WPSL: Chastain retires, but she's not quitting

Brandi Chastain made it official a week or so ago: After 30-something years playing the game she loves, she was, yes, retiring.

So her games this weekend with the California Storm in Pasadena provide a last chance to watch one of women's soccer's greatest figures on the field, right? Not quite.

“My quote-unquote retirement is from professional soccer, which is hard to say, but it's time, I guess,” says Chastain, who on Saturday scored the first goal in the Sacramento-based Storm's 3-1 victory over Pasadena's LAFC Chelsea in a Women's Premier Soccer League playoff. “I enjoy playing for the Storm. It's fun for me. … It's a way to make sure I get exercise at least once a week, from spring to summer. I can't do absolutely nothing.”

And she isn't about to stop. “This is,” she jests, “an under-60 league.”

Chastain, who on Wednesday turned 42, played in three Women's World Cups and three Olympics -- she won two titles in each -- and made 192 appearances for the U.S. women's national team over an international career that spanned 16 years. If the prevailing image of her is the sports bra-baring celebration after her penalty kick clinched the 1999 Women's World Cup triumph, those who know Chastain best admire her as a passionate and outspoken proponent of playing the beautiful game beautifully.

She's played for the Storm off and on for two decades now, and if her pro career is, indeed done -- she played for FC Gold Pride in Women's Professional Soccer's inaugural season last year but was waived before this season began -- her soccer career is just taking off.

Chastain, who leads the Storm (12-1-0) into Sunday's 5 p.m. showdown with South Bay-based Ajax America (7-3-1) in the WPSL's Pacific Conference title game at Muir High School in Pasadena, finally has talked her husband, Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith, into letting her serve as his volunteer assistant coach at the university, her alma mater. And it would surprise nobody if she continued on for the Storm until she was 50 … or 60.

“She is fun,” says Storm forward Fiona O'Sullivan. “She's a vocal player. She's honest, which I love -- I love people who give me the truth -- and she has so much knowledge of the game from all her past experiences that I'm always learning something new every single day. I love playing with her.”

The joy Chastain gets from the game was evident at Maranatha High School on Saturday. She spent most of the game talking -- guiding teammates, calling for the ball, encouraging those around her -- and fired the Storm ahead with a superb diving header after calling O'Sullivan off the ball.

Not long after, she ran interference to help O'Sullivan, an Irish national-teamer from Northern California who played at the University of San Francisco, score the first of her two goals.

“Fiona and I have a really good relationship,” Chastain says. “And when [Brazilian great] Sissi, Fiona and I play together, I think it's kind of fun to watch. [As a team] we have enough good players that we do well, but I just think in terms of the nice soccer, the things that I love to do and the things I love to watch, they happen more when we're together on the field.”

It's a once-a-week avocation -- the Storm rarely has training sessions, so difficult it is to get everyone together -- and few players are available for every game. Chastain has played in just six this season; Sissi missed Saturday's game while at a tournament with a youth team she coaches but is expected to play Sunday.

Chastain, who spent much of her international career as a left back, acknowledges that as she ages, “I'm probably not as fast as I was before, but I think in terms of thinking and those things, that's actually been accelerated, so you just modify where you are and what you're doing. And the fact that I'm playing forward and center mid again, it's kind of funny to me.”

She nearly missed this weekend's matches, jetting south only after finding a babysitter for her 4-year-old son, Jaden.

“My mother-in-law had my son the whole week last week, and I couldn't imagine leaving her again with him for another couple days,” Chastain says. “I had to figure out what I was doing with him, then I caught a flight. The flight landed at 3:15, and I had to take a cab here (for a 4 p.m. game).

“When you're in love, that's what you have to do. When you love something, you do crazy things.”