Among soccer fans nationwide who watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup opening round was one who followed the action with a unique perspective.
For one thing, Stacey Enos, the Warren Wilson College women’s soccer coach for 13 years now, was in Canada. For another thing, Enos was cheering a team she helped get started.
Enos had already had great success on the soccer pitch. As a junior at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she was a part of a team that won the first three NCAA women’s soccer championships. She won a spot on the first U.S. national team after attending a regional sports festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1985.
“In 1984 there was a ‘paper’ U.S. team, but nothing came of it,” she said in a recent interview. “After the sports festival (in 1985), they told us that we were being selected ‘on paper’ for the U.S. team. Then it came out that in two weeks we would be going to New York to train for a tournament.”
The team traveled to Jesolo, Italy where it lost to the Italian team 1-0.
“We probably had blinders on that first year,” Enos said. “There was a lot going on.”
Enos went on to become one of only two members of that inaugural team with double-digit starts, taking the field for 10 of the first 11 matches.
“It was a really good experience,” she said. “It was all new and exciting. To have the opportunity to really cement the start of the U.S. women’s team is an honor that I hold dearly.”
She returned to Italy the following year and helped the team advance to the final round. It lost to the host nation again.
Enos’ soccer career ended when she broke her leg in a car accident after her senior year in college. But she continues to follow her former team.
“I’m a fan,” she said of the national team. “I feel like I have some pride, and I also feel like the U.S. has the opportunity to take the game to another level.”
The U.S. has won the Women’s World Cup twice and placed in the top three every year since the tournament began. The experience of current players is drastically different from what Enos and her teammates encountered 30 years ago.
“We were only paid a minimal stipend per day when we were on the road, and our travel costs were taken care of,” Enos said. “But we had no lucrative contracts or sponsorships.”