The voice of America is coming in loud and clear at last.
Midfielder Julie Foudy, the U.S. women's soccer team's de facto
spokesperson, has long been the victim of poor reception, but
with the start this Saturday of the third Women's World Cup in
eight venues across the country, the masses are finally tuning
her in--albeit a decade after the American women started beating
the shin guards off the rest of the world. "I used to say we
were the best-kept secret in sports after we won the 1991 World
Cup," says Foudy. "Now people are like, 'Oh, my god, you guys
are so good.' Oh, yeah? Where have you been the last 10 years?
We've always been this good."
So say howdy to Foudy, co-captain and team comedian, who will
quarterback the U.S. offense and almost certainly be the life of
this three-week party. Here's a 28-year-old woman who calls her
parents Slim Jim and Fruity Judy. Who can excel for ESPN as a
soccer analyst one day and for the national team the next. Who
can throw elbows with the toughest opponents and blow kisses as
a former high school homecoming queen. Who can win an Olympic
gold medal and one month later nearly quit the sport to enter
med school. Who can sign a deal to endorse a product and then
visit a remote corner of Asia to observe the conditions under
which it's made. In other words, as Foudy steers the
tournament-favorite U.S. toward the World Cup final on July 10
at the Rose Bowl, chances are she'll win the nation's hearts, to
say nothing of your minds. Which is what you'd expect,
naturally, from the Voice of America.
Foudy is a delightful mix of slapstick and sincerity. "Let's
just say there's never a dull moment with Jules," says defender
Carla Overbeck, the butt of innumerable Foudy jokes since posing
in a leopard-skin dress for a magazine before the 1996 Olympics.
"She's a total dork," says midfielder Kristine Lilly, "but at
the same time, a big aspect of her leadership is how she trains.
She's always saying, 'Come on, let's do one more.'"
On the field Foudy bellows like a hog caller to keep her
teammates organized. Off the field she's nothing less than the
U.S.'s emcee. It's not uncommon at the team's manifold public
appearances for the Americans' less gregarious star, forward Mia
Hamm, to nudge Foudy and say, "Jules, you do it." So Foudy talks
and sells, sells and talks, yet rarely mentions herself. "When
we went to China in '91 [for the World Cup], she was so humble I
didn't even know she was a starter," says Slim Jim, a sales rep
in Laguna Nigel, Calif. "I wasn't sure if I'd see her play, and
she ended up playing every minute of every game."
The path from anonymity to latter-day Mike Eruzione has taken
Foudy to some out-of-the-way places--Varna, Bulgaria; Sialkot,
Pakistan; Bristol, Conn.--but her first stop was Mission Viejo,
the conservative Southern California suburb that was progressive
enough to offer soccer programs for girls in the 1970s. As a
second-grader Julie joined a select traveling team called, she
grudgingly admits, the Soccerettes. "How cheez is that?" says
Foudy, who to this day, and to her teammates' chagrin, will
croon the first line of the Soccerettes fight song (N-n-n-nobody
messes with the green machine!) whenever she signs autographs
for girls in green uniforms.
Foudy stayed with the Soccerettes for 10 years while also
becoming a two-time All-America at Mission Viejo High, until a
team with a bit more prestige came calling in 1987. Anson
Dorrance, the U.S. coach at the time, played a hunch, leaving
several veterans off his roster for a trip to China and naming
four heralded rookies instead: Foudy, 16; Hamm, 15; Lilly, 16;
and defender Joy Biefield (now Fawcett), 19. It would prove to
be the most important move in U.S. women's soccer history.
Nearly 12 years later those four, plus midfielder Michelle Akers
and defenders Overbeck and Brandi Chastain, form the veteran
backbone of the American team. But in '87 Foudy initially balked
at going to China. "I'd been traveling all summer with the youth
national team," she recalls. "I just wanted to go home." A
dumbstruck Dorrance set her straight. "This is the national
team, Julie," he said. "Do you know what we're talking about?"
Foudy made the trip, and even though she rode the bench she
never returned to the youth team. Four years later, when she
helped the U.S. win the inaugural Women's World Cup, Foudy and
her teammates reached the pinnacle of their sport. More than
65,000 spectators, including Pele and a crush of international
media, were on hand in Guangzhou for the Americans' 2-1 win over
Norway in the championship game. Then the team returned
triumphantly home to...a ticker-tape parade? Appearances on
Carson and Oprah? Nope. In the U.S. there was all the excitement
of a 2 a.m. test pattern. "It was weird--we won the World Cup,
but then I had to come back to school and take exams," says
Foudy, who was a Stanford junior. "All my professors were like,
'So what? Here's your final.'"
Acceptance has been achingly slow to arrive. As recently as the
1996 Summer Olympics, NBC shoehorned only 10 taped minutes of
women's soccer between countless hours of plausibly live
gymnastics. The U.S. beat China 2-1 in front of a crowd of
76,481 at the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium, and these
days complete videotapes of the American women's finest hour
circulate like samizdat through the soccer community.
Women's soccer, it seemed, was doomed to third-class status by
media bigwigs until January 1998, when ABC announced that all 32
World Cup '99 games would be televised nationally on ABC, ESPN
or ESPN2. Then last year ESPN, in search of a soccer
commentator, contacted Foudy out of the blue and asked her to do
studio analysis for the men's World Cup. Little did the network
know that as a child, Foudy had swooned over Howard Cosell while
watching Monday Night Football. For three months Foudy spent
four hours a day researching the intricacies of 32 teams and
familiarizing herself with 704 names, studying so much that U.S.
women's coach Tony DiCicco finally told her to stop.
