By Justin Chapman

Fresh off their second World Cup win in a row (and fourth total), the US women’s national soccer team defeated Ireland 3-0 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday. The game was the US team’s first since the World Cup Final against the Netherlands on July 7 in Lyon, France, in which the United States beat the Netherlands 2-0.

Several times during the game, the crowd of 37,040 people broke into chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” in support of the US women’s team’s lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, the body that governs the sport in the United States.

The match against Ireland kicked off a five-game victory tour for the US team and was the third game in the Rose Bowl since the US team won the groundbreaking 1999 Women’s World Cup. The remaining four games in the victory tour will see the US team face off against Portugal on Aug. 29 and Sept. 3 and against South Korea on Oct. 3 and 6.

‘Full circle’

In the 1999 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl, the US women’s team tied with China, leading to nail-biting penalty kicks in front of a crowd of 90,185 people, the largest ever for a women’s sporting event. US player Brandi Chastain scored the final goal to put the US team over the top at 5-4, inspiring legions of young girls and boys playing soccer across the country. It was a watershed moment for women’s sports.

Playing in the same stadium as the 1999 team 20 years later “is extraordinary, a full circle moment,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe, 34, from Redding, told the Pasadena Weekly before the US team’s Friday practice at the Rose Bowl.

“We’re all in that age that we were inspired by that win,” she added. “To be able to come back here and celebrate a huge win that we had and connect the dots all the way through the program is very special.”

After scoring the winning penalty kick in 1999, Chastain slid onto her knees in triumph and ripped off her jersey, revealing her sports bra. It was a moment seen — and dissected — around the world, and the ensuing controversy highlighted the double standard facing female athletes.

On July 10, the 20th anniversary of that 1999 World Cup Final, the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation installed a bronze statue of Chastain’s iconic moment, depicting her on her knees clutching her derobed jersey with a look of pure exultation on her face. The statue is located in front of the stadium’s main entrance, Gate A, near where countless youth soccer games take place, ensuring that the moment will continue to inspire new generations of soccer players. Chastain herself attended the statue’s unveiling ceremony.

“[This statue] is not just for one person, it’s for every little soccer player out there,” Chastain said. “I hope every player who puts on cleats has a moment like that.”

‘Just What This Country Needs Right Now’

On Friday, one day before their game against Ireland, the US women’s team held a practice session on the Rose Bowl’s Spieker Field and spoke about the legacy of the trailblazing 1999 team.

Jill Ellis, the US team’s head coach, said Chastain’s iconic moment was the inspiration to play soccer for some of the current team’s players. Ellis announced on July 30 that she is retiring after five years and 103 wins. She is the first coach to win two Women’s World Cup titles.

“That moment [in 1999] was the catalyst of a movement in terms of suddenly taking this game to a level where it reaches a bigger audience and attracts more investment,” said Ellis, 52. “It pushed us forward and upward. The Rose Bowl is a great place to kick [our victory tour] off.”

Forward Alex Morgan, 30, who grew up in Diamond Bar and played soccer at UC Berkeley, said her team was continuing the legacy started by the 1999 team.

“The ’99ers had such a domino and lasting effect on both myself but also the future of women’s soccer in the United States and globally,” she said. “This team, the ’19ers, is doing the same and continuing to uphold that legacy. but it definitely started with the ’99ers right here [at the Rose Bowl].”

Morgan and Rapinoe did not play Saturday because of injuries.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti attended Friday’s practice and gave the championship team some words of encouragement.

“You’re just what this country needs right now,” he told them.

The US women’s team didn’t just win the World Cup; they set several records along the way, including scoring the most goals in tournament history with 26 and the most goals in a single Women’s World Cup match and the largest margin of victory when they beat Thailand 13-0. The US team has also won 12 consecutive World Cup matches, the longest winning streak in the tournament’s history.

On the same day as the unveiling of the Chastain statue, July 10, this year’s World Cup-winning US women’s team received a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan to celebrate the team’s fourth World Cup win.

Rapinoe, Morgan, Lavelle and midfielder Julie Ertz, 27, were all nominated for the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player award, along with eight other players from different countries. The winner will be announced at the Best FIFA Football Awards show on September 23 in Milan, Italy.

‘Doing What’s Right’

Despite these accomplishments, the US women’s national soccer team continues to make less money than the US men’s national soccer team, which has not performed nearly as well as the women’s team. The men’s team didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, for instance, and they lost to Mexico in the Copa America tournament’s final game on the same day the women’s team won their World Cup Final, July 7.

Several players on the US women’s team have sued US Soccer over allegations that the men’s team receives more in bonuses and game day pay.

“We’re fighting here on the soccer level, but [the equal pay fight has] an even bigger scope, in the boardroom, in hospitals, in the teachers’ [lounge], it’s everywhere,” said Ellis. “At some point, it comes down to doing what’s right.”

On July 29, US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro released an open letter claiming the organization actually pays the women’s team more than the men even though the men’s team brings in more revenue than the women’s team.

“[Cordeiro’s letter] missed the whole point,” Rapinoe said. “It’s more about the potential earnings of each team, that’s what’s really unequal.”

Rapinoe is also relishing her role as antagonist to President Trump, who backtracked on his invitation for the championship women’s team to visit the White House after they won the World Cup.

“People are frustrated and fed up with all of the negativity and the cruelty coming from the [Trump] administration, not only just vulgar language but racist and sexist behavior,” Rapinoe said at the Rose Bowl.

US Hat Trick

Looking ahead, the US women’s team is preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. And FIFA announced on July 31 that the number of participating countries in the 2023 Women’s World Cup will expand from 24 to 32, reflecting the growing popularity but also competitiveness of women’s soccer.

The United States, which is hosting the men’s World Cup along with Mexico and Canada in 2026 and the Olympics in LA in 2028, is hoping to host the Women’s World Cup in 2027.