Unlike the men’s team, the United States women’s national team is the undisputed greatest soccer team in the world. With more World Cup trophies and Olympic gold medals than any other nation combined, the USWNT is without a doubt the dominant force in women’s international soccer.
With those triumphs have come countless moments to savor: trophies lifted, victories snatched at he last minute, record-breaking performances and iconic celebrations.
These are the 18 best USWNT moments of all time.
Top 18 USWNT Moments
18. USWNT Records Victory No. 500 (2018)
No other sports team in the world can boast a winning percentage as high as the USWNT, which has won 84 percent of its matches. Not the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball program, not the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and not the Brazil men’s national team.
So when the U.S. became the first women’s soccer team to win 500 matches, it wasn’t really a surprise, but it was an accomplishment worth recognizing.
On Nov. 8, 2018, the U.S. beat Portugal 1-0 to record the 500th win in the program’s history, reaching the mark well ahead of the men, who still have more than 200 wins to go despite having started playing 69 years earlier.
11.08.18: WinRT to congratulate #USWNT players past and present. Here's to 500 more! pic.twitter.com/e9E3dR51sP
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) November 8, 2018
17. USWNT Sues USSF (2019)
Dating back to the 99ers after their epic World Cup win, the USWNT has a long history of standing up for women’s rights and equal pay.
In 2000, the U.S. women boycotted a tournament in Australia over pay complaints. In 2016, five members of the team filed a wage-discrimination suit.
The 2019 squad took things to a new level. All 28 team members sued the United States Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, seeking class-action status to apply to all players who had appeared for the team over the last four years.
The USWNT has always been a role model to countless young Americans, and the players’ continued fight for equality on all fronts shows it’s not a responsibility they take lightly.
16. Comeback For The Ages (2017)
In the grand scheme of things, the 2017 Tournament of Nations wasn’t exactly a great tournament for the U.S.; a second-place finish in the four-team round robin wasn’t anything to write home about.
After a 1-0 defeat to Australia in the first match, the U.S. trailed Brazil 3-1 with 10 minutes to play.
Then Christen Press scored. Then Megan Rapinoe scored. Then Julie Ertz scored. Suddenly, it was 4-3 and the U.S. had completely flipped the game on its head.
After 78': 1-3
After 89': 4-3The comeback that began a 28-game unbeaten streak. Chills every time.pic.twitter.com/hZTyyZ4kqC
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) March 4, 2019
After that remarkable win, perhaps the best comeback in team history, the U.S. went on a 28-match unbeaten streak, one that didn’t end until 2019.
15. Klingenberg Saves Hope (2015)
On the way to the 2015 World Cup championship, the U.S. had to navigate a tough group that included Australia, Sweden and Nigeria. The middle game of the three was against Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.
Sweden always seems to draw the U.S. in the World Cup group stage and generally gives the U.S. a tough match and 2015 was no different.
The key moment of the match came late, with the likes of Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach unable to score (Alex Morgan would be subbed on later).
The biggest play of the game came from the smallest player — 5-2 Meghan Klingenberg. A shot off a corner kick was goal-bound with Hope Solo nowhere close to making a play on the ball. But Klingenberg came up with a clutch goal-line clearance off her head to save the day.
The match ended 0-0 and no one came close to beating the U.S. the rest of the tournament.
14. Tobin Heath Double Nutmeg (2009)
Other players have more goals or more appearances or more hardware, but no one in the history of the USWNT has had better tekkers than Tobin Heath.
The Queen of Nutmegs made her USWNT debut in 2008 and has been making opponents (and teammates) look silly with her quick feet.
Perhaps her most memorable moment came early in her career. In a 2009 friendly against Canada, Heath nutmegged not one but two opponents in a manner of seconds to set up a scoring opportunity for the U.S.
I’m so glad I’ve never had to defend Tobin.
13. Mia Hamm Crushes England (1997)
Few players have ever combined the grace, speed, technical ability and outright ballerness — is that a word? Let’s make it a word — that Mia Hamm possessed.
