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Soccer champion Brandi Chastain assesses the U.S. team and what's ahead for them

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Women's World Cup quarterfinals begin tomorrow with Spain facing off against the Netherlands. But several heavyweights have already been eliminated. That includes the United States, which failed to make it to the quarterfinals for the first time. Our next guest knows what it takes to win the World Cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Brandi Chastain does it. And the USA are world champions once again.

MCCAMMON: That, of course, is Brandi Chastain scoring the winning penalty in the 1999 final. She spoke to our co-host, A Martínez, who asked her what went wrong for the U.S. team this year.

BRANDI CHASTAIN: I think a lot of things have happened, and it's happened much before this World Cup started, and that's to say that women's soccer has been on the rise for about a decade or so. And the fact that this World Cup is now 32 teams and has given opportunity to so many new countries to be a part of it - and so it wasn't a guarantee that the U.S. women's national team was going to win the World Cup even though they were ranked No. 1. What we found out is there's great football everywhere.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Is there anything you saw with the team at the World Cup that you thought they could have been doing this better or this should have been done differently?

CHASTAIN: You know, I assert that they would be better if they valued the ball a little bit more, if they have a little bit more possessions-oriented style. I think we just were a little too frantic, perhaps not really wanting the ball as much as we should or we need to, and I think that hurt us.

MARTÍNEZ: Where do you think U.S. women's soccer goes from here? Because I got to be honest, Brandi, it feels like a big reset button is going to happen.

CHASTAIN: Yeah. I think that's natural. I think most countries have to go through this. You have great times, and nobody's worried about it. But you have a setback with a loss or you don't win a tournament, and now all of a sudden it's time to reevaluate. And I believe that's really where we are in this time. But I think we also have to look down deep at how it is that we're training and coaching our kids in the US soccer system.

You know, it's very much about winning. If parents and kids don't win championships, they move to the next club, when really development is - should be the most important thing. You know, we're developing not just people who understand and have the mentality to win, but who have the skills necessary to make decisions under pressure. As coaches - and I'm a youth coach - we need to do better.

MARTÍNEZ: Everything this team does or doesn't do is hyper-analyzed.

CHASTAIN: Yes.

MARTÍNEZ: They don't sing the national anthem loud enough. They celebrate too much when they didn't win, but, you know, advance to the knockout stage. Is that all just a byproduct of the high bar that they've set for themselves?

CHASTAIN: Listen, everybody has a perceived standard for the U.S. women's national team, but nobody's standard is higher than their own. Let's be clear on that. We will always wear the target on our back. You know, we have been brave and courageous from the beginning. We have fought for equal pay. You know, we stand up for maybe those unseen and unheard. And so, yeah, we carry the load. And so you have to take the tough with the easy. And that's a part of when you sign up playing with the U.S. women's national team.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Brandi, for the fans of the women's team that were crushed, what is your message for U.S. women's soccer.

CHASTAIN: First and foremost, thank you so very much for your love and your passion, your energy and your time. This is a bump in the road. My husband, who coaches women's soccer at Santa Clara University, you know, tells his players all the time. It's called growing pains for a reason, you know? We have to fall down. We will stumble, and we need to learn lessons. And that's a part of this. And so we have been growing women's soccer for a long time. And this is our chance to take a really good look in the mirror and evaluate, are we doing the things we need to do? And we're going to get better. And that's the beauty of this moment.

MARTÍNEZ: That's former U.S. women's national team player and World Cup champion Brandi Chastain. Brandi, thanks.

CHASTAIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "POINT BREEZE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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