TeamFirst Soccer Academy holds seven to eight camps a year internationally. Leading the way for TeamFirst are, from left: Angela Kelly, Tisha Venturini Hoch, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm.

20 years later: Venturini Hoch recalls World Cup final that changed sports

Ron Agostini

Twenty years later, the young wanna-be's still gather around Tisha Venturini Hoch and ask the question: “Are you the girl who took off her shirt?”

And Venturini-Hoch laughs and says, “No, I wasn’t that girl.”

At that moment in time 20 years ago at the steamy-hot Rose Bowl, Venturini Hoch sprinted forward with her teammates to hug Brandi Chastain, who did doff her uniform top in pure celebration.

Modesto's Tisha Venturini Hoch, a graduate of Grace Davis High, played a key role in Team USA's winning the Olympic gold medal in 1996.

Venturini Hoch, who pivoted from Modesto to soccer greatness, was a member of that iconic United States Women’s Soccer Team that won the 1999 Women's World Cup. Today, they’re called the 99ers, the band of sports pioneers who won America’s hearts and planted the seeds for USA women’s soccer dominance that blossom to this day.

Chastain netted the unforgettable penalty kick to beat China in the World Cup final on July 10, 1999. The image of Chastain and the most famous sports bra in history were splashed onto the covers of Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek magazines. When she slotted her PK into the upper-right corner, more than 90,000 – still the largest crowd to ever attend a women’s sports event -- created a sound not unlike an Apollo rocket at liftoff.

Venturini Hoch played the final five minutes of extra time that day. She remembers it like it happened five minutes ago.

“It was a freak summer. Nothing else was going on. People just got on board with us,” she said. “I came along at a great time and was able to help build it and be part of that ride. The timing was great, and the fact that we won never hurt.”

Venturini Hoch  connects with today’s soccer generation through TeamFirst, which has been leading soccer clinics in this country and around the world for many years. Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Venturini Hoch – all three who teamed up for glory at North Carolina, the Olympics and the World Cup – founded the program.

Youngsters can google “1999 Women’s World Cup” and watch Chastain clinch the trophy. But, if they dig a little deeper, they also will enjoy Venturini Hoch’s cartwheel-backflip combo (which shocked her teammates) after her second goal during a 3-0 win over North Korea earlier in that World Cup campaign. Documentaries label her gymnastics as a symbol of the team's energy and confidence.

Venturini Hoch saw action in only two matches that summer – the starting assignment vs. North Korea and the cameo appearance at the Rose Bowl. But make no mistake, her role in the growth of women’s soccer was not small.

Trivia question: Who was the first female American to score a goal in the Olympics? Answer: Venturini Hoch,thanks to a deft side-volley off Chastain’s throw-in in 1996.

Extra-credit question: Who is the only athlete in history to win four NCAA titles, win the 1994 Hermann Trophy (the women’s soccer Heisman), win an Olympic gold medal and a professional title (San Jose CyberRays of the shortlived Women’s United Soccer Association) in 2001? Answer: Venturini Hoch.

From Grace Davis High through her years as a pro, Venturini Hoch could find the goal from about 500 different angles. One of the first in the women’s game to consistently finish in the air, the midfielder always zeroed in on the net. In 132 international matches, she scored 44 times, which is still ranked 10th on the USA all-time list.

Venturini Hoch was not comfortable as a non-starter in 1999. Until then, she was a prime-time star ( Hamm was a roommate at Carolina).  Fast-forward to now as Team USA prepares for Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal vs. France in Paris. Venturini Hoch admires the talented Americans, especially the players who do not start (Carli Lloyd is one).

“Each girl is important to the spirit of the team. All of it matters,” she said. “Each one brings something that the team needs. They’re there for a reason.”

Her words carry weight. Simply, Venturini Hoch was a winner and one of the most prolific champions Modesto has produced. She’s still winning today as she and husband Casey raise Cooper, a high school freshman, and junior-high student Sadie in Newport Beach.

By the way, Venturini Hoch believes the USA must be at its best to beat France.

“France has a great backline and is dangerous and will have all that home support,” she said. “We have incredible skill at every position. I’m sure they can do it, but it will be a tight match.”

Venturini Hoch remains tightly woven into the national soccer fabric. Gregg Berhalter, the USA men’s soccer coach, was a star at North Carolina during Venturini Hoch’s time. In fact, Berhalter married the former Rosalind Santana, one of Venturini Hoch’s collegiate teammates.

Earlier this year, the 99ers gathered for a reunion. They remembered their coach Tony DiCicco, who passed away two years ago, and the program they built from the bottom to the top.

“There are still steps to be made,” said Venturini Hoch in reference to the women’s ongoing fight for equal pay. “In 1999, we didn’t even have female role models. Mine were Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.”

Today’s girls enjoy a treasure trove of role models. Venturini Hoch is one of them.