Mariel Margaret Hamm (later with Garciaparra hyphenated to the end) is the Pelé of women’s soccer. Having joined the USWNT at the age of 15, she retired from the sport with 158 goals, then a world record, and 145 assists, still a U.S. record.
Hamm had two four-goal games, eight hat tricks and 28 braces. She scored eight in the World Cup and five in the Olympics, winning both tournaments twice. Oh and she won four NCAA titles with North Carolina. Mia even played goalkeeper at the 1995 World Cup after a red card to Brianna Scurry late in a 2-0 win over Denmark.
Picking one moment from Hamm’s storied career is nearly impossible, but in 1997, at the age of 25, she was at her peak and put on a clinic against England in a friendly. Scoring an absurd hat trick in a 5-0 win, Hamm showed off everything that made her great. The first was a rocket free kick from about 30 yards out, the second a low, curling effort from the edge of the 18 and the third followed a slaloming run that completely bamboozled the defenders.
12. Abby Passes Mia (2013)
There is no finer goal scorer in the history of the sport — men or women — than Abby Wambach. The New York native was an absolute machine in front of goal, scoring 184 times for the USWNT, a record that still stands for both the men’s and women’s game.
She scored some of the most memorable goals in U.S. soccer history, and her performance to pass former teammate Mia Hamm as the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer history certainly ranks among the best.
On June 20, 2013, Wambach entered a match with South Korea two goals behind Mia Hamm’s record of 158. She would end it two goals ahead.
Wambach scored in the 11th and 18th minutes to tie Hamm’s record. Then in the 29th minute, Wambach made history, passing Hamm with her 159th goal and her third of the match.
Wambach didn’t stop there. She added a fourth just before the halftime whistle.
The four goals perfectly showcased what made Wambach so special, from her powerful headers, incisive runs and clinical finishing, her record may stand for a long, long time.
11. Michelle Akers Scores Final World Cup Goal (1999)
She doesn’t have the name recognition of Mia Hamm. She never appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue like Alex Morgan or Julie Foudy. She’s not outspoken about human rights like Megan Rapinoe. But Michelle Akers was one of — if not the — best players in the history of U.S. soccer, men or women.
Akers, who began her career as a forward before moving back into a midfield role, scored 105 goals to go with 37 assists and was the USWNT’s second all-time leading scorer when she retired at age 34 in 2000.
More remarkably, Akers scored 12 World Cup goals, including a record 10 in 1991. To put that into perspective, only seven other players have ever scored 10 World Cup goals in their career, let alone a single tournament. She once scored five in a single World Cup match.
Akers’ final World Cup goal came in 1999, as part of the magical run to the title on home soil. It was, like much of Akers’ career — understated but unstoppable.
The goal sealed a 2-0 win in the semifinals, setting up a memorable meeting with China in the final.
10. Gotta Start Somewhere (1985)
U.S. Soccer wasn’t exactly hasty in joining the ranks of countries to support women’s soccer, making its debut in 1985, 13 years after England’s first women’s international match.
When the USWNT did take the field for the first time it was at the Mundialito tournament in August of 1985 in Italy, a four-team competition that at the time was one of the biggest in the world for women’s football. The first match ended in a 1-0 defeat to Italy in Jesolo. Things have improved a bit since then.
Michelle Akers scored the United States’ first goal in its second match, a 2-2 draw with Denmark. Though the U.S. finished last in the tournament after a 3-1 loss to England and 1-0 defeat to Denmark, the competition was the starting point for many of the players on the 1991 Women’s World Cup-winning side.
9. Shorthanded Americans Win Gold (2008)
The 2008 Beijing Olympics could have been a disastrous tournament for the American women. Goal-machine Abby Wambach was out with a broken leg and captain Kristine Lilly was on leave to give birth to her daughter. Indeed, the tournament began poorly with a 2-0 loss to Norway.
