To Celebrate the 2023 World Cup, Revisit the Biggest Moments in USWNT History
The US women's soccer team (known as the USWNT) shows no signs of slowing its gold-medal roll. The team is just starting its run at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which kicked off July 20, and has already qualified for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. It's also currently ranked the No. 1 women's team in the world by FIFA, which, NBD.
It might seem like the team has been dominating the field for eons — and you're not wrong to think that it's made a mark on the sport — but in truth, the team has only been in the international field for a couple of decades. After all, the first Women's World Cup only happened in 1991.
While the US team has had its ups and downs (it's soccer!), it's also been part of more than a handful of memorable moments in soccer history. It's hard to narrow it down to just a few highlights of some of the sport's biggest names, from legends like Mia Hamm, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd to newcomers like Carson Pickett, Naomi Girma, and Trinity Rodman, but that's just what we've done. Keep reading to revisit some of the brightest moments of the US women's soccer team, on and off the field — and expect this list to keep growing.
— Additional reporting by Lauren Mazzo
The US Soccer Team Wins the First-Ever Women's World Cup
FIFA did some test runs in earlier years to see if a women's edition of the World Cup would be feasible, and in 1991, it held the first official tournament in China. In the inaugural tournament, the US took home the trophy with a 2-1 win over Norway in the final, foreshadowing the team's years as power players.
The US Women's Soccer Team Wins the First-Ever Olympic Gold Medal
Women's soccer wasn't always a banner event at the Olympics like it is today. In fact, the 1996 Games in Atlanta marked the Olympic debut for the sport. The US women's soccer team led the way through the tournament, ultimately coming away with the first women's soccer Olympic gold after defeating China with a score of 2-1 in the final. Over 76,000 fans watched the game from the stadium, a record-setting crowd for women's soccer at the time, according to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
The US Women's Soccer Team Wins Its Second World Cup in 1999
The defining era of Team USA's women's soccer began in the late 1990s with the dream team featuring legends like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy. The World Cup was hosted by the US, where interest in the sport was just growing, and the US women's team was proving all soccer naysayers wrong, drawing in sold-out crowds en route to a sport-defining tournament victory.
Chastain kicked the final match-winning penalty shot to win the trophy, and her shirtless celebration made the cover of Sports Illustrated and is often called one of the most iconic photos in sports history.
The US Women's Soccer Team Wins Its Second Gold Medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics
After years of defining women's soccer in the US, the "Fab Five" of the epic late-'90s announced they were closing out their careers. Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett, and Julie Foudy announced that their final tournament would be the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and they definitely went out with a bang, finishing with yet another gold medal.
The final match against Brazil served as a bridge between the old and new generations in Team USA's soccer history. As the legends of years past ended their careers, the game-winning goal was scored by a young new player named Abby Wambach, who would go on to lead the next generation of American soccer stars.
The 2011 FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals Mark US Women's Soccer Team's Comeback
After the sky-high successes of the '90s, US women's soccer saw a drop in wins, barely qualifying for the World Cup in 2011, but in the quarterfinal match of the tournament, against Brazil, the tide finally turned. Abby Wambach scored a goal in extra time that sent the US through to the next round, later securing them a second-place finish that revitalized American women's soccer.
A Last-Minute Save Gives Team USA Its Fourth Olympic Gold Medal
It was called the "save heard 'round the world" for good reason. With only five minutes left in the gold-medal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics between Japan and the US, Japan's Mana Iwabuchi tried to score a goal, but Team USA goalie Hope Solo made an epic, seemingly impossible save that went viral and turned her into a superstar around the world.
After 16 Years, the US Women's Soccer Team Wins the 2015 FIFA World Cup
After a 16-year drought, the US women's team won its first World Cup since 1999. During the final against Japan, not only did a win emerge, but also a new star: Carli Lloyd completed a hat trick, leading the team to a 5-2 victory. With this win, the new generation of USA women's soccer cemented themselves as power players.
The US Women's Soccer Team Wins the 2019 World Cup in France
After beating Thailand 13-0 in their first match, the USWNT went on to become world champions, beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final round. This was the USWNT's fourth championship out of eight total World Cups for women's soccer so far.
Led by Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, the team dominated in games throughout the tournament. Off the field, the USWNT was rallying around issues of fair treatment and equal pay, raising awareness that the US men's team, ranked 30th in the world, was paid more after losing in the round of 16 at the World Cup than the women were for winning it.
USWNT Makes History With an Equal-Pay Agreement
On Feb. 22, 2022, players from the USWNT made history — but this time off the field — by settling a class-action gender-discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation (USSF) for $24 million. They later came to an agreement with the USSF that guarantees equal pay to both US Soccer teams through 2028, including the equalization of World Cup prize money. This victory is just the beginning for equal pay in sports but marks a huge win for the USWNT and underpaid athletes everywhere.
USWNT Wins the Arthur Ashe Award For Courage
Following its successful battle for pay equity, the USWNT was honored at the 2023 ESPY Awards with the Arthur Ashe Award For Courage. Awarded annually, the honor celebrates those in the world of sports who "[possess] strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost," according to ESPN.
"As everyone who has been there for us throughout this long journey toward equality knows, our fight is not over," Christen Press said in her portion of the acceptance speech. "When you play for the United States Women's National Team, you are handed a torch and given the responsibility to carry the torch as far and as high as possible for the sake of women's equality. As a team and with the support and encouragement of countless others, we have been proud to carry it forward. Now, we are looking to build a world where we create thousands of torches, millions, and the equality we have achieved spreads throughout the world."