The WUSA’s defending champion Carolina Courage hosted the match at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. SAS (known today as WakeMed Soccer Park) was one of the finest soccer specific venues in the league and fans of the WUSA’s successor leagues, WPS and the NWSL, have long hoped that a new women’s professional club might take up residence there someday. The wait continues…
2003 was a World Cup year and the format of the match was intended to mirror the upcoming tournament, hosted by the United States in September. A squad of the WUSA’s American Stars, coached by Jim Gabarra of the Washington Freedom, faced a team of WUSA World Stars, coached by Tom Stone of the Atlanta Beat.
This was also the first time that the WUSA staged an All-Star Game in season. The match was shoehorned awkwardly into the league schedule on a Thursday night. Regular season play resumed around the country just two nights later. Accordingly the rules were relaxed to allow unlimited substitution and re-entry and the halves were shortened to 40 minutes each. A standing room-only crowd of 7,068 packed SAS Soccer Park for the exhibition.
Maren Meinert of the Boston Breakers scored two goals and assisted on a third by her Breakers teammate Dagny Mellgren to lead the World All-Stars to a 3-2 victory and earn All-Star Game MVP honors. Two months later, Meinert, 30, would also win 2003 league MVP honors in her final professional season before retirement.
The WUSA folded on September 15, 2003, on the eve of the Women’s World Cup tournament that this game was intended to preview.
In 2009, a re-booted version of the Boston Breakers held a tribute night for the now-retired Maren Meinert and presented this video montage of her WUSA highlights:
Perhaps the best all-around team in the pioneering Women’s United Soccer Association, the Atlanta Beat were the only club to make the playoffs in all three of the WUSA’s seasons, but they never captured a championship. The Beat advanced to the title match twice, losing Founder Cup I to the Bay Area CyberRays in 2001 and losing the third and final Founders Cup to the Washington Freedom in 2003.
Under Head Coach Tom Stone, the Beat boasted a strong attack with Canadian international Charmaine Hooper and U.S. World Cup veteran Cindy Parlow up top and Japanese star Homare Sawa organizing the midfield. Chinese superstar Sun Wen – FIFA’s Female Player-of-the-Century, along with Michelle Akers – was expected to be a major star for Atlanta, but was limited to only five starts by injuries in 2001 and retired from club play after the 2002 season. Nevertheless, Wen regained her form in the 2001 playoffs, helping lead the Beat to the final and scoring a goal in the championship game.
The defense was even stingier, conceding the fewest goals in the WUSA’s inaugural season. Goalkeeper Briana Scurry was one of the Beat’s most recognizable stars, having backstopped the United States in their thrilling World Cup final victory over Sun Wen’s Chinese team in 1999.
The 2001 Beat had the league’s best regular season record in 2001 at 10-4-7. The playoffs were terrific, with the Beat escaping the Philadelphia Charge 3-2 in the semis thanks to a golden goal by Cindy Parlow. That earned the Beat a trip to face the Bay Area CyberRays at Founders Cup I at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts. Atlanta and Bay Area were the two strongest defensive sides in WUSA in 2001, but the match turned out to be a barnburner. Kylie Bivens, Hooper and Wen scored for Atlanta, but the CyberRays kept pace and the matched was knotted at 3-3 after regulation and overtime. Bay Area finally prevailed 4-2 on penalty kicks after Hooper and Wen failed to convert.
In 2002, the Beat came into the WUSA’s second season as prohibitive favorites for the title. Most of the roster returned intact and Wen was healthy for the first time. The club also left cavernous Bobby Dodd Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech University for 15,000-seat Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College, where they would play their final two seasons. The season was a disappointment, with the Beat finishing 4th at 11-9-1 and falling in the semi-final 2-1 to the eventual champion Carolina Courage.
In 2003, the Beat regained their form, finishing with the second best record in the WUSA at 9-4-8. The Beat would play in the last match in the WUSA’s brief history when they faced the Washington Freedom at San Diego’s Torero Stadium in the Founders’ Cup III championship game on August 24, 2003. Charmaine Hooper scored on a PK for the Beat in the first half, but Atlanta couldn’t contain Washington’s budding young superstar Abby Wambach, who scored a pair for the Freedom, including the game winner in overtime.
The WUSA folded three weeks later, falling victim to lack of corporate sponsor interest and weak television ratings, among other woes.
After five seasons without a fully professional women’s league in the United States, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) launched in 2009. For the league’s second season in 2010, WPS added an expansion franchise in Atlanta known as the Atlanta Beat. The new Beat revived the old WUSA-era name and logo (although with new colors), but otherwise bore no connection to the old club. The played at a new soccer-specific stadium out in the suburbs and no original Beat players returned to play for the new WPS franchise. The new Beat played two seasons (2010-2011) before folding.