Then the U.S. reeled off four consecutive wins to reach the gold-medal match against Brazil, which was vying for its first major women’s soccer trophy outside of South America.
Brazil is still trying thanks to heroics from Carli Lloyd.
After 90 scoreless minutes, the match went into extra time. About five minutes into the added 30, Lloyd struck gold with a low, long-range blast that skipped under keeper Barbara to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead it would not relinquish. Despite Marta’s best efforts, the U.S. claimed its third gold medal with a second straight win over Brazil in the final.
8. Wambach Gives Legends Parting Gift (2004)
In 2004, the United States was dealing with the strong possibility that it might be getting passed by as the greatest women’s soccer team in the world. The Americans finished third in the World Cup the year before with a stunning 3-0 loss to Germany in the semifinals despite again hosting the tournament. The U.S. had also failed to claim gold four years prior in Sydney.
So in Greece for the 2004 Olympics, with three legends of the game in Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett and Julie Foudy announcing they would retire after the tournament, the U.S. was on a mission to get back on top of the footballing world.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 3-0 rout of host Greece followed by a 2-0 win over Brazil. Those two teams would meet again in the final, with the U.S. eking out a 2-1 win in extra time.
The hero in the final was Abby Wambach, then a 24-year-old who entered the tournament with just 14 caps.
Despite the likes of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Cindy Parlow in the squad, all with 60-plus goals before the Olympics, Wambach led the Americans with four goals, including the 112th-minute winner against Brazil to win the gold medal.
Wambach’s late strike sent Hamm, Fawcett, Foudy and Brandi Chastain off as champions once again.
7. You Always Remember Your First (1991)
Long before anyone really knew who these women were, the U.S. won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, officially known as the “1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football For the M&M’s Cup,” because FIFA didn’t yet want to give its title of “World Cup” to women. Matches were only 80 minutes because FIFA didn’t think women could handle a full 90, but fortunately FIFA decided against using a smaller, size-four ball. FIFA even staged the tournament in the far-off land of China, afraid it would flop and seeing the Asian country as an easy place to hide the event if things went poorly, with no TV rights available outside of China.
Discrimination from FIFA aside, the Americans dominated first Women’s World Cup, cruising through the tournament outscoring opponents 25-5, led by 10 goals from Michelle Akers. The U.S. won the final 2-1 over Norway in front of 65,000 fans, though many tickets were given away free.
Back home, the U.S. was a bit more ambivalent toward the whole endeavor, if not outright clueless the event was going on at all. The team returned to the states to a greeting party of three, each family or friends of a team member.
Things would be different the next time.
6. Title IX Signed Into Law (1972)
Long before the USWNT actually existed (it was founded in 1985), it’s hard to understate the importance of Title IX to the trajectory of women’s soccer in the United States.
Forcing schools and universities to provide equal funding to men’s and women’s sports, it didn’t take long for colleges like North Carolina to begin training what would eventually become the first group of USWNT players.
Without Title IX, the USWNT likely wouldn’t have any better standing in the world of soccer than the U.S. men’s team. A frightening proposition indeed.
5. Fortune Favors The Gold (2012)
The United States and Canada have a long history against each other as the two preeminent programs in North America. While the U.S. dominates the all-time record, including a 26-match winning streak at one point, Canada has been a consistent threat in more recent years.
The height of this rivalry came at the 2012 Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford in what was probably the luckiest match in the history of the USWNT.
Canadian legend Christine Sinclair put her side in the lead on three occasions with a brilliant hat trick, the last a 3-2 advantage in the 73rd minute.
Looking to ice the game, Canada keeper Erin McLeod continually held onto the ball for long periods of time before punting it away. In the 78th minute, the referee made a rare call, awarding the U.S. an indirect free kick inside the Canadian 18-yard box for McLeod holding the ball for more than six seconds.
On the ensuing kick, Megan Rapinoe’s attempt on goal struck the arm of a Canadian defender, the referee pointed to the spot and Abby Wambach equalized.
