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The 1999 U.S. women's national team: Instant icons, lasting legends

Members of the 1999 U.S. women's national team, including star forward Mia Hamm, share memories from their World Cup-winning year. Dylan Coulter for ESPNW

TWENTY YEARS AGO, Brandi Chastain's penalty kick rippled the back of the net and changed the world. Chastain's memorable jersey celebration to mark the U.S.'s victory over China in front of a record crowd for a global women's sporting event has become as iconic as the '99 World Cup finale itself. Riding momentum from the tournament, members of the USWNT logged a number of firsts: They established the first professional women's soccer league, negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement, made soccer a viable career for women.

We spoke to 18 players from that historic squad. For them, the lasting memories aren't of fame, global stardom or fortune. Instead, 20 years later, they recall a tight-knit group of women who both embraced one another's individuality and put team before self. They also deeply understand the impact they had on women athletes in generations to follow.

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Michelle Akers

Position Midfielder
What she's doing now Owner and founder, horse rescue nonprofit

"We would have to train in our own backyards by ourselves. And then we'd come together and play. Winning the World Cup, going through all those things -- that's what we built. It's sort of like a reminder of who I am. There's that word, you know -- there's a spirit, a connection. It's like a soul, a sisterhood. It's the family-ish thing."

Brandi Chastain

Position Defender
What she's doing now Executive director, head coach, California Thorns

"It was a journey, you know, a process for all of us to get to that point. And we needed every single player and every single staff member and every fan that came to the stadium. And we needed the opponents to play their best so that we could showcase women's soccer in a way that it deserved. But then at that final in the Rose Bowl -- that women's soccer got to play on that hallowed ground -- I mean, it's changed everything. We know that."

Lorrie Fair Allen

Position Defender
What she's doing now Program director, Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project

"The connection that the '99 team always had with the community: No autograph would go unsigned; we tried to stay in the stadium as long as possible to hit every single fan to make sure that they felt connected to us."

Joy Fawcett

Position Defender
What she's doing now Works with Pure Game, youth soccer nonprofit

"For women being able to push themselves, and to be able to believe in themselves to do what they want to do -- I think that was a big impact, empowering women to do what they want to do."

Danielle Fotopoulos

Position Forward
What she's doing now Head coach, Eckerd College women's soccer

"Nobody knows how many minutes I played in the World Cup unless I tell them. And I know that I did have a purpose, and now that I'm a coach, I tell my team all the time: Every single person, whether you're on the field, whether you're off the field, whether you're their equipment manager or trainer, whatever you are doing, you have a purpose. And my purpose was to make everybody better. I would tell somebody who's playing, "Hey, don't slack. Why are you slackin'? Let's pick it up." That's us. That's my time."

Tracy Noonan

Position Goalkeeper
What she's doing now Founder and owner, Dynasty Goalkeeping

"The culture of the reserves was actually really, really cool. One of our things was to make sure that you had water bottles when somebody came over on a stoppage of play. We were like the water bottle brigade. During overtimes, we would grab a teammate's leg, shake their legs out. Nowadays, I think they have an entourage of helpers who do that, but that was us."

Shannon MacMillan

Position Forward
What she's doing now Executive director and coach, Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks

"After one of the games, the bus was driving and somebody was running, following us for blocks and blocks. We finally stopped the bus because we felt so bad. Brandi gets off and just throws her a shoe. We didn't just show up and play. It was something that we owned and put our heart and soul into off the field as well as on the field."

Kate (Sobrero) Markgraf

Position Defender
What she's doing now ESPN and NBC Olympic broadcaster

"That group had such a genuine spirit that's tough to ever replicate. I feel so lucky that our team was full of individuals and comprised of people that did it out of pure love for the sport. We didn't do it for the money. We didn't do it for the notoriety. Oh, mind you, cellphones had just come out. There was no social media. No one was liking, hearting, doing anything. The only validation we got was from ourselves and from each other.

"We were a visible byproduct of investment. If you are able to support women, not only with resources but with emotional support, in giving them kudos for what they're doing, it's amazing how far they can go. Now imagine if you support them at the same level, in every type of resource, that you do the men -- look what can happen."

Cindy Parlow Cone

Position Midfielder
What she's doing now Vice president, U.S. Soccer

"As a kid, I wasn't aware enough or observant enough to really be able to look outside of myself and want everyone else to do really well until I got to the national team and I was around these players, like Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly and Carla Overbeck. I could just see in the way that they led and the way that they talked to everyone that they genuinely wanted everyone to succeed. There wasn't any putting someone down so that they could rise up. It was all, we rise together.

"I remember standing in the tunnel as the starting lineup was going out before the final match. Kristine Lilly was right behind me, and she just looked at me and knew that I was nervous. She put her hand on my shoulder and was like, 'Cindy, this is going to be so much fun.' That's all she said to me. I was like, 'You're right! This is awesome.'"

