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U.S. WNT Flashback - 20th Anniversary of First-Ever Match: Denise Boyer

DENISE BOYER (now Merdich)
Denise Boyer played her college soccer at the University of Puget Sound, as she had no idea at the time that there was a higher level of women’s soccer. But it was 1980 when she started, so really, there wasn’t. Anson Dorrance approached her after she had graduated and asked her if she wanted to play college soccer. Too late. The speedy midfielder was creative with the ball and enjoyed making her teammates look good. She played for the Cozars out of Seattle during her high school years (under her future head coach on the national Team, Mike Ryan) and did end up getting a scholarship from UPS at the end of her college career.

More on the first-ever U.S. WNT match: OOOSA! | First Goal | Players Reflect

Career caps/Goals:
National Team Career:  1985 & 1987
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Position played in first match: Right wing midfield
College:  University of Puget Sound  (1980-84)
Last WNT game: July 11, 1987, vs. Norway (0-1 Loss)

What she’s doing now: Works at West Campus Sports and Orthopedic Physical Therapy, a physical therapy clinic in Federal Way, Washington. Married in 1986, she has a 17-year-old son Jeff, a cross-country and track athlete.

WNT Career Highlight: “Every new thing was a highlight. Before we became a national team that was recognized, we were a paper team. In 1984, Denise Bender said I should come to this tryout in Washington, D.C., and I had never tried out for a team in my life. I thought that was the coolest thing. The next year, we were invited to the Sports Festival, and that was the best thing. It was always in my mind to play in the Olympics, even if I had no idea how to pursue it. They told us there that whoever made the final team from the Festival would go on to a tournament in Italy. Then they announced the team and we had a short amount of time to get our passports. Everyday was just as new and exciting. Then we went to C.W. Post to train, and that was the best thing! I was just so excited and appreciative that the Federation was recognizing us. Then we get on that long plane ride, and that was amazing. And the next thing we know, we are on a bus in Milan for a horrible long trip to Jesolo, except it wasn’t horrible, it was also exciting. And then I was going to get to play soccer with these wonderful girls, most of whom I knew. And to top it off, Mike Ryan was the coach and I knew his vision was incredible.  He had a vision where we played using our skills, where the game was well-thought out.”

Memories of the first game: “That was an eye-opening experience. When I played, if I knocked someone over, I would catch them, apologize and then take off. When I think of Italy, I think about how if they got dumped, they went down and were very dramatic, and then the lady with the magic sponge came out. It was the first time anyone had ever pulled on my shorts. We were definitely educated about another side of soccer. (In 1986 when Anson Dorrance took over), he talked about the mental toughness, and I probably didn’t have that. My friends talked me into going back and trying out that second year with him, and I just didn’t have that killer instinct. I wouldn’t have run over someone, I would have found a different way to accomplish the goal.”

“I was just happy to be out there. I didn’t know I was good, but I knew that I could walk on the field and nothing else mattered. We were family. you could have the worst day and when the whistle blew, we were in a different universe. I just loved it. We were passionate about it. I still love playing.”

Thoughts on how women’s soccer has grown: “I watched the women play the last game, and I was thinking that we are coming back to where my group would have gone if we got the opportunity. They are more skilled and they can’t rely on that physical dominance because everyone has caught up with that. You are seeing girls use a little more patience and skill.”

“I am so proud of women’s soccer, it’s been incredible. Very few people know that I played for the national team. It’s a special thing. I don’t tell people because they usually can’t get past that. I want them to see the love I have for the game. Soccer is a little broken right now, the youth girls now are a bit burned out. It’s very professional now, the girls get injured, and go through so much just to get the scholarships. They don’t play for the love of it. They are not coming back to play after college.”

“It was a privilege and still continues to be a privilege to have played on the national team. People talk about our second-hand uniforms, but my son grew up playing with my medals and wearing my uniform and taking real good care of it. I want to say thank you to the U.S. Soccer Federation for giving us that opportunity. I really loved being in Italy, it was so beautiful. To this day, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world.”

Thoughts on the 1999 Women’s World Cup: “I usually will tape the Women’s National Team games and that’s what I did for the Final. I don’t watch the games right when they are happening. I want to know the outcome because I still get way too nervous because it’s almost as if I was playing. I go back and watch it and relax and appreciate the beauty of the game. I couldn’t watch the Final live, but I am so excited for what they have done.”

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