Alex Morgan would score a 123rd-minute winner to prevent the game from going to penalty kicks and the U.S. beat Japan 2-1 in the gold-medal match three days later, the team’s fourth (and so far last) Olympic triumph.
4. Georgia Gold (1996)
The U.S. won the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 in China without much fanfare. The 1996 Olympics began the paradigm shift as America started paying attention to the U.S. women’s soccer team.
Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, which for the first time included women’s soccer. Few could have expected the reception the sport received in a country that supposedly didn’t care for the sport, let alone the women’s version.
More than 25,000 turned out for the United States’ first match and 28,000 for the second. By the final group-stage match against China, more than 55,000 fans piled into the Orange Bowl in Miami for a scoreless draw.
In the semifinals, 64,000 watched the U.S. beat Norway on a golden goal to set up a rematch with China in the final.
Mia Hamm, who missed the first match with China with injury, assisted on the winning goal as the U.S. won the gold medal 2-1 in front of 76,489 fans at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, setting the stage for the record-setting 1999 Women’s World Cup.
3. Abby’s Miracle (2011)
When it comes to moments of pure ecstasy, few U.S. soccer matches can compare to the epic World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil in 2011. Not even Landon Donovan’s late winner against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup can compare.
The U.S. had just lost to Sweden to lose out on the top spot in Group C and set up a match against Brazil, which with Marta in full form had easily dispatched all comers in Group D. The U.S. took an early lead thanks to an own goal but Marta equalized in the 68th minute to send the game to extra time.
Two minutes into extra time, Marta struck again, and the U.S. was on the brink of elimination in the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
The remaining 30 minutes of extra time broke all laws of space and time, with Brazilians insisting the time took three hours to transpire while Americans felt it go by in the blink of an eye.
But in the 122nd minute, Megan Rapinoe pulled back her left leg and launched an inch-perfect, 40-yard cross onto the head of Abby Wambach, who headed the ball past Andréia in goal to equalize and send the match to penalty kicks.
All five Americans converted their spot kicks while Daiane, who committed the early own goal, missed her attempt, sending the U.S. into the semifinals for a sixth straight World Cup.
At this point, you almost felt bad for Marta and Brazil. Almost.
2. Carli Lloyd Scores From Halfway Line (2015)
The U.S. won two of the first three Women’s World Cups. Then it hit a bit of a slump.
After two third-place finishes and a loss in the 2011 final, the U.S. finally returned to the top of the world in 2015 thanks to New Jersey’s finest, Carli Lloyd.
Lloyd was good in the group stage, but took over the tournament come the knockout rounds. She scored once in each of the knockout matches against Colombia, China and Germany, but she’ll always be remembered for her remarkable performance in the final against Japan, which had beaten the U.S. in the 2011 final.
This time, Lloyd was unstoppable. She scored three goals inside the opening 16 minutes, the last a ridiculous shot from midfield to give the U.S. an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
The sight of Japan’s goalkeeper stumbling as she tried in vain to keep out Lloyd’s third goal was the indelible image of an unforgettable final, one that helped Lloyd win the FIFA Player of the Year honor later that year. The final was watched by more than 25 million Americans, becoming the most-watched soccer match in the country of all time.
1. Brandi Chastain Changes A Nation (1999)
It was a seminal moment in American sports history, up there with the Miracle on Ice, The Catch and the Christian Laettner shot.
In a penalty kick shootout with China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final at a sold out Rose Bowl, Brandi Chastain buried her shot, ripped off her shirt and changed a nation.
The USWNT’s triumph at the Women’s World Cup on home soil proved to the country — and the world — that women’s soccer could be a commercial success. It showed this wasn’t just a lesser alternative to the men’s competition, but a legitimate challenger in the larger sports landscape.
The 1999 team inspired a nation of believers, including the core of the group that later won the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
The iconic image of Chastain, shirt pulled off, muscles glistening in the California sun, is the United States of America at its best.