June 11, 2002

Watching with Bay Area Soccer's First Family

June 6, 2002

By Mark Purdy
Mercury News Staff Columnist

As America slept, Brandi Chastain screamed.

``Are you kidding?'' she yelled at the television set. ``Are you kidding?''

Oddly enough, that's also the new national motto of Portugal, as of Wednesday.

Yeah, baby. We're Americans, and we rule the futbol planet. For one night, anyway. Or rather, for one morning. The United States' soccer victory over heavily touted Portugal in the World Cup was historic -- perhaps the country's biggest win ever. So it was pretty cool to watch the whole thing unfurl in the wee hours with somebody who knew exactly how historic it was.

Or, if you would allow me to quote Chastain at 2:38 a.m., after she watched the U.S. score its final goal in a stunning 3-2 victory:

``YEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAH! World class! World class! World class!''

In other words, she was quite pleased.

These are wonderful times for the soccer mammals of America. Normally, I wouldn't be classified as one. Normally, you'd never get me out of bed at 2 a.m. to watch 11 men in shorts kick a ball across a South Korean lawn for two hours. But if you have a chance to watch the United States' first World Cup game of 2002 with the Bay Area's first family of soccer . . . well, you definitely take it.

That first family is, of course, Chastain and her husband, Jerry Smith. Three years ago, she made the penalty kick that won the Women's World Cup. Then she helped start up the Women's United Soccer Association. Smith coaches the Santa Clara University women's team, which won the NCAA championship six months ago, and the national under-21 women's team.

Several weeks ago, I asked Chastain and Smith if they would be staying awake to watch the game Wednesday. Are you kidding? Of course they would. Then I asked if they would mind me coming over to their house as they watched.

Amazingly, they agreed, without hesitation. Chastain and Smith aren't just soccer mammals, they are the SWAT team sales force of their sport. They will do anything to help promote their game. They are also very nice people who baked a cake and decorated it with strawberries and blueberries to make an American flag when they knew I was going to stop by their San Jose house at such an ungodly hour.

``And,'' Smith said, ``you've also got to put on this stuff.''

He threw me a blue USA Soccer T-shirt and a pair of red USA Soccer shorts. He was donning the same outfit. Chastain wore her U.S. national-team jersey. They were watching in their combination kitchen/den with three of Chastain's CyberRays teammates, who also were decked out in red, white and blue. I still hesitated.

``You sure it's not an ethical violation for me to wear this?'' I asked.

``Put it on,'' Smith said firmly.

I pulled the shirt over my head and was in the process of explaining why the shorts would not be a good idea when . . . huh? The Americans scored their first goal.

``What a start!'' Smith said.

What a stunner. Portugal came into the tournament ranked fifth in the world; the Americans a 300-1 oddsmakers' choice to win the Cup. But now our plucky lads were leading a team that was supposed to rout them.

``Who can I call right now?'' wondered Chastain, who refused to sit down. She paced behind the kitchen counter. ``If people miss this, they're going to be so sad.''

At times like these, you really understand how much the South Bay is at the epicenter of American soccer. Two of the 11 starters Wednesday were members of the Earthquakes: Landon Donovan and Jeff Agoos.

``Landon can score a goal in this game,'' said Chastain, who then flatly declared: ``I think Landon will score a goal in this game.''

A few minutes later, Donovan found himself to the right of the goal and booted a cross toward the the goalmouth. But the ball hit a Portugal defender in the head and deflected into the net. United States 2, Portugal 0.

Chastain practically ran a lap around the kitchen island.

``I have the chills,'' she said. ``I really have chills.''

Seven minutes later, Brian McBride put his head on a cross and made it 3-0. Now, Smith was up out of his seat, too.

``The first two USA goals,'' Smith said, ``you could say were mistakes by Portugal. But that was just a great, great goal.''

Unfortunately, Portugal answered quickly with a scrambling goal six minutes before halftime. We broke out the cake. By then, it was around 3 a.m. At the intermission, Santa Clara player Aly Wagner and her dad suddenly showed up -- frontrunners! -- because they were getting too excited to watch the game at home by themselves.

Nobody believed victory was in the bag. The second half, as predicted, was all about the U.S. defense. Chastain finally pulled up an ottoman and sat down, as she watched a closeup of a frustrated Portugal forward. With 15 minutes left, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena pulled Donovan from the lineup and sent in Joe-Max Moore.

``No!'' erupted Chastain and CyberRays teammate LaKeysia Beene.

``He's taking off youth and adding experience,'' Smith explained. ``The last 15 minutes of a game like this one is not about playing soccer. It's about making good decisions. This is Max Moore's third World Cup.''

``Yeah, you're a coach,'' Chastain said. ``Landon is cuter.''

``Landon is cuter,'' Smith said. ``But Joe is more experienced. That's what you want. He's also better in the air'' jumping for contested balls ``than Landon.''

Maybe so. But Portugal kept pressing until . . . oh, no! Agoos accidentally volleyed the ball into the Americans' net. United States 3, Portugal 2 with 19 minutes left.

``No way!' Smith shouted.

``Oh, my God!'' Chastain screamed.

``Come on, boys,'' Wagner said.

``Come on, hang on,'' Smith said.

Which they did. At the final whistle, more high fives. Many more.

``I feel like going out and playing,'' Wagner said.

``Me, too,'' Chastain replied.

At 4 in the morning? Yes, at 4 in the morning. Who knows? They may have gone out and kicked around the ball. I said my thank yous and goodbyes, then headed out the door all pumped up and saw . . . a totally quiet, dark, neighborhood that didn't even realize that the United States had become the earth's newest and greatest soccer power. Or, at least, a World Cup sleeper.

Somehow, that seems appropriate.