Any competitive elite soccer player will tell you that being a consistent starter is the goal. You want to be on the field representing your team and battling from the first minute to the last. That said, being a substitute may be even harder mentally. Not everyone is the best player coming off the bench. To be a good reserve, you must be mentally locked in, resilient and ready to make something happen to provide a boost when your team might need it the most.
2016 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Shannon MacMillan, better known as Mac, played 176 games for the USA. She started her fair share of matches, but came off the bench 62 times, the most substitute appearances of any player, besides Heather O’Reilly, who has played 175 or more games for the USA.
“Shannon was the type of player, that whether she was starting or coming off the bench, she always made an impact,” former U.S. WNT captain and teammate Julie Foudy said.
MacMillan battled hard when it came to establishing her role in the Women’s National Team pool. At times during her career she was in and out of the both the squad and the starting lineup. The ups-and-downs served only strengthen her and helped mold her into the vital player she became for the USA.
MacMillan scored 60 goals for the USA, but perhaps none was bigger than her game-winning golden goal against Norway in the semifinal of the 1996 Olympics. Norway had knocked the USA out of the 1995 Women’s World Cup a year earlier, and their celebration was not what you would call classy.
“I just remember her making this incredible diagonal run,” said former teammate Mia Hamm of MacMillan’s Olympic semifinal score. “I remember her seeing running through the midfield, and then she just cuts across and lays it in with such grace and composure. No big deal, finishes it off and finishes Norway off.”
Three days later, this time as a starter, she got the USA going in the gold medal game, scoring the first goal in the 2-1 victory against China.
“In the final, the Chinese goalkeeper made an incredible save (on Hamm’s shot), but then there’s Shannon right there to slot it home first time for us,” Hamm said of the 19th minute goal. “For her to give us that boost and confidence going in for the rest of the game was huge.”
The goal embodied a common topic when former teammates and coaches talk about MacMillan: she always delivered. She gave the team an extra lift and always kept a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and a love for the game.
Currently, MacMillan is the director of club operations for the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks Soccer Club in her native San Diego, passing on those qualities and her passion for the game to the next generation of young players.