Denise Bender played in all four games in Italy on that first trip for the U.S. Women’s National Team in 1985 and they turned out to be her only four caps. She played college soccer before the NCAA sanctioned the sport, appearing for club sides at both Washington State and the University of Washington. Her most competitive action came from the women’s club FC Lowenbrau, who won national titles 80-’83 when they were coached by Mike Ryan, who lead that first team to Italy. An analytical player and verbal leader from the back, Bender was a tough tackler. She lived most of her life in Seattle before her job brought her to Thousand Oakes, California, where she still plays in the Simi Valley Women’s Open Division. While she has done some coaching in AYSO, she feels that as she starts to slow down more, her coaching may pick up.
More on the first-ever U.S. WNT match: OOOSA! | First Goal | Players Reflect
Career caps/Goals: 4/0
National Team Career: 1985
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Position played in first match: Right fullback
College: Washington State (1977) & University of Washington (1980-1983)
Last WNT game: August 25, 1985, against Denmark (0-1 Loss)
What she’s doing now: Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Amgen, a bio-pharmaceutical company, in Thousand Oakes, California.
WNT Career Highlight: “It was probably playing the Danish team, because I thought at that time they had the highest level of skill and abilities of any team I’d ever played against. They were also the quickest, speed-wise. At that time too, what impressed me was the support behind women’s soccer in Europe and especially the Italians. They were chanting for us, kids were there after the games for autographs. That stuff was totally new to me. The highest level of competition we had was at the Sports Festival, and before that, the USSF National Cup, and we didn’t have very many fans there.”
Memories of the first game: “My memory may be lacking, but I believe we rode the bus with the Italian team, and I think some of them were smoking. I remember there were lots of fans when we got there and the field we played at had a great clubhouse with all the history of the club on the walls. I was impressed by that. During the game, what impressed me was the kind of sneaky activities by the Italian players…okay it was the cheating, the drama by the Italians. They would take the ball after a foul and walk away. I do remember Tucka Healy cracking her head open on the goalpost. I think she just got some butterfly bandages and just kept playing.”
Thoughts on how women’s soccer has grown: “It has taken leaps and bounds in a positive direction. I’m a little disappointed in the failure of the professional league because I thought that was a great breeding ground for the World Cup Team and without that, you won’t get a look at some of the players who might be able to play at that level. There are very few avenues for you to get picked up on the national team, but back then there were less. It used to be that you played on a club team in your state, and if you made the Regionals, the national team coaches would come and see you play. I enjoy watching the level of play with the national team nowadays and support their activity. It certainly has produced some very articulate leaders. I have friends who have kids who idolize the women on the national team and that’s fabulous.”
Thoughts on the 1999 Women’s World Cup: “I was at the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final. I played with Michelle Akers and she was totally a force to be reckoned with. I felt that maybe our time came a little too early, but I still felt connected somehow in that I was part of the process. I was thrilled when we won, it was amazing.”