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Remembering '99: A Magical Night at Soldier Field

All six U.S. matches at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup certainly stand out in our memories for different reasons.

The opening game in East Rutherford, New Jersey was truly historic. The final group game in Foxborough, Massachusetts signaled something special was in the making. The USA’s quarterfinal in Landover, Maryland, was agonizingly dramatic. The semifinal in Palo Alto, California, was dripping with patriotism. And the Women’s World Cup Final in Pasadena, California, was simply transcendent.

But there was something about the USA’s second group match against Nigeria at the old Soldier Field in Chicago that made it stand out from the rest.

Could it have been the wondrously beautiful summer night?
The extraordinary buzz and electricity coming from the crowd of over 65,000?
The USA falling behind in just the second minute?
Then scoring on five consecutive shots between the 23rd and 42nd minutes?
Perhaps it was the crazy good goals?
How about the U.S. team withstanding an almost felonious assault that saw Nigeria foul 29 times compared to just three total fouls for the Americans?
Maybe it was just a good ‘ole fashioned Midwest feel-good get together among fans who knew they were witnessing something special?

“All of our crowds during the tournament were fantastic, but I felt that the crowd there in Chicago knew it was a soccer event and had come to experience not only everything surrounding the game, but the game itself,” said U.S. striker Mia Hamm, who scored the USA’s second goal on a raking volley. “The knowledge in that crowd seemed really high and I felt they really understood their importance of the moment, even to the standpoint of when Nigeria scored that first goal, that they knew how they could help us. They didn’t sit there and go ‘oh my gosh, what do we do now,’ they knew it was their job to helps us get back into the game.”

Whatever it was that made that game special, it all came together on that one magical evening. Coming off the USA’s rousing 3-0 victory over Denmark five days earlier in front of a sold-out Giants Stadium, the fans were in the mood for a party.

However, so were the Nigerians.

Intent on ruining the USA’s evening and spurred on by a big section of cheering, drum-beating Nigerians, the Super Falcons scored less than 120 seconds into the match. And they danced. Oh, how they danced. Of course, it would also be their last dance.

When Chiejene Ifeanyichuk pushed the ball into her own net in the 19th minute, the floodgates opened as the Americans rocked the Nigerian goal like never before seen in Women’s World Cup competition.

The USA scored on five consecutive shots in a 19-minute span to take a 6-1 lead into halftime, making the final 45 minutes just a celebration in the stands for the appreciative U.S. supporters.

The goals came so fast, so furiously and with such class, power and precision, that Nigeria had no idea what hit them.

Mia Hamm in the 20th. Boom! Milbrett three minutes later. Bang! Kristine Lilly nine minutes later. Ka-pow! Michelle Akers seven minutes later. Ka-choom! And finally a brilliant combination of a cross from Milbrett to Chastain, who headed across the goal mouth to Cindy Parlow who headed home to finish the deluge just three minutes before halftime. Game over.

“I loved the old Soldier Field, driving in with the columns and people everywhere and the craziness of driving down into the stadium and the people going nuts and the stadium being packed,” said midfielder Julie Foudy. “I’ve always been impressed with Chicago fans, so once again they came through.”

“After what happened in Giants Stadium, this was the next stop and the energy was electric,” said then U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco. “It was a lopsided game, but it was an awesome game because of the quality of the goals, the drama and the fans were just in a frenzy for the team. After the game, we had a girl who ran along the team bus for a mile before we stopped and Brandi gave her some shoes. It was just that kind of night. Chicago is a great sports city and we had a dangerous opponent that all combined to make the game interesting, then we scored some amazing goals. Mia scored a great goal, Michelle Akers got one and then my favorite goal of the tournament when Brandi headed the ball to Parlow. We dismantled a very good team and the crowd that was already excited just showed their appreciation.”

After the match, a reporter, who to say the least seemed to be missing the point, asked U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry if she was disappointed that the match didn’t sell out. (The 65,080 fans had fallen about 1,800 short of an official sell-out).

Scurry looked at him as if he’d just grown a third nose and remarked that 65,000 was a pretty good crowd and there was really nothing disappointing about the match (aside from giving up a goal in the 2nd minute).

Well said, Bri, well said.