Amidst the debris of broken dreams at the Women’s World Cup in China in September, three Santa Clara Broncos rose to the occasion.
“In the first game, we were all sitting on the bench, looking at each other,” Aly Wagner ’03 said. “But in the last game we were all in the starting lineup. We were very proud to be starting next to each other.”
Former Bronco players Wagner, Leslie Osborne ’05, and Marian Dalmy ’07 all played well in that finale—a third-place victory over Norway.
And though the 2007 World Cup didn’t turn out the way any of them—or their teammates—had hoped, the finale was an indication that the Broncos will be key factors in the next chapter of U.S. Soccer.
That chapter begins this spring, as the national team reconvenes with a new coach. The players’ mission is to put the controversial World Cup experience behind them and prepare to defend their Olympic gold medal in Beijing this August.
“I think this team will regroup very quickly,” Dalmy said. “I think we’ll all be very motivated. We have a lot to prove, and what better time to show it than the Olympics?”
Only the University of North Carolina produced more members than Santa Clara on the 21-player U.S. roster, the top-ranked team coming into the World Cup. But the experience for the Broncos was mixed in China.
Midfielder Leslie Osborne received the most playing time, starting four games and subbing in another. Called on to mark the opposition’s best player, the one-time Honda Player of the Year performed exceptionally well. But she may be most remembered for one play: an own goal against Brazil, the first score in a 4-0 defeat that would unravel the U.S. team’s dreams.
“Unfortunately, I made a mistake,” Osborne said. “I didn’t hear anything, and someone was on me. I tried to make a play. A lot of things happened in that game.”
The error was, in part, the result of a far bigger controversy. The person who should have called off Osborne from heading the ball was goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Scurry, who had played sparingly in the preparation for the World Cup, was named the starter by coach Greg Ryan. Ryan benched Hope Solo, who had started every World Cup game until that point.
The aftermath of the Brazil game turned Osborne’s miscue into a footnote. Solo lashed out in an emotional outburst after the game and was banned from the team for the final World Cup game. The controversy became the team’s signature moment of the tournament. Ryan was let go by U.S. Soccer in October.
“It was unfortunate that it happened and became the focus,” Osborne said.
Wagner also called the situation regrettable.
“It’s too bad it played out that way,” she said. At the same time, Wagner underscored the caliber of the team—individually and collectively. “The Hope situation got way too much attention, but I’m proud of the way we came together as a group.”
Against Norway, they showed just how well they could come together, dominating the game and winning 4-1.
Eyes on Beijing
Her lone start was particularly gratifying for Wagner—one of the more experienced players on the roster. Wagner, limited by a lingering groin injury and coaching decisions, had been frustrated by her lack of play.
“It was definitely frustrating to watch from the bench,” said the San Jose native. “I wanted to help. It was hard to see them struggle.”
Of the Santa Clara trio, Wagner—who led the Broncos to the 2001 national championship—is the veteran presence. Dalmy—the 2006 WCC Player of the Year—is the youngest. Osborne’s time at Santa Clara bridged the careers of the other two. They all say their experience at Santa Clara helped groom them for the international stage.
“I couldn’t have been better prepared,” Osborne said.
“We enjoy playing with each other because we have the same ideas about how the game should be played,” Wagner said.
Watching the final game back home, Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith was happy for the way things ended for his former players.
“I was proud of the way they played when they were called upon,” he said. “I think all of them will contribute going forward.”
Forward and onward, the Broncos and the rest of the team look to the Beijing Olympics. This time, they hope to realize their dreams.
—Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.