American soccer has many pioneers, but it is difficult to find one player with a legacy of firsts as extensive as that of former U. S Women's National Team goalkeeper Briana Scurry.
Every stop in Scurry's career featured some form of trailblazing moment. She was the primary goalkeeper on the 1996 Olympic team that won the first-ever gold medal in women's soccer. She made a historic save in the shootout in the 1999 World Cup Final that put women's soccer on the map in the United States. Scurry was even a founding player in the Women's United Soccer Association, the first paid women's league in the entire world. Overall, her USWNT career lasted from 1994 to 2008 and featured a World Cup win and two Olympic Gold Medals.
Scurry was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017 for her accomplishments. She was the first African-American woman to receive such an honor.
Scurry made her USWNT debut in 1994, as a time when soccer was just getting a hold in American society thanks to the 1994 World Cup being played on American soil. Women’s soccer was still barely an afterthought, but that began to change during the 1996 Olympics, when Scurry backstopped the USWNT to gold in the first ever women’s soccer tournament at the Olympic Games. The success of that event led to great interest in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which was hosted by the United States and eventually became an iconic moment in American sports history.
Scurry’s role in that World Cup is often overlooked but cannot be understated. The USWNT only allowed three goals in the entire tournament with Scurry playing every minute between the sticks. Her save in the third round of the penalty shootout during the Final denied Liu Yang’s attempt and allowed Brandi Chastain to score the winner two rounds later, giving the USWNT its second World Cup trophy.
“You always knew going into a penalty shootout that Bri was going to save one,” USWNT legend Julie Foudy said of Scurry. “So, going into that one in 1999, it’s not just any penalty shootout, it’s to win a World Cup. We always felt like, ‘Bri’s got one, we just have to do our jobs because she’s going to come up with a big save. This is what she does.’”
Scurry became a founding member of the world’s first paid professional women’s league in 2000 off the back of that World Cup win. Although the WUSA only lasted three seasons, the league helped lay the foundations for the future of professional women’s soccer that eventually led to the formation of the NWSL in 2012.
Scurry never played in the NWSL as her professional career came to an end in 2010 after suffering a concussion during the second season playing for the Washington Freedom of Women’s Professional Soccer, another league she was a founding member of. Scurry turned her unexpected retirement into an opportunity, however, and began advocating for concussion awareness and stricter concussion protocols. She testified in congressional hearings on the issue in 2014 and continues to push for awareness on the seriousness of head injuries to this day.
Scurry is also a voice for diversity and inclusion in sports. She was one of the few African-American players on those very successful 1990s USWNT squads and has been an open member of the LGBTQ community since those days as well. She serves as a motivational speaker often focussing on both racial and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.
Scurry is still active in the soccer world as well. The Washington Spirit recently brought her in to serve as a mentor to the team's rookies, especially Trinity Rodman, the second overall pick in last month’s NWSL Draft and the youngest player in league history. Scurry has a history with the Spirit, who hired her as a goalkeeping coach and academy assistant for the 2018 season. Her goal this season will be to help Rodman and young players develop as professionals and hopefully inspire them to long careers while continuing to promote her message of diversity and inclusion.
“[Having] a woman of color as my mentor is great,” Rodman told the Washington Post. “She can tell me what she has been through and how to handle certain situations. I am going to learn a lot, especially when it comes to diversity and color.”
It is fitting that Scurry is helping a player who represents the next generation of women of color in American soccer, a generation that was just being born when Scurry was making history and conquering the soccer world.