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Ladies Get Their Kicks in Chicago

By Todd McClamroch in News on Aug 10, 2007 5:44PM

2007_08_09_USSoccer.jpgThe U.S. Women's National Team for soccer is in town this weekend for a World Cup tune-up match with New Zealand on Sunday at Soldier Field. The United States comes in to Sunday's match on a 45-game unbeaten streak; this will be their second to last friendly before they travel to China for the 2007 World Cup. Chicagoist sat down with former national team representative and two-time World Cup Champion Brandi Chastain to talk soccer (yes, the woman in the sports bra but as her book title says, It's Not About The Bra).

The Women's National Team was matched up against arguably the toughest bracket of competition in the 2007 Women's World Cup group play. The United States is currently first in the FIFA rankings and is in a group with Sweden (#3), who were runners-up to Germany in 2003, Korea DPR (#5) and a Nigerian team (#24) that Chastain feels is dangerous because it "is very deceptive and unpredictable." Brandi didn't seem too concerned about the tough bracket, saying, "It is not a weak bracket, but to win a tournament like the World Cup you have to play the best teams anyway. It's exhausting and empowering at the same time to play those teams early on because you know where you are, you know what you need to do going forward, and you are going to need to use your roster."

Saturday's game might be important for that last point. The final few games before the World Cup allow coach Greg Ryan to figure out ways to alter the line-up to give rest to players to ensure the team is not worn out after a grueling set of group play matches. Brandi pointed out that this coach has not been in a situation where he has needed to manage a team over a lengthy tournament, and how effectively he will manage the players may be the biggest question mark.

Chicagoist asked Chastain why Chicagoans should find their way down to Soldier Field for Sunday's match. She commented that with most sports, "the average fan can't get close enough to the people they admire," but regarding soccer, "when you come to the stadium you might get a high five, may get an autograph, you can go to the practices since it is not closed off to the public. These players don't fancy themselves as different from the people that come to watch as they used to be those people. There is still that grounding that exists in women's soccer."

She went on to say for those who have not experienced international soccer, they are missing out on the passion behind the sport. She noted, "when you watch it around the world and you see those fans ... they live it. It represents where they come from and who they are. We don't see that kind of passion in basketball, baseball or football."

Chastain still feels there is work to do to continue to fortify the United States as a dominant women's program. She said, "I am not sure we have the right system to make our players the best players. There is no reason we should settle for anything less in our coaching and development programs than our men who went after international coaches who were incredibly successful ... we want that and need that to be successful. We are not doing that on the women's side."

2007_08_10_chastain.jpgChastain freely admits her life revolves around sport and specifically soccer. She is a co-founder of the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative an organization that creates avenues for strong, talented and accomplished women athletes and coaches to inspire girls, women and families with their leadership skills and community service. Brandi has also been a sideline reporter/soccer analyst for ABC/ESPN.

Although she is active off the field, she was visibly excited about the prospects of returning to the pitch to play in the new WUSA, which is expected to return to action in 2008. A franchise will be located here in Chicago, a city Chastain said "is a great city with great people ... it is a great sports town." She commented that people here "get it" and that this is a great place to rebuild the league since Chicago is a "great soccer town."

Tickets are available for Sunday's game at Soldier Field, and information on tickets can be found on the U.S. Soccer website.

Photo provided by Chicagoist_Todd (Flickr).