All American Girls: The USA National Soccer Team

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9780671035990: All American Girls: The USA National Soccer Team
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All-American Girls Join the winning team Score the winning goal with superstar Mia Hamm. Chart the plays and take to the field with co-captain Julie Foudy. Go for the gold with the champs -- Michelle Akers, Carla Overbook, Kristine Lilly, and the rest of the stellar 1999 World Cup team! Read all about our favorite players in the first authorized book on the members of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. Find the latest stats, action-packed photos, bios, and advice from the hottest stars in professional sports today. Follow these all-American girls from their earlest days in soccer to their record-breaking careers, with Q&As, and personal info you won't find anyplace else. It's all here, in the book that's a must-have for every soccer fan!

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Marla Miller is a writer, columnist, and radio talk show host during the week, but on the weekends, she's a carpooling soccer mom. She lives in Newport Beach, California, with her husband, Terry Mazura, and their three daughters. Visit her at http://www.allamericangirlsoccer.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Michelle Akers


PERSONAL STATS

Position: Forward/Midfielder
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 150
Birthday: 2/l/66

SOCCER TEAMS

1970s-1980s Cougars Police Athletic League, Shorelake Thunderbirds, Union Bay Flyers

1984-1989 University of Central Florida

1990, 1992, 1994-present Tyreso Football Club, Sweden

1985-present U.S. WNT

Many mornings before players march into trainer Sue Hammond's hotel room to get ankles wrapped, Michelle Akers is there. Often, Michelle, the author of two books, sits quietly, computer on lap, writing, while Sue readies the supplies for the day. Sometimes they talk. Both have long histories with the WNT. Both have lots of stories to tell about the early years.

The one about their first tournament in France is a favorite. The U.S. Men's National Team, also playing in that tournament, traveled with them. A bus picked the two teams up at the airport and drove them to a bed-and-breakfast outside of Paris that turned out to be a damp old house with little hot water. Once there, the bus driver would not help carry the luggage. The women unloaded theirs, but the men disappeared. When the bus driver threatened to leave and not return the next day to take them to the stadium, the women unloaded the men's luggage, too. Says Michelle, "We needed that bus driver. This was a big tournament, and we weren't about to jeopardize our chances of playing in it."

So much for the glamorous athlete's life.


IN THE BEGINNING

Most everyone calls her Mish, but when the movie The Lion King premiered, Michelle Akers's thick mane of sun-bleached curls inspired teammates to call her Mufasa. The name stuck. When she was little, Michelle's sandy blond shock of curls almost always topped off a body streaked with mud. Her willingness to get dirty was why she played goalkeeper for her first soccer team. She was eight years old. Her mom was coach. They never won a game. Even then she hated losing. Says Michelle, "I cried after every game. I couldn't help it."

At the end of her first soccer season, the Akers family moved from California to Seattle, Washington. Michelle played on two teams there: first the Shorelake Thunderbirds and then the Union Bay Flyers. She credits both teams with teaching her how to play the game.

It was obvious by age twelve that Michelle Akers had all the right moves on the field. Off the field was another matter. Michelle experienced some troubled years that began about the time her parents divorced. She was in sixth grade. Her voice grows soft recalling the day she and her older brother, Mike, stood at his bedroom window and watched their dad move out. Says Michelle, "I was really rocked by it. We both were. I remember we slept in my mom's room that night."

After the divorce Michelle threw herself into soccer. Her efforts paid off. At age fourteen she was invited to join the Union Bay Flyers, an under-nineteen club team. She was also invited to join ODP, but her family couldn't afford it. The club team turned out to be her Olympic Development Program. Says Michelle, "I was playing up with great players who taught me everything I needed to know. I really didn't need ODP."

In high school she met a coach, Al Kovats, who became her mentor. He coached the boys soccer team at Shorecrest High School and let Michelle train with them. He also helped her find her faith. By then Michelle was playing stellar soccer, but her personal life was falling apart because of bad choices that led her down wrong roads, a journey she believes she had to take. She remembers the night Al Kovats drove her home after a practice. Says Michelle, "I sat in his car crying again about how I screwed up. We'd known each other for a long time by then, so I knew about his strong faith. That night I said to him, 'Ko, I want to become a Christian.' I walked in the house knowing that I'd be on punishment for the next eighty months, but somehow it was okay. I found something inside me that was stronger than anything else. Everything was gonna be cool. I just knew it."

