The story behind the Brandi Chastain-impersonating USWNT superfan
When I realized that this year’s Women’s World Cup would be contested in Canada, just a seven hour drive from New York City, where I live, I knew I had to be there. As a reporter for Sports Illustrated, you don’t always get to be a fan, but for this World Cup I was all in. A soccer-mad friend of mine and I hatched plans to make it across the border and bought four tickets to Tuesday’s game in Montreal. We snapped them up right as they went on sale in February, paying $123 each for prime tickets right in the friends and family section that were going for $220 on StubHub a few days before the game.
My friend, Catherine Pacilio, who played at USWNT coach Jill Ellis’s alma mater of William and Mary, currently plays in a New York City adult soccer league and we figured between her crew and mine, we’d fill the seats. An old high school friend of mine, Stephani DeLuca, snapped up one ticket but as the game quickly approached, we still hadn’t found a taker for our fourth seat.
It all came together one week before game day in a Gchat conversation with my good friend Matt Sadewitz, who had already made plans to go to the Cup in Montreal with our buddy Guy Hoag. I mentioned our extra ticket and within moments, we had looped our buddy Joel Friedrich in on our conversation to join us on our pilgrimage. The only condition to joining my friends and I as our fourth: he had to dress as Brandi Chastain.
Joel’s response to this potential dealbreaker was simply, “That wouldn’t be a problem, Ali!”
My crew and I had already been plotting elaborate red, white and blue, but inspired by the iconic SI cover photo taken by Robert Beck, I knew Joel, a trained actor, would inhabit the triumphant Brandi Chastain character with gusto.
And he did. Once we took an initial photo with him and our crew on his personal roll of turf at the stadium, Joel aka "Brandi" couldn’t go anywhere without someone stopping him to ask to pose for a photo. When a U.S. Women's Soccer rep came down to our section to interview him, we knew the world was about to get an eyeful. After each of the U.S.’s electric goals, Joel spontaneously sprinted down the stairs of our section to make the victorious Brandi gesture and after the game, was swept up with a crowd of US fans holding huge letters spelling USA and chanting "Seven Nation Army".
As Joel himself put it in a string of exclamations, "That was the most exciting game I’ve ever seen live! Electric to be there! What a game! What a win! Our U.S. Women played strong. Thrill to watch!"
I knew the idea had the potential to go viral but with 60k+ likes and counting on the US Women’s Soccer Instagram account, posts on SI.com and ESPNW and even a tweet from Brandi Chastain herself, I was amazed at how quickly Joel’s portrayal of Brandi had spread.
Fittingly, it was truly a team effort – I went to two costume stores and several women’s sports stores to source the blonde wig and black sports bra that define the Brandi look, Joel brought his own white T-shirt, on which we drew Brandi’s number 6 and a Nike swoosh with a sharpie, Catherine contributed a pair of her white Nike soccer shorts, Stephani purchased a huge roll of Astro Turf at a hardware store, Matt resourcefully used his airline miles to help Joel make it to Montreal and Guy – well Guy gamely dressed up in solidarity with Joel in his own visual spectacle, sporting a sequined American flag vest he found at a thrift store.
Maybe not exactly Klingenberg to Lloyd to O’Hara for the go-ahead goal beat Germany 2-0 and advance to the final, but a win for the US of A all the same.