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September 14, 2002 – Michelle Akers Testimonial Match

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Michelle Akers Boston Breakers

Photo courtesy of Tony Biscaia

Boston Breakers vs. Washington Freedom
Michelle Akers Testimonial Match
September 14, 2002
Nickerson Field
Attendance: 10,279

 

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.

Michelle Akers WUSA

Photo Courtesy of Tony Biscaia

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.

 

==YouTube==

Michelle Akers Tribute Video, played in-stadium during halftime of her Testimonial Match at Nickerson Field.

 


 

 


Written by andycrossley

August 22nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm

June 19, 2003 – WUSA All-Star Game

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WUSA American Stars vs. WUSA World Stars
June 19, 2003
SAS Soccer Park
Attendance: 7,068

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs
22 pages

 

Thanks to Atlanta Beat fan and women’s soccer collector Steven Bruno for sending in this match program from the second and final Women’s United Soccer Association All-Star Game from June 2003.

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:

 

==Downloads==

2003 WUSA American Stars Roster

2003 WUSA World Stars Roster

 

==Links==

Soccer America match report.

Women’s United Soccer Association Media Guides

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

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2001-2003 Atlanta Beat

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Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003)

Born: 2000 – WUSA founding franchise.
Died: September 15, 2003 – The WUSA ceases operations.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owner: WUSA

Investor/Operator: Cox Enterprises, Inc.

 

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.

 

==Beat Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
2001 6/6/2001 @ Boston Breakers T 1-1 Program
2001 7/12/2001 @ New York Power W 3-0 Program
2001 8/4/2001 @ Washington Freedom W 2-1 Program
2001 8/18/2001 vs. Philadelphia Charge W 3-2 (OT) Program
2001 8/25/2001 Bay Area CyberRays L Program
2002 7/3/2002 @ Washington Freedom L 2-1 Program
2002 8/4/2002 @ Washington Freedom L 3-2 Program
2003 4/12/2003 vs. Boston Breakers W 6-0 Program Roster
2003 4/26/2003 @ Washington Freedom T 1-1 Program
2003 5/3/2003 vs. San Jose CyberRays L 1-0 Program Roster
2003 5/10/2003 vs. San Diego Spirit T 1-1 Program Roster
2003 5/17/2003 vs. San Jose CyberRays W 1-0 Program Roster
2003 6/7/2003 vs. Carolina Courage L 2-1 Program
2003 6/22/2003 vs. Philadelphia Charge W 4-2 Program Roster
2003 8/24/2003 Washington Freedom L 2-1 (OT) Program

==Key Players==

  • Charmaine Hooper
  • Cindy Parlow
  • Homara Sawa
  • Brianna Scurry
  • Sun Wen

 

==YouTube==

Japanese international midfielder Homare Sawa in action for the Beat against San Diego. June 1, 2002

 

==Links==

Women’s United Soccer Association Media Guides

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

May 1st, 2013 at 12:57 pm

April 5, 2003 – Carolina Courage vs. Washington Freedom

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Carolina Courage vs. Washington Freedom
April 5, 2003
SAS Soccer Park
Attendance:

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

 

The Women’s United Soccer Association opened its third and final season on April 5, 2003 with a rematch of the season two Founder’s Cup championship game between the Carolina Courage and the Washington Freedom.  The Courage came out the victors in that title bout, defeating the Freedom 3-2, and they hosted this rematch at SAS Soccer Park, their soccer-specific stadium in Cary, North Carolina.

The Freedom was the WUSA’s glamour franchise led by the game’s brightest star, U.S National Team star Mia HammThe club also featured one of the game’s most promising young stars, the American striker Abby Wambach, drafted out of the University of Florida with the #2 overall pick in the 2002 WUSA college draft.

