US soccer legend Brandi Chastain talks about her famous celebration, Abby Wambach and the USWNT's future

Brandi Chastain: Her Historic 1999 World Cup Kick
Brandi Chastain: Her Historic 1999 World Cup Kick

When Brandi Chastain hammered home the game-winning penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup, it changed U.S. soccer forever.

Since that legendary goal, and the famous celebration that shortly followed, soccer in the United States has grown steadily -- with the MLS rising in popularity, European games airing here several times every week, and most recently, the U.S. Women's National Team taking home another World Cup title.

SEE ALSO: Wambach closes out US team career with air of contentment

On Wednesday, ahead of Abby Wambach's final professional game in New Orleans, Chastain spoke with AOL about a number of topics pertaining to the soccer world.

She encourages fans in the New Orleans area thinking of coming to the game to visit the Liberty Mutual Insurance booth, where photos and U.S. Soccer swag will be given out.

Tell us about your partnership with Liberty Mutual insurance, and how the company is dedicated to supporting soccer from youth through elite levels.

As a player and a fan, I couldn't be more thrilled to be working with Liberty Mutual insurance and to be able to talk about how important they are for the growth and development of youth in this country in the soccer environment. But also what they do to allow our national teams to train and play and hopefully make their way either to the medal stands in the Olympic games or win a world championship. So, I look back on my career with the national team and think about how, in the early days, we were just hoping someone would want to be involved in women's soccer. Now to have a wonderful company sponsoring us, such as Liberty Mutual, it really shows how much we've grown over the years, and how they are saying now how important women's soccer and men's soccer are to this country. It's a very feel-good relationship for me.

Your goal in 1999 was obviously a major turning point in American soccer. But you don't necessarily recognize that as the favorite point of your career. You've mentioned things such as "doing silly things" with Mia Hamm and your first trip to the Olympic games. Can you elaborate on that?

Well, I think when people think about my career, they obviously go to my penalty kick right away, and they say "Oh, that must be the best moment you've ever had on the field. But I had played with the national team 192 times, and all those games were significant for me. But I think there's a few moments in particular that will rest with me as critical-impact, life-changing moments.

Surely the penalty kick is in the top five, but in the '99 World Cup, when we were in the quarterfinal against Germany, for example. I had just scored an own goal, and we were down 1-0 in the quarterfinal, which is a knockout round. And I could've been thinking "I just lost the game." I could've gotten down on myself -- I wasn't good enough to be there; what have I done? -- and gone into a negative tailspin. But my teammate, Carla Overbeck was right next to me, and she said "Don't worry about it, we're gonna win this game, and you're gonna help us." And she just gave me all this confidence. From that moment going forward, I never thought about the fact that I scored an own goal. Because she gave me that support, I actually went on to score another goal in that game -- thank goodness -- for our team. We eventually won that game, and they rest, obviously, is history.

I think the moments that you have with your teammates on the field, in those tough times, resonate the deepest because they're the most meaningful in terms of you as a person, and the character of people that you're around. I think that's what i remember most about my teammates and my experience with the national team.

About the famous celebration: You've said that at the time, you didn't think about it at all, and referred to it as "momentary insanity." Looking back, would you have done it any differently if you had the chance?

(Laughs) Oh no. Absolutely not. I think the greatest thing about sports, beyond all the life lessons that it teaches young people that help them grow and develop, is that sports should be spontaneous and organic and genuine. That they allow us to make these decisions under pressure and in real time is significant. I wouldn't change that moment. It was exactly what it was meant to be: a true response to an incredible moment.

And we get to talk about it to this day, which allows me to talk about my relationship with Liberty Mutual insurance. It allows me to talk about what a great and wonderful opportunity we have tonight to see Abby Wambach, the greatest goal scorer in the history of women's and men's soccer, to play her last match here in New Orleans. It gets me into the door to talk about a lot of different things, so I'm very grateful for that moment.

See photos of Abby Wambach's career

What is your outlook on the match tonight in New Orleans?

