The U.S. Women's National Team's Latest Hall of Famer: Joy Fawcett
The biggest compliment you can give Joy Fawcett may be that she was always totally under control on the soccer field. Fawcett seemed to glide through games without ever getting caught off-balance or out of position, never at the focal point of that heart-stopping maelstrom that often occurs so often in a team’s defensive third.
Fawcett’s sublime talent through one of the most decorated and storied careers in Women’s National Team history was distinguished not as much by what she did, but by what she didn’t let others do.
You see, Fawcett, to perhaps coin a term, was the ultimate “defuser.” Her innate ability to read the game, to defuse potential danger before it became dangerous, was one of her greatest and always overlooked talents. The fact that she did it with such grace and surgical-like precision is witnessed in just the two yellow cards she earned during her national team career.
She’d be the first to admit that she wasn’t the best in the air, that she used her right foot almost exclusively and that you rarely saw her slide tackle. Yet, she won the majority of head balls, could use her left with aplomb, and when needed, rarely lost a 50-50 ball if the game called for that kind of confrontation.
She possessed tremendous speed, razor sharp skills and legendary fitness, which truth be told, somehow seemed to get better after the birth of her first, then second, then third child.
Perhaps one of her greatest legacies was that she was the first of the USA’s true “soccer moms.” She was the first player to give birth and return to action at the highest levels of the international game.
“Off the field, she showed all of us just how loving and compassionate she was in the way she taught and nurtured her family,” said Mia Hamm. “I know she has been a great role model for me in the raising of my daughters as she was always so open into letting us be a part of her family.”
Quiet off the field, Fawcett did not possess the pizzazz of her fellow four members of the “Fab 5.” The quintet helped the USA win the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup and played all the way through the 2004 Olympics, featuring the iconic and dynamic goal scoring Hamm, the loquacious born leader Julie Foudy, the flamboyant and passionate Brandi Chastain or the legendary Queen of Caps Kristine Lilly.
But Fawcett was one of the most respected players ever by the U.S. Women’s National Team players and at the end of her career, was one of the USA’s co-captains.
"While playing with Joy I often found myself watching her with amazement on the field,” said Foudy, her long-time teammate and fellow Hall of Famer. “She did things so effortlessly and with such grace. She was the best defender in the world for almost two decades, and yet she never seemed to sweat, have to make up for a missed tackle or get out of position. She just had this innate sense of how to shut a player down and was always a pass ahead of the game. When you add to that sixth sense, an incredible ability to beat players offensively with her pace, she was a different class altogether. It is an honor to be alongside her in the Hall of Fame.”
Somehow appropriately, the final game of her career was not at the tear-drenched finale that saw Hamm and Foudy step away from the game on Dec. 8, 2004 at the end of the USA’s Fan Celebration Tour. She didn’t play in that game, sitting calmly and contently on the bench after being felled by a back injury that dogged the end of her playing days. No, her final match came at the figurative top of Mt. Olympus in the 2004 Olympic gold medal game in Athens, Greece, where she famously helped shut down a vaunted Brazilian strike force that sent waves after waves of attacks at the U.S. goal.
Predictably, Fawcett didn’t flinch. Through her 17 years playing for her country, she never did.
Not through her 239 caps for the USA, still good for fourth best all-time. Not through her four FIFA Women’s World Cups, all as a starter, two of which she won, playing every minute of three consecutive tournaments.
She didn’t flinch through her three Olympic Games that garnered two Olympic golds and one silver and was arguably the best player for the USA over every single one of her world championships. She was certainly the most consistent.
Speaking of consistent, is it possible that of her 239 caps she failed to start a match just five times? Amazing, but true.
She played three seasons in the WUSA for the San Diego Spirit, where she rebounded from the birth of her third child to lead the Spirit to the brink of the title game in the final year of league.
Not to be forgotten is that the Huntington Beach, Calif. product honed her game in Orange County and is still the highest scoring defender in U.S. history. She was a flank midfielder in college at Berkeley and for the WNT in the early days, but she started the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup on the backline and stayed there for the rest of her career. Her most famous goal was no doubt the bullet header off a corner kick against Germany in the quarterfinal match of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the winning goal in the dramatic 3-2 victory witnessed by President Clinton and his family.
“I guess as simple as I can state it, she was the best defender in the world,” said Hamm, who went against Fawcett countless times in training. “There was nothing that she couldn’t do and no attacking personality that she couldn’t shut down. She had all the skills to be one of the best players in the world. She had a combination of speed, agility, technical skill, tactical understanding, and the ability to set play and attack from the defense. She was also an unassuming leader whose determination, competitive spirit, and relentless work ethic set an example for all of us who were blessed to be her teammate.”
Pioneer, world champion, mother, leader, role model, Fawcett did it all during her historic career. She may have been elected into the Hall a few years after her contemporaries, but no female player has been more deserving.
Fawcett by the Numbers:
3 Olympic Games participated in
3 Daughters had during career
4 FIFA Women’s World Cups participated in
6 Yearly high in goals, scored in 1993
9 Consecutive years in which she started every match in which she played (1989-1998)
14 Jersey number worn for many years
16 Olympic matches played
17 Years in which she played a WNT match
22 Assists in her career
23 FIFA Women’s World Cup matches played
27 Goals in career
234 Starts in WNT career
239 Appearances during her WNT career