The Courage, by comparison, was a more workmanlike squad.  Carolina’s American stars – Carla Overbeck, Danielle Fotopoulos and Tiffany Roberts – were strong players who never quite commanded the public adulation of their USWNT teammates Hamm, Brandi ChastainKristine Lilly or Michelle Akers.  Carolina’s best player was the German striker Birgit Prinz, who fueled the team’s championship run in 2002 with 12 goals.  Prinz was entering the peak of her legendary career in 2003, about to reel off a remarkable three-year run (2003-2005) as FIFA’s World Player of the Year.

The match itself reflected the changing of the guard, both in the WUSA and on the U.S. National Team.  Prinz got the Courage on the board first with a sixth minute goal, assisted by Fotopoulos and program cover model Hege Riise.  But the Freedom ultimately got the best of Carolina, thanks to the past and future symbols of the U.S. National Team.   Wambach, emerging as the Americans’ great offensive force of the 2000′s, notched the equalizer in the 44th minute off a feed from Hamm, the brilliant star of the 1990′s.  Hamm then put away the game-winner in the 59th minute in Washington’s 2-1 victory.

The result sent both teams on their course for the 2003 season.  Carolina never recaptured the momentum of their 2002 title run and finished 7th out of 8 teams.  The Freedom finished fourth, but saved their best performances for the postseason, upsetting the top-seeded Boston Breakers in the semis and then defeating the Atlanta Beat for the 2003 Founder’s Cup title in August.  Wambach was the MVP of the title match.

The WUSA folded less than a month later on September 15, 2003 after losing $100 million over three seasons.

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Written by andycrossley

September 22nd, 2012 at 8:31 pm

June 8, 2002 – Philadelphia Charge vs. Washington Freedom

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Philadelphia Charge vs. Washington Freedom
June 8, 2002
Villanova Stadium
Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

Former Washington Freedom supporters club member Kevin Parker (@StarCityFan) sent in this rare Philadelphia Charge program from the  Women’s United Soccer Association this week. Cover girl Heather Mitts was in the early days of her career back in 2002, both as a club pro with the Charge and as a fixture on the U.S. Women’s National Team.

I thought the program made for a nice companion piece to an lengthier column I wrote recently on Mitts’ latter-day career in Women’s Professional Soccer with the Boston Breakers.

The big impact players on the Charge were the team’s foreign stars – striker Marinette Pichon of France and midfielder/forward Kelly Smith of England. Mitts became the biggest American name on the Charge, partly due to her skills and model good looks, and also due to the fact that the established American stars of the day took a dim view to playing in Philly.  WUSA launched each franchise with three “allocated” U.S. National Team players in late 2000.  The players had a voice in which markets they wanted to play in and (reportedly) virtually no one listed Philadelphia.

As a result, the Charge were the only club among the WUSA’s eight franchises that did not receive one of the recognizable stars from the 1999 U.S. National Team that won the World Cup.  Mia Hamm went to Washington, Brandi Chastain headlined in San Jose, goalkeeper Briana Scurry headed to Atlanta, Julie Foudy led San Diego, Kristine Lilly landed in Boston, Tiffeny Milbrett went to the New York Power, and Michelle Akers was allocated to her home town of Orlando (later shifted to Carolina).  The Charge got a largely anonymous allotment of younger players: Mandy Clemens, Lorrie Fair and Saskia Webber.

Mitts was a stalwart for the Charge during the three-year run of the WUSA, appearing in 51 of the team’s 63 matches and earning all-league honors as a defender in 2003. Off the field, Mitts appeared on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine as one of the city’s sexiest singles and dated Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell and later Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley (whom she married in 2010).

The WUSA folded in September 2003 after three seasons of play.  Mitts tore her ACL in 2007 and missed the World Cup that year, but bounced back in 2008 to win Olympic gold with the USA at Beijing in 2008.  She played three seasons in Women’s Professional Soccer, a successor league to the WUSA, from 2009 to 2011, including a return engagement in the City of Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Independence in the summer of 2010.  She last played professionally for the Atlanta Beat in WPS in 2011.

 

Written by andycrossley

July 6th, 2012 at 5:25 pm