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Team America Split

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


The most successful team in the history of women's international football has taken a giant leap of faith - by voluntarily breaking itself up!
After more than a decade of working together in more of a club than an international team environment - and in the process winning two World Cups and an Olympics title - the 20-player American national squad has been spread around the eight sides which make up the worlds first-ever women's professional league.
The WUSA (Women's United Soccer Association) was the dream of the USA's top players, who felt that the only way to sustain the success they had achieved as a national team was by creating wider opportunities for the best youngsters in the country to reach the standards required at the highest levels of international football.
So the players went their separate ways, joined up with their club teams and prepared to start a new-style football life. Instead of training and playing together on a near-continuous basis, they are now playing against each other at club level while re-forming only match-by-match for internationals - and therein lies the leap of faith.
How will this new scenario affect the fortunes of the national team? "I don't know," was the straight and honest answer of Kristine Lilly, who with more than 200 USA appearances to her name is the world's record holder of international caps in either men's or women's football.
"It will certainly be different for us," added the Boston Breakers player, "and it's going to be interesting to see how it works out. But I also think it will be a refreshing change, playing with your own team then coming back to international football.
"Obviously the League is a lower standard than the international game and we will have to have that in mind when we come together to play for America. But I think that playing in the League will be a refresher and can add a little spice to our lives too."
With the League proving a success in its first season, the founding players and WUSA administrators are pleased with its progress. Lilly's international colleague Brandi Chastain, who is turning out for the Bay Area CyberRays, is looking ahead with confidence both for the League and the American national team.
Chastain, whose shirt-removing, bra-revealing goal celebration in the 1999 World Cup final is the best-remembered moment in the history of women's football, said: "The WUSA has changed the dynamic of the national team right at its core, but I think it will also open up a pool of more players to be involved and that it will become a more difficult job for the coach to choose the best 20 players.
"When we got together to play two games against Canada recently it was a little different, going into a couple of matches only three days before the first one, but we are professional players who understand what it takes to be ready for a match in an international arena.
"There's so much pride that goes along with wearing the colours of your national team that you take nothing for granted - you work very hard to prepare yourself whether the team is together for three days or three months before a match.
"So I don't think the national team will be adversely affected by the WUSA, which I feel has made a very good start. There were high expectations from all quarters and, for the most part, I believe we've met those expectations.
"Our aim was to provide quality football for passionate fans and we've done that, but I'm not saying we have accomplished everything we want to achieve because that would give us no room to grow - and growth is what we want, not just for present and future players but for the whole community of soccer."
Chastain, Lilly and their international colleagues of the past dozen years are now part of that wider community of soccer, but bonds will remain after one of the great success stories in team sports.
America's top soccer star Mia Hamm, the world's most famous women's footballer and now a Washington Freedom player, has no doubts about the longevity of the squad's relationship. "We've shared and experienced so much together," said the iconic Hamm, "and we'll be great friends until the day we die."


Tony Leighton, September 2001


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