Shannon Higgins-Cirovski Helped Break New Ground for Women’s Soccer
Even those close to Shannon Higgins-Cirovski’s friends occasionally forget their friend’s illustrious soccer past.
“It's funny, even the people who know [me sometimes forget I played for the National Team],” said Cirovski, in a recent interview with USSoccer.com. “For instance, someone who works with me asked me for a bio. I sent it and he was shocked. He emailed me back: 'I forgot.'
“I don't really push it either. I prefer to be anonymous.”
That’s easier for Cirovski to do now than it was 22 years ago. In 1991, the Kent native and Washington Youth Soccer alum was a household name in international soccer, a fast-rising star who had teamed with Mia Hamm and fellow Washington Youth Soccer legend Michelle Akers to lead the U.S. Women’s National Team to a victory in the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Indeed, it was Cirovski’s hard work that led directly to Akers’ two goals in that historic 2-1 win, which established the U.S. as the world’s premier women’s soccer power.
In the 1980s, Washington was a hotbed of girls’ youth soccer talent — Akers, Cirovski (then Shannon Higgins), Lori Henry and Amy Griffin (each of whom would be selected to the 1991 World Cup roster) had recruiters nationwide wondering just what was in the water in Washington State. Cirovski was recruited to join Anson Dorrance’s budding powerhouse at North Carolina, where she quickly established herself as America’s top young midfielder. As Shannon Higgins, she led North Carolina to four straight NCAA Championships, and was twice named Soccer America’s Player of the Year.
In 1989, her senior season, Cirovski received the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy. Akers had won the inaugural Hermann Trophy the year before, making Washington Youth Soccer alumni 2-for-2 at achieving collegiate women’s soccer’s highest honor.
It was no surprise, then, when Dorrance added Cirovski to the U.S. Women’s National Team roster in 1987, where she would ultimately earn 51 caps in just four years, playing a vital role alongside legends like Akers, Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy in laying the foundation for the two decades of success that have come since. In fact, U.S. Soccer recently called the midfield quartet of Cirovski, Hamm, Lilly and Foudy “the most overpowering…the women's game has seen, bringing to the National Team a technical and tactical acumen that was far ahead of its time.”
It was surprising to many, then, when, just two years following that World Cup victory, Cirovski decided to hang up the cleats for good. Surprising, that is, until you consider the economic reality of life for a women’s soccer player in 1993. Sure, a FIFA World Cup looks terrific on the mantelpiece, but in the absence of a professional league, and with little international programming between World Cup cycles, it doesn’t do much to pay the bills.
“It was a tough time to be involved back then,” Cirovski said. “There weren’t really any finances going into it, so I felt like I was being supported by my parents in a lot of ways, which was a tough thing to swallow. I could see [coaching] was the path I wanted to go down, and I just decided it was time to be an adult. I was ready to commit myself to the coaching side of things and obviously when my family started, I was ready to be committed to my family.”
Cirovski married Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski and settled down on the East Coast, raising three daughters — Hailey, Karli and Ellie — and launching a successful coaching career, including stops at George Washington and Maryland, plus a one-year term as coach the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team.
Today, she is studying nutrition and coaching her daughters’ youth soccer teams. In 2000, she was named to Soccer America’s College Team of the Century. In 2002, she joined fellow Washingtonian Akers in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Cirovski says that despite the early end to her career, and the now household-name status of contemporaries like Hamm, Foudy and Lilly — she never looks back at her decision to step away and wonders, “What if?”
“No regrets,” she says. “I love the fact that I had the opportunity, and it was absolutely awesome watching some of my teammates have lengthy careers. But how can you trade your kids, you know?”