Hamm, Foudy Fawcett bid farewell Wednesday

Updated: December 7, 2004, 7:50 PM ET
SportsTicker

By Jamie Trecker SportsTicker Contributing Editor

CHICAGO - An era will end for women's soccer Wednesday night.

Following the United States-Mexico match at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, Mia Hamm, captain Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett will hang up their cleats forever.

Along the way, the three have been part of a team that has become iconographic for women's sports in general and is credited as an inspiration for young women as well as high-profile athletes everywhere.

"Think of it this way," coach April Heinrichs said. "Imagine that Magic, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaq, Kobe and LeBron were all on one team for 15 years. That's what we have had with our women's national team."

The trio of Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett has won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals as part of Team USA. That squad will be especially remembered for the summer of 1999, when its World Cup win stateside turned women's soccer into a major media phenomenon.

Since August 3, 1987, when the three players first appeared together, the U.S. in 223-41-30, a remarkable record.

Hamm, arguably the best known American soccer player, will be hardest to replace and not just for her prodigious on-field talents. She has scored a remarkable 158 goals in the national team colors, a mark FIFA recognizes as the best for any player, male or female.

Perhaps more than that, though, she has become the public face of the women's game.

"There are obviously highlights, but I think competing for this long is the biggest," she said. "We were fortunate to start as young as we all did, but at the same time we have to consider the months and years of training on our own and finding a place to play and living day-by-day on part-time jobs to being put on salary to all the opportunities that we've had."

Foudy, the long-serving captain, seems set to remain in the public eye. The Stanford alumnus has a reputation for speaking out on public issues, and a career in politics has been discussed.

Fawcett is the least recognized of the trio but was the team's heart and soul along the back line. She departs with a reputation as a tireless defender who did much of the dirty work that allowed others to shine.

The trio leaves the game in a state of flux. Although the 1999 World Cup put the women's game on the map, it has sputtered since.

In the overheated atmosphere of five years ago, there was a feeling that women's soccer could fly in America as a viable professional enterprise even while the men struggled to a last-place finish in the 1998 World Cup and MLS fought a losing battle for national attention. But it has never come to pass.

U.S. Soccer continues to finance the women's program at a loss and has seen attendance plummet for national team exhibition matches. WUSA the now defunct women's pro league was an unmitigated business disaster, dying on the eve of the 2003 Women's World Cup.

It was sad that even the best women's soccer - in the world in perhaps the only market in the world able to sustain it - was not enough to ensure success. Tuesday's news of a possible relaunch of the WUSA as a non-profit entity made virtually no noise on the sports landscape.

"I think it is clear that the American people respond for the big events. It is much harder to sell the week-in, week-out product," Foudy admitted.

Still, the women's game is light years from where it was a decade ago.

"We've left the game in a better place, which makes me feel good," she added. "We've got a lot of wonderful young talent coming through, including a great Under-19 team and Under-21 team and a lot of people that will step in and do a good job for the United States, not just as great athletes, but, as we've always cared about, great people."

And there is no doubt the trio leaves the stage not just as athletes or celebrities but perhaps as something more.

"Ask yourself if you could have your choice of role models, would you ask for a day with Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy or with a famous male athlete of today?" Heinrichs said. "They had an impact on America's consciousness, on women's sports, on women's voice."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index