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Soccer: Hamm it up now, while you still can

Amanda Branam
staff writer
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday October 10, 2003

As Mia Hamm moves one step closer tomorrow to the close of her 16-year international soccer career, it seems only appropriate to look at the impact she has had on the soccer world and beyond.

To any female who played soccer or any sport, for that matter in any serious capacity, whether just starting out, as a player on the UA soccer team or a member of the national team, Hamm was the standard. You may be good real good but female soccer players will always be measured on the Mia scale. We strapped on our shin guards, pulled our ponytails tight, and visualized playing like Mia Hamm.

For female athletes in general, she is the symbol of equality to our male counterparts. Few, if any, other female athletes are referenced on a first-name basis.

We know certain professional athletes as Michael, Emmitt, Sammy and now Mia. She is one of the only people who could have been in a commercial and believably one-upped Michael Jordan.

For people from Boston, she is the envy of every girl and probably every guy, for that matter because of her engagement to their superhero, "Nom-ah." Boston may truly be one of the only places in the country where people would say, "There goes that soccer player who is marrying Nomar Garciaparra."

Outside of Boston, however, people might say, "There goes that baseball player who is marrying Mia."

For professional athletes, she is the ideal for off-field behavior, on-field tenacity and work ethic. When the press asks her a question about her game and how she played, she completely disregards the question and talks solely about how the team did.

She doesn't get in trouble with the law. She ran a fitness test and finished just over what the required time was; without hesitation, she started again, this time passing without a blink of an eye.

To U.S. soccer, she has been the wave it rode to what little publicity and popularity it could muster. There has yet to be a U.S. male soccer player who is a household name. If someone was asked to name an American soccer player, the first name out his or her mouth would likely be "Mia."

In the world of soccer, she holds the record for goals in international play. Period. In virtually any other statistic for female athletes, that sentence would have ended with, "for women." That means she has more goals then Pele, the legendary Brazilian player who many feel is the best all-time player in soccer.

She set that record in May 1999, and remains a scoring threat. Her lofty number of goals might lead some to believe that she is a ball-hog, but passing and assists are as much a part of her game as scoring. If she had never scored a goal, her assists total would still make her a top-10 point scorer in U.S. soccer.

Mia began her national team career was when she was 15 years old. With a pair of World Cup championships, four national championships and five Chevrolet Female Athlete of the Year awards in a row from 1994-1998 she is about to hang up the cleats nearly 16 years later. Hamm has said the 2003 World Cup will be her last, and that she will retire after the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Anyone who knows anything about soccer assumed the U.S team would be in the World Cup final. Instead, though, the Americans are playing for third place tomorrow against Canada. Not only should you watch because it is the last World Cup game in which you will see the No. 9 jersey, but because it may be the last World Cup for many of the veterans who have been on the national team as long as Hamm.

Brandi Chastain, who gained fame in the 1999 World Cup when she stripped off her jersey after scoring the winning penalty kick, is 35. Defender Joy Fawcett is 35, while goalkeeper Briana Scurry, captain Julie Foudy and forward Kristine Lilly are all 32. This World Cup, and certainly Athens, could be the beginning of the end of an era, the first era that women's soccer has known.

Without Mia, the era certainly would not have been the era of complete world dominance that the U.S. women enjoyed. The only thing left to figure out is what the soccer world will be like post-Mia Hamm.

Luckily, we don't have to know just yet.

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