For the next few years her soccer game only got better; Michelle married during this time. Then in 1991, after the WNT won the inaugural 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup, Michelle began to experience symptoms that left her feeling as if she had the flu twenty-four hours a day. For the next three years, as her symptoms got progressively worse, she searched for a diagnosis. During this time -- a period she describes as "lower than the basement years" -- Michelle also got divorced. Finally doctors diagnosed symptoms that included insomnia, inability to eat, severe memory loss, and crippling fatigue as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). Little was known about the illness. To heighten awareness, Michelle appeared before a congressional committee on behalf of CFIDS victims. Says Michelle, "That was the first time I said out loud, 'I can't beat this.'" This was the first time Michelle Akers felt failure.

Although she describes her playing level today as less than it once was, that level is still good enough. In the 1996 Olympic semifinal game, she scored the crucial tying goal on a penalty kick in the WNT's 2-1 victory over Norway. Her teammates call her the Grand Dame of soccer and speak in nearly reverential tones about her, the woman who was first among them to be confronted by negative voices insinuating women couldn't deliver an exciting game. Says Michelle, "I've never determined my life course by someone else's opinion. To those who said women couldn't deliver the goods, I simply said, 'Just watch me play.'"


ON THE FIELD

Michelle Akers plays forward and attacking midfielder. She compares her position to an American football quarterback. Says Michelle, "I either get the ball and score, or I pass it to a striker to score."

Until illness struck she led the WNT in goals scored. Her signature bombs to the net from impossible ranges have been clocked at over fifty miles per hour. Mia Hamm calls her the deadliest free kicker in the world. The press often uses phrases like "a hurricane pounding through" to describe her playing style. Comparisons to Mia Hamm are frequent. Michelle distinguishes their playing styles in this way: "I'm pure effort. Mia is pure grace."

The senior member of the team is a leader on the field. The role took time to develop. In the early years she wasn't vocal. Says Michelle, "I used to think my presence and work effort was enough, but I learned that in order to be a leader, you have to offer encouraging words." A smile curls the corners of her mouth. She winks. "And sometimes words that aren't so encouraging."

Best game moment: Winning the 1996 Olympics. Says Michelle, "I remember standing on the podium looking up to heaven. I could see all my family and friends from where I stood." She pauses. Tears brim her eyes. "It was a glorious moment I'll always remember."

Red card: She was red-carded once, in a game prior to the 1991 Women's World Cup. Michelle points to a grizzly-looking scar running down her left leg and says, "Before the Cup, everything that could go wrong went wrong. First, I fell on a sprinkler head and got this gash during practice. Then we played China and this player kept whacking the you-know-what out of me. I got the ball, she came up' slammed me from behind, and I fell on top of her." The Ref called the foul on Michelle, who said, "I got up screaming, so he red-carded me. Then Anson [WNT coach] ran out screaming and he red-carded him. The two of us watched the rest of that game from the stands."

Superstitions/lucky clothing/rituals: Michelles only ritual is saying a prayer during the National Anthem before games.

In the zone: Says Michelle, "When I'm in the zone, just give me the ball. I'll do it. Just give me the ball."

Injuries: Opponents know when they come up against the 5'10" midfielder, there's no backing down. As much as her aggressiveness has defined her as a player, this same aggressiveness has also worked against her. Michelle blames "too much aggression" for at least some of the twelve knee surgeries, multiple stitches, and two missing front teeth she's suffered. Says Michelle, "I wanted to win so bad that I'd run over opponents even when I didn't have to."

WNT's first head coach, Anson Dorrance, used to say, "choose your moments," but it took getting sick with CFIDS for her to listen. Says Michelle, "Now, if I don't choose my moments I can't stay in the game." These days if WNT is winning, Michelle isn't likely to do a diving header into a goal filled with opponents waiting to kick it off.

Jersey number: She's worn the number 10 since college. Historically, coaches reserve the number 10 for elite players like Pelé and Michelle Akers.

Blooper: "I do them daily," says Michelle. "I'm always putting my foot in my mouth by saying something I shouldn't say. I also trip over my feet all the time. There's too many to pick just one. It's constant, just ask my teammates."

