Boston Breakers vs. Washington Freedom
Michelle Akers Testimonial Match
September 14, 2002
We’re preparing to put our house on the market, so I’ve been rifling some old boxes from my women’s pro soccer adventures in the course of clearing out the attic. I came across this gem on a beat-up old VHS tape…
This is the in-stadium tribute video created by the original Boston Breakers of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) for Michelle Akers‘ farewell/testimonial match in September 2002. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for the video embed).
Akers was arguably the first transcendent star of the U.S. Women’s National Team program. A Hermann Trophy winner, Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Cup champion and FIFA’s Female Player of the Century. The WUSA attracted investors and got off the ground thanks in part to Akers’ heroics during the 1990’s, and the tens of thousands of young girls and women inspired by both her relentless, physical playing style and by her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome throughout her career.
But by the time WUSA launched in April 2001, Akers was 35 years old and retired from international play. She had had 13 knee surgeries, several concussions, and faced her fourth and fifth shoulder operations in 2001. She was the only player among 20 so-called “Founders” of the WUSA – top players from the U.S. National Team pool who were given an equity stake in the league – who didn’t play during the 2001 inaugural season. In October 2001, Akers announced her final retirement from soccer and that she had abandoned her hopes of playing in the WUSA.
11 months later, on September 14, 2002, the Boston Breakers hosted a postseason Testimonial Match to honor Akers’ legendary career. For one night only, Akers would don her old number 10 for the Boston Breakers. The opponents were the WUSA’s Washington Freedom who brought with them the biggest drawing card in the women’s game – Akers’ former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm. At the time, Hamm and Akers were the top two scorers in the history of the U.S. National Team.
The exhibition had huge appeal in Boston. Akers, Hamm and Breakers’ star Kristine Lilly threw out ceremonial first pitches at the Boston Red Sox game the night before. The Testimonial Match sold out Nickerson Field in advance. In fact, the crowd of 10,279 was the second largest in the 9-year history of the various incarnations of the Breakers, trailing only the club’s inaugural WUSA game in May 2001.
The Breakers won the match 1-0. An interesting footnote – the Breakers finished a disappointing 2002 campaign a month earlier and fired Head Coach Jay Hoffman. The club’s new Head Coach would be Pia Sundhage, the Swedish-born manager who would later lead a restoration of the U.S. National Team program from 2008 to 2012. It would have been a compelling cross roads – the dominant star of the 1990’s in her final match and the woman who would become one of the key figures for U.S. Soccer in the early 21st century managing her first game (albeit an exhibition) in the States. But as it was, Sundhage hadn’t arrived in Boston yet and the Breakers were guest-managed on this evening by former Harvard coach Jape Shattuck.
Michelle Akers Tribute Video, played in-stadium during halftime of her Testimonial Match at Nickerson Field.