After a rough TV debut ("Honey, you were a little stiff," Fruity
Judy told her, "but you were great!"), Foudy turned out to be a
natural. Nearly every Baggio and Di Biagio rolled flawlessly off
her tongue, and even when she screwed up, she screwed up with
aplomb. During one broadcast she was describing "the Colombian
goalkeeper, Mmmm.... Mmmm...." In an instant she turned to her
partner, Dave Revsine, and said, "Dave, help me out here!"
"Mondragon!" he said.
On she went for five weeks, save for the three days she played
hooky to appear in a couple of U.S. women friendlies. ESPN
invited Foudy back to analyze last year's NCAA championship, and
she plans on getting serious about broadcasting as soon as she
retires from soccer. "Julie's charisma comes straight through
the tube," says Bill Graff, ABC's and ESPN's coordinating
producer for World Cup '98. "Her personality is so vibrant, you
can't help but listen to what she has to say. And when you hear
what she has to say, she has instant credibility with the viewer."
Foudy's foray into television has been only one of her many
far-flung adventures. In March 1997, four years after signing an
endorsement deal with Reebok, she traveled to Sialkot, a city
near the Himalayan Mountains, where 90% of the world's
hand-stitched soccer balls are made. Reebok had invited her
there to visit its new factory, which doesn't use child
laborers, who are routinely exploited to do the stitching. For
four days Foudy toured dusty villages, spoke with the workers
and came away encouraged by the slight progress Reebok's
presence afforded them but astounded by the hardships of their
day-to-day lives. "Things are so bad there," she says of the
poverty and the widespread use of children as young as five to
stitch balls. "To survive you have to have your whole family
working, and the government doesn't help. It should be mandatory
for every American citizen to travel to a third-world country,
because they would never bitch about the U.S. again."
FIFA, soccer's governing body, recognized Foudy's work against
child labor by awarding her its 1997 Fair Play Award (the first
time the honor had gone to an American or a woman), though she
didn't stop there. During her trip she was struck most by the
plight of Pakistani women, in particular that of a 22-year-old
stitcher named Khalida. "How long have you been stitching?"
Foudy asked her through an interpreter. "Too long," she replied.
Since Foudy's visit the two have been corresponding, and Foudy
says that Khalida has become a leader in the fledgling women's
movement of a human rights group. Press Foudy hard enough and
she'll show you one of Khalida's translated letters. "Miss
Foudy, believe me, I am a very simple girl," she wrote.
"Sincerity and simplicity touch my heart. Let me say that your
love which trickles out of the lines written by you has simply
won me over."
Foudy has been so visible off the field that it's easy to
overlook that she's having her best year for the U.S. team. When
DiCicco shifted the Americans' formation from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3
in mid-'97, he moved Foudy from defensive midfield to her
natural attacking midfielder position. That change transformed
her into a goal scorer. In 1998 she had a career-high six goals
in 24 matches, including her first hat trick in a 5-0 win
against Ukraine. This year she has added three more, including
one off a nifty run-and-cut maneuver against China last month.
"People used to tease Julie about her [lack of] shooting and
goal scoring, but I never did that," says DiCicco. "I always
felt she could be part of our goal-scoring core, and now she's
taking players on the dribble and converting her chances. Put it
this way: When I talk about the most skilled players on our
team, I put her in that top category with Akers, Hamm and Lilly."
Getting to that point hasn't been easy for Foudy or any of her
U.S. teammates, who must either train in isolation (America has
no women's professional league) or spend long stretches of time
apart from their loved ones. During the five months spent at the
pre-Cup training camp near Orlando, Foudy has seen husband Ian
Sawyers, her former coach at Stanford, for about a week each
month. "We have to wear name tags," she cracks. No choice was
more difficult to make, however, than the one Foudy let pass two
years ago: quit soccer or accept admission to Stanford medical
school? After an agonizing deliberation, soccer won out. "I love
medicine and science," says Foudy, who was a biology major, "but
I wasn't sure I could devote myself to being a doctor for the
next 40 years. There are too many things I want to do."
There's TV, of course, but Foudy has another idea. She has
thought about starting an organization that would help women pro
athletes in selecting an agent, hiring a lawyer and dealing with
club management. The concept came to mind after Foudy talked
with such contemporaries as basketball's Jennifer Azzi,
softball's Lisa Fernandez, golf's Meg Mallon and volleyball's
Nancy Reno. "Whenever you meet female athletes there's a bond
you share," Foudy says. "A lot of them are pioneers, like the
women on this team. They understand where we've come from and
where we need to go."
Whatever Foudy does, she'll no doubt be comfortable in the
corridors of power. Not long before the 1996 Olympics, she and
co-captain Overbeck spent the day at the White House working on
an antismoking campaign with Donna Shalala, secretary of Health
and Human Services. After lunch Shalala turned and whispered,
"I've got half an hour. Want to go on a secret tour?" Then she
led the soccer players through the normally off-limits West
Wing. As Foudy turned a corner she ran smack dab into President
Clinton. "It was amazing," she says. "The President had his
glasses on and he was reading a document, so he was kind of
startled. Secretary Shalala told him about our campaign. He said
he appreciated what we were doing."
For a brief moment two transcendent figures met: the Choice of
America and the Voice of America. One's legacy is uncertain. If
Foudy raises the World Cup trophy above her head on July 10,
hers will be assured.
For the complete World Cup draw and schedule of matches and team
rosters, go to cnnsi.com/wwc.
"She's always saying, 'Come on, let's do one more.'"
Di Biagio rolled flawlessly off her tongue.