PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which stampedes across our screens and finds a home in the hearts of millions of fans across the globe, is finally here.
The highly anticipated event started Friday afternoon in France. The United States played their opening game of the tournament again Thailand on Tuesday.
According to Danielle Fotopoulos, who was a member of the 1999 team that won the Women’s World Cup, the excitement level is increasing second by second.
“I have gotten to go back and meet some of the current players and wish them good luck,” she told News Channel 8 Sports’ Gabrielle Shirley. “That inspired me and they are like, ‘You are so inspiring for me as well,’ so that was a pretty cool exchange. I think getting to know them also helps me to get more excited to watch them play and wish them well.”
The former University of Florida Gator has settled in Pasco County with her husband and their four children but she has never strayed from the sport that catapulted her onto the national stage. She made the U.S. Women’s National Team in 1999.
“When the roster is released, there is a ton of relief within those who make it and then, obviously, a huge disappointment for those who don’t,” said Fotopoulos. “Because, you know, on that roster there is very little between the people that make it and the people that don’t. Leading up to that is very stressful and then, when the roster is made, there is a lot of relief, there is a lot of fun, there is the one team mentality, one nation.”
She can still recall that “one team, one nation” feeling with ease.
“When you are on the team, that bond, everything that starts happening within the chemistry and the mold of preparing for the World Cup, is really special,” said Fotopoulos.
We asked her to recall that final game against China played inside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California in July 1999.
“I have more of the emotional side because I did not play in that game,” Fotopoulos said. “I was a reserve on the bench but I can say I was exhausted after the game and I did not even play! I was so excited. We were up and down the whole time. [Kristine Lilly] saved it off the goal line. We thought that was it, that was the game, and then she saved it. We had chances. They had chances. Then it was tied and it went into overtime.”
You could hear the emotion in her voice as she continued to share those unforgettable moments.
“When it went into the PKs, it was like, ‘Wow!’ so emotional, just chills,” Fotopoulos said. “Then, on the side, we even discussed half of us have to run to Bri and the other half we have to run to Brandi or whoever. We did not know it was Brandi at the time and then, boom. When she made the shot and we won it was just like a whirlwind of two and a half weeks.”
Fotopoulos ran to Briana Scurry, the winning goalkeeper. She described the entire experience as “phenomenal.”
And what did she think when Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after she scored that winning goal?
“I know that she did not plan that or anything,” Fotopoulos said. “That was completely just emotion and expressive joy for her and what you did. All of the guys were always like, ‘Ahh!’ So I think that is just what she did and we were all like, ‘Woohoo!’ We did not even think anything about it.”
Fotopoulos is thinking about the fate of the women’s team as they enter this tournament. The U.S. Women’s National Team is the defending champion, and they are favored to win the competition this year too.
“It is going to be a hard road to get there for them,” said Fotopoulos. “It always is. It is not an easy task, so they definitely have to take it one game at a time and I know that they are training to do that and will do that and I am rooting for them all the way.”
Fotopoulos will actually be cheering for her team from the Middle East.
“I leave on June 9 and I will be going around to all of the different bases and I will be with the troops during the games,” said Fotopoulos.
She is embarking on another incredible journey as her team fights for another World Cup championship.