Kristine Lilly

Position Forward
What she's doing now Founder and coach, TeamFirst Soccer Academy

"When I look at my kids looking at this current team, I look back and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I hope I did that to someone's kids.' And I think we did. 'Cause I see my girls, they're like, 'Yeah, Mom, you played. Great.' And it just kind of reminds me what we did, and I hope these players continue to do that."

Julie Foudy

Position Midfielder
What she's doing now ESPN soccer commentator, espnW writer and host

"When people say, 'What was it about this group?' the thing I always say is, 'There was constant laughter.' We never took ourselves too seriously. I mean sports -- and I get it -- it's competitive and it's intense. But when I see youth sports today, there's an intensity that drives me nuts. Because it's like -- just watch video of our team. There was a joy to what we were doing.

"That last night, we were all together. We always had that extra room, the suite, that was filled with food and candy and games and movies and whatever you wanted to do, and it was our communal place to gather. We were all sitting in there and laughing so hard. And we turned to each other and had this weird moment. We stopped and went, '[Sigh] What are we gonna do when this is done?' I mean, we were getting paid to do this for a living, to hang out with our best friends and laugh."

Mia Hamm

Position Forward
What she's doing now Part-owner, LAFC; global ambassador, FC Barcelona; founder and coach, TeamFirst Soccer Academy

"What I think has been really wonderful, and what I think is unique -- and one of the lasting impressions when I share our story with people -- is that we had certain standards that were unwavering. Like, you had to be tough. You had to be fit. You had to be committed to working hard. But we celebrated everyone being who they were. And you didn't have to fit in a certain mold as a player -- that you were enough as long as you bought into kind of our core principles as a team."

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak

Position Midfielder
What she's doing now Head coach, University of Central Florida women's soccer

"Even though I wasn't a starter, I felt just as valued as Mia Hamm, and I felt that way because of my coaches and because of my teammates. You found your little niche, what it is you brought to the team, and they made sure that you knew that, and that gave you confidence every day.

"Before the final, you think players would be in their head, maybe alone with their headphones on, and just focused. No, we had our playlist. I started the party. I started the moves and got everyone going. I loved that role. I remember Ricky Martin's 'Livin' la Vida Loca' was on that playlist. That's the one that stands out the most."

Christie Pearce Rampone

Position Defender
What she's doing now Fox Sports broadcaster for 2019 Women's World Cup

"I think the most outstanding memory was just seeing and feeling the fan base grow throughout the tournament. It is very hard to put into words the emotion we could feel around us on the way to and from games -- it was so incredible to have the support of the nation drive us forward. Seeing the look on the faces of the kids who'd come out to cheer us is something I will never forget. It made me realize that this was something we worked so hard for individually and collectively, and that it was such a privileged position to be in."

Briana Scurry

Position Goalkeeper
What she's doing now Public speaker

"Most of the time when people tell you where they were when something monumental happens, it's usually something bad. And so to be able to be a part of somebody's good thing ... I never thought about being a part of something that would affect someone that way. And so for me, it's this amazing gift to have people tell me their stories. It puts them right back there. And I'm just so grateful to have experienced that with them. ... When I'm 80, people will probably say, 'Hey, were you on that team? That was so amazing in '99.'"

Tisha Venturini Hoch

Position Midfielder
What she's doing now Founder and coach, TeamFirst Soccer Academy

"We used to play golf. It would be Mia and myself and Brandi and Foudy, Lil and Carla [Overbeck], and we'd have a pink ball. So whoever had the worst hole, if you had a cruddy shot or you got the worst score, you had to play with the 'pink lady' -- we called her the pink lady. And so we would just go out and play, and we were competitive nonetheless, but we had a good time."

Saskia Webber

Position Goalkeeper
What she's doing now Goalkeeper coach, LA Bulls

"So I dyed my hair red, white and blue [for the World Cup]. We went into the hotel in DC to do my hair before the Germany game, and the windows didn't open. At one point Christie Pearce Rampone is spraying my hair, and I almost pass out, and I look up and she's blue, and she almost passes out. And we have a game that day, and we are running to the window and unlocking the window because we asphyxiated ourselves. It took five showers to get it out every game. I'm serious. Five showers. Five shampoos."

Sara Whalen Hess

Position Defender
What she's doing now Licensed psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist

"We have some piece of history that will never change and that we all feel really incredible about having in our back pocket. Whether we're playing soccer or coaching or aren't doing anything related to soccer, it's still part of our identity, which is really, really special.

"Because of how much media plays a role in everything now, it's actually very difficult to be very humble because you sort of have to be an image, and you have to market yourself. I think it was a more enjoyable time to play then, maybe because we didn't have that concern. We were just wanting to win. We didn't have to look a certain way or be a certain thing, which was very much a blessing."