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U.S. stars from 1999 World Cup title team talk about women’s soccer’s past, future

World Cup star Mia Hamm instructs soccer players during the youth soccer clinic held at Bailey Road Soccer Park in Cornelius June 23,2015.
World Cup star Mia Hamm instructs soccer players during the youth soccer clinic held at Bailey Road Soccer Park in Cornelius June 23,2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Former North Carolina women’s soccer All-Americans Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch were at Bailey Road Soccer Park on Tuesday to give a clinic.

Before the clinic (which was put on by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s “Live Fearless” program), Hamm, Lilly and Venturini – who all played on the United States’ 1999 World Cup championship team – spoke about the Women’s World Cup being played in Canada, changes at FIFA and the state of women’s sports in the United States.

Q. Does it seem like 16 years ago that the U.S. beat China in penalty kicks to win the World Cup?

A. Hoch: Some days it does, physically! But not really, even though it was a long time ago. I haven’t seen some of those girls since, but if I saw them tomorrow, we’d pick up right where we left off.

Q. What do you remember most about that game?

A. Hamm: It was about two teams that didn’t want to make a mistake and who wanted to conserve energy because they knew it would be a hard-fought battle. They both had attacking personalities and were cognizant of that going forward, because you didn’t want to expose your defenses. It wasn’t the most tactical or technical game. In the end, it took a great save by our goalkeeper (Brianna Scurry) to win it. And prior to that, Kristine saving all of us by (heading) the ball off the (goal) line.

Q. The United States got a similar play like that from defender Meghan Klingenberg in this World Cup. How did you react to that?

A. Lilly: Her comments were similar to mine: She was where she was supposed to be. You’re in that position, but you’re not always needed. It gave us a boost. But it’s just part of what you do. Everybody has a role and you do it. I was ready for it and Meghan was, too. Whatever you can do to make the team successful, you do.

Q. How have things changed for girls and women in sports since you were at North Carolina?

A. Lilly: It has grown so much. When we came back from China (in 1991), nobody knew we’d won the World Cup. Now, the girls are all over the media, television and social media. Young girls are wearing the jerseys, talking about it and wanting to be like (U.S. stars) Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. It’s good to see what women can do. You need that, to see what we can do. Then they see us up close and say, “They’re just like me. I can do this, too.”

If you look at college programs, there are so many more female sports out there. When we played in the national championship (in the late 1980s and early ’90s), it was done by Thanksgiving. Now they play three weeks later because there are so many more teams. More teams are more competitive and more girls get opportunities for scholarships. But there’s still some work to be done, especially in high schools where girls still aren’t getting equal chances.

Q. What was your reaction to the objections to playing this World Cup on artificial turf?

A. Hamm: I don’t think there were many countries competing for the World Cup, and this was probably the only negative in Canada’s bid. In the end you’re hoping it never happens again and based on what I’ve heard, it won’t. But FIFA put themselves in a corner. They set the standard and hopefully it won’t happen again.

Lilly: It’s a little discouraging. It would be better on grass. It’s the world stage and we only see these teams play every four years. The only thing consistent is it’s all on the same surface. But it makes for a different game. I hate to see the World Cup played on something less than perfect.

Q. With FIFA President Sepp Blatter resigning, what would you like to see changed in the world game?

A. Lilly: On the female side, to support the federations out there. Make sure the programs are allowed to grow. There’s not enough (financial) backing. Keep teams together so that they’re not in the World Cup and then don’t see each other for a long time after that. That’s how the sport grows. But it’s also cultural. Women and girls feel more confident through sports. You see that in the United States with young girls involved in sports. They feel confident and want to give back.

Hamm: FIFA needs that transparency. It needs to be held accountable for the decisions they make and we need to know what they are. Now they’re made in secret. We have no idea who voted on what unless they tell you. That doesn’t help when there is corruption. If federations are getting money to develop the game and they’re not doing it, you can’t continue to give them money or give them voting rights.

Q. The United States hasn’t been overly impressive so far in the World Cup as it heads into a quarterfinal game Friday against China. What needs to happen for the U.S. to win?

A. Hoch: We’re gonna get better. We need to score some goals and put a little more pressure (on offense) and dominate a little sooner. We’re getting there, it’s coming. We’re losing a couple of players (suspended Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holliday), so there will be some new blood in there.

Hamm: It might be a good little shakeup for us.

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