100 Years of U.S. Soccer: Michelle Akers
Washington Youth Soccer celebrates the U.S. Soccer centennial by highlighting the Emerald Staters who have impacted the American game.
From the first women’s national team coach (Mike Ryan), to one of US Youth Soccer’s founding fathers (Karl Grosch), it’s only natural to progress through our list of Washington contributors to the first century of U.S. Soccer to the greatest women’s athlete ever to benefit from their efforts.
We first came to know Michelle Akers as a fourth-grader playing for the Shorelake Thunderbirds in Lake Forest Park. Within a few short years, she was leading Shorecrest High School to State Championships and earning All-America honors, before hopping on a plane to Florida to launch the greatest international career in U.S. Women’s history.
One of just two women named to the FIFA 100, the Pele-compiled list of the 100 greatest living soccer players, Akers scored 105 career goals in just 153 games for the U.S. Women’s National Team, a rate not even career-goals leader Mia Hamm can match. At a tournament in Italy in 1985, she scored the very first goal in USWNT history, then added 10 more in 6 games at the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, leading the U.S. to the title.
Akers led the U.S. to an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, then held on for one last inspiring run at the 1999 World Cup, starting at forward in the USWNT’s dramatic extra-time World Cup final win over China at the Rose Bowl.
And perhaps most impressively, she accomplished much of her success despite balky knees that grew more troublesome with age, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a medical disorder that can leave an individual feeling physically and mentally exhausted at all times. Consider that for a moment: Akers built a career unmatched by any woman in soccer history (Hamm comes closest), despite almost never feeling 100 percent.
Always too humble in a very Seattle way to take credit for herself, it was often left to others to praise her efforts. And they most certainly did.
"She was one of the greatest players ever, but kids now don't necessarily know who she was because there was so much less exposure back then," former U.S. star Julie Foudy says. "The game was really just starting with her."
Coaching legend Anson Dorrance, whom Akers spurned as a high schooler to attend Central Florida instead, agrees: "She was a phenomenal athlete in every respect," he says. "She was an impossible mark; no one could match up with her. She was the most complete women's soccer player in our history."
Having stepped back from the soccer spotlight following her retirement in 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics, Akers returned to the soccer scene last month, giving the keynote address at the NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
"It's nice to be back," she said. "Not that I was gone, but it's great to be back in the fold, in the family."