BEING ONE of the fastest players on the U.S. women's
national soccer team has its perks. Sara Whalen found that out when her image
was beamed around the globe following the United States' penalty-kick victory
scored the winning goal, Whalen was the first to congratulate her.
The Greenlawn native won the celebratory footrace and was shown in numerous
photographs hugging Chastain. Time magazine ran the shot on its cover, and it
appeared in just about every newspaper in the nation. The final was watched by
more than 90,000 people live and another 40 million on television. Sports
Illustrated selected the team as its 1999 Sportwomen of the Year. The team also
the same week.
"It was a whole big blur of emotions and feelings that went with that
game," Whalen said. "It's unfortunate that I have a short-term memory, so I
can't remember everything about every game, but I have a lot of photos to help
me." It's been a full year since Whalen and the rest of the national team
captured the World Cup-and the hearts of the country. A year that saw its lows
in a contract squabble that had the team on strike in January, and saw its
highs when plans were unveiled in February for a professional league to begin
For Whalen, 24, the year has been filled with highs. Not long before the
World Cup began last summer, the defender was on the fringe of a list of
players to make the team. It wasn't until almost the very last minute that Tony
DiCicco, the coach of the team, decided to include her on the 20-person
roster. She played the entire overtime of the final against China and logged
the second most minutes of playing time among the reserves.
"I went through so much to make the World Cup team, and when I did and we
won it, I knew the time away from my family and friends was worth it," Whalen
At Harborfields High School, Whalen played soccer and basketball and ran
track. She still holds the school records in the 100-meter and 200-meter
dashes, using the speed she inherited from her father, Jack, who ran track at
Boston College. She attended the University of Connecticut, where she starred
on the soccer team as a sweeper for three years before moving to midfield as a
senior. She scored 21 goals and had 22 assists at the new position and was
named 1997 Soccer America Player of the Year. UConn retired her No. 8 jersey.
Last week Whalen made a trip home to play in an international game against
players, Whalen found herself in the role of veteran leader and scored a goal
in a 4-1 win. It was her fourth goal of the year and the seventh of her
"This is really a break for a lot of us," she said before leaving for a
month. "To get the chance to come out and play in my hometown was awesome."
She'll get that chance a lot more often next spring. Whalen has already been
allocated to the yet-unnamed New York franchise of the Women's United Soccer
Association (WUSA), which will begin play in April. Before that, however, there
are other concerns.
"The fact that the WUSA is coming together is just a tremendous thing to be
happening," Whalen said. "We're thinking about it, but right now our immediate
goal is to win the Olympics, which is not an easy thing to do." Especially
with a tough group that includes China, Norway and Nigeria in what is being
called "the group of death." "With so many teams improving and coming up, every
draw is going to be tough," Whalen said, downplaying the obstacles the team
will have to overcome just to advance to the medal round. But after so much
success, could anything less than a gold medal be construed as failure? "The
pressure is what we put on ourselves," Whalen said. "The World Cup was a
different kind of pressure. It was in the U.S., and we were trying to get the
Cup back." And this time? "This time the pressure is to remain the best."