SOCCER IS MY LIFE

At what age did Michelle Akers realize soccer was her life? She laughs and says, "Last year." Actually, soccer took top spot from the start, a fact that worried her father. Michelle played soccer as if there were a future in the game long before there was.

Says Michelle, "I remember Dad saying, 'After college, there's no place else to go, Michelle.' I knew he was trying to nudge me into expanding my athletic focus, but I couln't. My blood and guts were in the game. I followed my heart. That's how I've always tried to live my life."

Then in 1985, when Michelle was a sophomore in college, her future opened up. The Women's National Team formed. She joined the roster immediately. When younger players Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Biefeld (Fawcett), Carla Overbeck, and Kristine Lilly joined in 1987, they immediately looked to her for leadership. Until illness hit, she was the team's most recognized player. Getting sick forced her to change focus. She explains, I had to come to terms with this very scary reality: if soccer was my whole life and I couldn't play anymore, what did I have left?" In the time it took to diagnose CFIDS, Michelle Akers redefined her priorities. Although still her passion, soccer now is a means to other ends. "Soccer gives me a platform for writing, sharing my faith, helping kids who need my help, and for educating the public about issues I feel passionately about, but it's no longer my only priority."

ON INSPIRATION

People who inspire are people with good hearts, according to Michelle Akers. Like her dad. When her parents divorced, he fought to stay in his children's lives. He never missed a game. He and stepmom Sue have followed her around the globe. Bob Akers also gave his daughter her best advice. She smiles. "Dad has always believed that having fun was the most important part of this game. Even now, hell ask me, 'Did you have fun, Michelle?'" Today, his words are endearing to her. That wasn't always so. Michelle explains, "I remember this one game, I was probably nine or ten, we got creamed. I was so mad. I walked off the field, and there was Dad holding out my water bottle. 'Did you have fun, Michelle?' I wanted to yell back, 'That's a stupid question, Dad! Of course I didn't have fun. We just lost!' Instead, I just stormed off the field."

Michelle laughs when she describes her mom as "no June Cleaver." Her mother, Anne, is a woman whose own life showed Michelle that she didn't have to be locked into any one role. When Michelle was eight, her mom became the first woman firefighter in Seattle, Washington. Says Michelle, "She got tons of grief for it, but her dream was to be a firefighter, and nothing they dished out was gonna make her quit."

Offering inspiration to young people pleases Michelle Akers. In fact, she founded Soccer Outreach International for that very reason. The organization's goal is to use soccer to inspire the next generation to lead. Michelle says, "I'm always telling kids, don't worship sports figures just because they play their game well. Look at how they live their lives before you decide to follow in their footsteps."

ADVICE TO YOUNG ATHLETES

Her advice is simple. Says Michelle, "If you're true to your heart and listen to what your God is saying, You're going to be in the right place at the right time." After that, set goals. For those who don't have the ideal support systems, achieving goals is tough but not impossible. Michelle explains, "Parents of other players, coaches, relatives are all people who can help, but they have to know you need it." To parents, she offers this advice -- make sure that the coaches who have so much influence over your children are people who have the whole person in mind, not just that part that wins them games. Lastly, Michelle echoes her dad's advice. "Soccer isn't brain surgery. Have fun. If you're not, figure out what's wrong and it. This game should always be a joy to play."


* * *


FACTS

Caps: 126

Goals: 100

Assists: 36

Sponsor: Currently, none.

Coaching/camps: Michelle Akers Soccer Camp, Tampa Florida, 1998; Northwest Soccer Camp, Michelle Akers Week, 1997 and 1998; Michelle Akers Week at Northwest Soccer Camp, Seattle, WA.

Awards (partial list): 4-time All-American, University of Central Florida; 1987 NCAA Final Four offensive MVP; 1991 FIFA World Cup Champion; 1991 FIFA Golden Boot; 1995 FIFA World Cup Bronze Medal; 1996 Olympic Gold Medal; author of Face to Face and Standing Fast.

FAVORITES

Foods: Starbucks coffee, brownies, Mystic Mints, B-B-Q, oatmeal.

Hobbies: Riding her Arabian horse, Vinnie; reading; hiking.

Movies: Mission Impossible, Babe, The Black Stallion.

Movie stars: Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnell.

TV shows: Seinfeld, Animal Planet Channel.

Copyright © 1999 by Marla Miller

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Published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment (1999)
ISBN 10: 0671035991 ISBN 13: 9780671035990
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