New Orleans is always full of energy -- let's be honest. There's not anything that happens in this city that's done on a normal emotional level. It's going to be a packed house. I was listening to the news, and they say it's going to be a crowd like an NFL game, which, again, speaks volumes about where U.S. soccer and women's soccer in this country -- with the support of Liberty Mutual -- where we have come, and what it is we're doing. And that we get to celebrate a player who's making a choice for this to be her last game. It just talks about what sport can do for an individual, what it can do for a team, what it can do for a community.

Abby said it herself best yesterday in the press conference: There might not be a better city in the world to be able to celebrate your last game in than New Orleans. It's going to be a very exciting, very electric night.

Your playing days have been over for a little bit now. Do you have any sort of tips or advice you can offer to someone like Abby Wambach, who is transitioning into retirement?

Abby is very fortunate. I don't think 95 or more percent of us get to choose when our careers finish. Most of us are told when they're done. But there's not a lot of conversation about what happens next. I think Abby has been around enough players that have been through it that she has enough expectations about what it will be like.

But ultimately I will say to every player that you have to embrace the moments that come next like you embraced the ones you had on the field. You put your whole heart into it, you're honest with your efforts. You try to make the most impact that you can, and you leave the place where you are, hopefully, in better shape than when you got there. With that framework, you can be successful in anything that you want to attempt.

Was there a particular moment toward the end of your career that you realized you might be ready to move on from playing?

(Laughs) Actually at the time that I finished, I wasn't ready. I wanted to continue playing, and I wasn't one of the lucky ones that got to make that choice. But I feel what I did well was that I went to practice with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and a lot of love for the game. I tried to bring that out in my teammates. I never took those days for granted. So in that way, I'm super happy with how things turned out.

The only thing I would change is having a little bit more time. Time is something you don't get back. But I did enjoy every moment and I put my all into it. So in that way I feel very satisfied.

What's in the future for you personally?

I'm coaching. I'm loving coaching. I coach my son's under-10 team, I coach high school boy's varsity -- we have a big game on Saturday night where the Earthquakes play at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. I help coach soccer with my husband at Santa Clara University.

Hopefully, I get a chance to coach one of our national teams. I feel the experience that I've had, playing for some of the best coaches, learning the things that I've learned, I've always felt like -- and I've heard other teammates and coaches of mine say -- I was always sort of a coach on the field. So I feel like that, for me, seems like a natural next evolution. I feel I need to give back the experience that I've had. It would be a waste for me if I didn't do that.

See photos of the USWNT's epic 2015 World Cup victory

What's your outlook on the USWNT as a whole, moving on from the World Cup and heading toward the Olympic Games?

There's always a natural evolution, matriculating, of player going to college, eventually they're gonna leave college and go onto the next thing. And the same is true with the national team. Change is imminent, and losing a player like Abby Wambach -- it's very difficult to fill those shoes. Not just on the field with the 184 goals that she's scored, but in leadership and in culture. But I feel there's a group of young players you're going to see on the field tonight that will be, I believe, as impactful in their own way come Rio 2016 and beyond, that is very exciting.

I like change. I think it's inevitable, and if you embrace it, it's wonderful. I think this next group is going to be exciting.

Soccer in America has taken such tremendous strides. Starting with your team in 1999, and moving on to this year's USWNT World Cup win, the MLS rising in popularity with European stars coming over to play, and even European games being televised here several times a week. A few years down the line, where do you see American soccer, in relativity to all the other professional sports here.

I think you need to look at it from two perspectives. Soccer in general will be in a healthier place. We have more fans than we've ever had, more teams than we've ever had. As a collective whole -- qualifying, especially on the men's side, for more Olympics and World Cups at every level.

That's a positive. That's a wonderful soccer environment that we're fostering, and it's getting bigger and deeper. But on the women's side, what's really important, is that we continue to grow and develop the professional leagues. Because there is a population of players who will come out of college -- I'll give you an example, Shannon Boxx, who is just retiring. She never would've been on the national team had there not been a professional league available to her at the time. That would be a great waste of talent if she didn't have a place to play after she was done with college just because now it's real-life time.

You have to make strides towards what you're gonna do next. If you're not on the national team, and there is no professional league, it's very difficult to continue to play at that level and sustain yourself. The roots are getting deeper in the women's professional league. I think having great sponsors and people who support you like Liberty Mutual insurance -- you need organizations like that to help you. So I'm looking forward to a deeper support system for the women's professional league in the future.

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