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It is one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Brandi Chastain netted the game-winning goal in the fifth round of penalty kicks at 1999 Women's World Cup Final.

But what if she missed?

Brandi Chastain

"Well, I'm glad I don't really have to think about that," Chastain says. "I think what happens potentially is we don't talk about women's soccer the way we are now. We don't have the millions of girls sign up for the first time post-'99 and maybe the player pool is smaller."

In addition to 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl, an estimated 40 million people tuned in for at least part of ABC's broadcast as the U.S. defeated China.

If that circumstance was not enough to popularize women's soccer, there was Chastain's ripping off her shirt to reveal her sports bra and killer abs. What if she hadn't celebrated like that?

"Then I don't have to continue to do sit-ups the rest of my life," Chastain says with a chuckle. "I'd hope that if it didn't happen, it'll still be the same. I think what happened in that moment is it gave people an honest view that it was OK to be female and to celebrate and be passionate about what you're doing."

Brandi Chastain ESPN

Chastain, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and others became household names overnight. In 2000, the Women's United Soccer Association became the world's first women's professional soccer league. (It folded in 2003, but two leagues have sprouted since, including the National Women's Soccer League, which currently has ten teams). In 1999, there were just more than 250,000 high school females playing soccer. That jumped to roughly 375,000 in 2015.

Current U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Heather O'Reilly was 14 in 1999. She won her first World Cup in 2015. When asked about a parallel universe in which Chastain misses the kick, she takes a deep breath.

"It's very interesting," she says during the Right to Play's Big Red Ball charity event. "I would like to think the U.S. National Team and girls throughout the country would eventually have that same hunger and competitiveness and dominance, but I think that Brandi really put it on the map by finishing that penalty kick."

Chastain played for the U.S. at the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991, an eight-team event won by the Americans. She was left off the 1995 World Cup roster, but rejoined the team for the 1996 Olympics, the first with women's soccer. The U.S. won a goal medal in Atlanta.


The 1999 team flipped a switch on women's soccer, publicly, but people could not see what was going on off-camera. The Women's World Cup did not get the media attention it does today. From a television standpoint, that was the decision of the networks. From an Internet standpoint, the bandwidth was not readily available.

"We had thousands of people come to our training sessions, which was eye-opening," she remembers. "We didn't have that in '91, we didn’t have that at Olympic games. I think relatively speaking, the number that came out to our games and practices is fairly similar to what the U.S. is seeing now. I think we all get to see it now on our fingertips with our smartphones and news services available 24 hours a day."

Technology is another field women's soccer has made progress since 1999. FIFA 16, which was released one month ago, is the first edition of the EA Sports video game series to feature female players, and Alex Morgan is featured on the United States' edition cover.

Heather O'Reilly And Alex Morgan

"I don't think that's small. I think that's humongous," Chastain says. "That's like stepping into an environment that no one thinks you belong in. I think about '96, which was the first year women's soccer was a participating sport in the Olympics. Think about it, 100 years and it just became part of the Games.

"I'd love to see the '99 team be able to play the 2015 team. [Soon], people can play both sides of that game."

Chastain remembers practicing in oversized men's training clothing during the 1990s. Now, women's players are in commercials and on billboards everywhere in the United States. But not everywhere in the world.

Chastain had the chance to travel the globe with the national team, and although the women's game has made international progress, other nations lag behind.

"I believe it's a cultural issue," she says. "It's where do the country leaders or federation leaders value their importance to participate? There's still a lot of countries in the world, this being 2015, who still don't think women should participate in sports, so that's a huge obstacle."

Since 1999, there have been four men's and four women's World Cups. In that time, 11 different nations have made the men's semifinals. Only three of those men's powers -- Germany, Brazil and France -- have also made the final four on the women's side.

Jessica Mendoza

"We've come such a long way since the first World Cup, in terms of countries that had never participated," Chastain says. "I think culturally, it's one of the biggest obstacles we have in front of us. I think they don't quite know the whole story."

In the U.S., Chastain breaks more barriers in broadcasting, as she has been a stalwart of soccer coverage on such networks as NBC and ABC/ESPN. In August, former Olympic gold medal softball player Jessica Mendoza became the first female in-booth baseball analyst in ESPN's history. Mendoza and ESPN were criticized by some for the decision. Chastain is appalled.

"I feel the Jessica Mendoza situation was laughable," Chastain says. "You have an extremely intellectual person, a Stanford graduate, a two-time Olympian, who dedicated her life to softball. Fine, the size of the diamond's a little bit smaller and the ball's a little bigger, but she understands the tactics and how baseball functions. I thought it was unbelievable that people made comments saying, 'How could she know anything about baseball?' I grew up playing Little League Baseball. I feel like I could make commentary on that. I'm just proud of Jessica. She has always been a leader, in her sport, for women, she's been an advocate for young girls and I think she's done a great job. She knows what she's talking about. She can back it up. She should never feel anything less than inferior in her position."

Michelle Obama And Brandi Chastain

This fall, Chastain is working with Liberty Mutual Insurance, a new partner of U.S. Soccer. Chastain acknowledges the value of sponsorships cannot be underestimated, as it shows the increased publicity of women's soccer in the U.S. since 1999. Part of the brand's partnership calls for helping increase soccer participation at all ages and skill levels.

The U.S. Women's National Team engaged in two friendlies with Brazil on American soil in October as part of the World Cup "Victory Tour." Four friendlies, two versus Trinidad and Tobago and two versus China, await in December. Then there's the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

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-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.

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