The U.S. Women’s National Team woke on the morning of September 11, 2001, in their hotel rooms in Columbus, Ohio.
It was game day.
That evening, the U.S. was scheduled to face Japan in its second match of the Nike U.S. Women’s Cup. The USA had traveled from Chicago the day before after defeating Germany 4-1 at Soldier Field on Sept. 9 in its first match of the tournament.
Word spread quickly that something terrible had happened in New York City. As the players turned on their televisions, they saw the frightening images of the smoking World Trade Center towers and then watched in horror and disbelief as the day’s historically tragic events unfolded.
“I just remember waking up with Heather Mitts as my roommate and sitting on the edge of the bed, turning on TV and getting ready for breakfast,” said then U.S. captain Julie Foudy. “I just remember that the first plane hit and we thought it was an accident, not a terrorist attack, and then the second tower was hit. I remember the hysteria in the voice of the commentator and we knew there was something very wrong.”
Like many sporting events that would follow in the coming days, important and quick decisions had to be made whether to play or not to play, although at that point, very few details were available on exactly what had just happened. By the early afternoon, then-head coach April Heinrichs called the team together for a quick meeting in an area outside the elevators on the team’s hotel floor and the players expressed their thoughts on the day and whether or not to play the game.
No one wanted to play.
“We felt it wouldn’t be right,” said Foudy. “Even being the National Team, we felt that the focus should be getting with family and starting the rebuilding, mentally and emotionally. It was that raw. I am pretty sure Japan didn’t want to play either.”
U.S. Soccer Federation officials decided that was the best course of action. The game and the rest of the tournament were cancelled.
At that point all the players wanted to get home as quickly as possible, but air traffic was grounded throughout most of the country. Midfielder Shannon MacMillan and Joy Fawcett didn’t waste any time. Not wanting to get on an airplane and not knowing even when they would be able to fly, they rented a car and drove back to California with Fawcett’s kids in the back.
Others who could drive did, but many players had to wait until it was deemed safe to fly again. Foudy decided to take her chances that air travel would resume soon. She, as well as a few other players and staff members, didn’t get out until the following evening, after they drove to Kentucky to catch flights home.
“I remember that we were all sitting in the gate area and didn’t know if the plane would be able to take off,” said Foudy. “There was a shortage of pilots because they couldn’t catch flights either. When the crew walked into the gate area, they got a standing ovation.”
In looking back to that day 10 years ago, Foudy, now a mother of two young children, chooses to focus on the positive.
“I will always be proud of the way our country reacted,” said Foudy, who is still third all-time in U.S. caps with 272. “I remember after that being even more proud to play for the U.S. in a country that stands for so many wonderful things. When adversity happens, you can go one of two ways, but this time it brought people together. I think it’s an important reminder of the pride we have and the community we created, and we need to keep working on building that in this country, even when there is not a tragedy to bring us together.”