, tiddlywinks-filled schedule to watch the United States finally start to understand the world’s most beautiful game and let it further shape me a bit as a young female athlete. I missed that chance but my hope for other young ladies is that this –Women’s Professional Soccer- a continuation of that historic match in 1999 gives girls that growth through the game of soccer in all its brilliance and elegance.

Keeley Dowling is a defender for Sky Blue FC