Naval Academy coach recalls leading U.S. women to victory in 1991 World Cup


Carin Gabarra celebrates the U.S. victory in the 1991 World Cup.

When the women’s U.S. Soccer Team arrived for the World Cup playoffs, they were quickly dismissed. Everyone knew who the real contenders were. The Americans didn’t have a chance.

But every time Carin Gabarra walked out on the field, she didn’t fret the naysayers. She knew better.

“We always expected to win. As a group, we never had doubt in each other,” she says. And they were right.

She remembers it like was yesterday, but it was 20 years ago when the U.S. team won the very first World Cup championship against Norway before a crowd of 65,000 at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium in 1991. The Chinese media declared her and two of two fellow forwards “The Three-Edge Sword.” Gabarra was named the team’s most valuable player and would go on help the team take the gold at the 1996 Olympics.

Both victories, she says, “pale in comparison to the bond I have still with my teammates and the U.S. soccer program.”

That program is back in the limelight as the U.S. women’s team faces Japan on Sunday, the last obstacle to claiming the World Cup title in Germany.

Described as soccer’s World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one, the World Cup is held every four years.

Since their first victory in 1991, the U.S. women won again in 1999 and are tied with Germany for most World Cup titles.

Gabarra has been the head coach of the women’s soccer team at the Naval Academy since 1993, helping transform the lady Midshipmen from a club team to a Division I squad that’s enjoyed 16 consecutive winning seasons. She’s also member of the U.S. Olympic and National Soccer Halls of Fame. But Gabarra says she remains close to the national team and its current roster of young world champion hopefuls.

“I know almost all of the U.S. players, and still feel a part of the team and program. There is an identity that never goes away,” she says. But not unlike 20 years ago, the team’s prospects for the title have been widely dismissed this year after an early loss to Mexico jeopardized their chances to even compete in the World Cup this year. Follow-on losses have only amplified those concerns. Even head coach Pia Sunhage has described their journey as a “bumpy road.”

Gabarra’s says her advice to the team as they head out to the field to face Japan would simple: Don’t fret the naysayers. You know better.

“Believe in the team, and the work each has put into the team and program,” she says. “We have always been the best, because of the ability to play for something greater than oneself. Every player who has ever been a part of the team believes in them now, and we all know they are the best in the world.”

Gabarra in action during one of the 1991 World Cup games. She earned the Golden Ball award, which is awarded to the tournament's top player.



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  1. And it was one of her relatively recent USNA teams that proceeded to the NCAA tournament after a stellar season earning the statement, “Welcome to the Ball Cinderella!” Sports Illustrated took notice. They then proceeded to advance to the second round for the first time in program history. By doing so, they earned a enduring place in the hearts of many soccer fans.
    Go Carin! Go Navy! Go USWNT! … Beat Japan!

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