The player that head coach Tony DiCicco says "epitomized" the U.S. women's team bade her teammates farewell on April 24.
Carin (Jennings) Gabarra, 33, who hadn't played for the U.S. since the gold-medal game of the 1996 Olympic tournament, was honored by U.S. Soccer in a halftime ceremony at Cal State Fullerton, where the U.S. beat Argentina, 8-1.
With her teammates gathered on the field, and 9-month-old son Tyler Marshall cradled in her arms, Gabarra was presented with a Waterford crystal vase by U.S. Soccer executive vice-president Larry Monaco.
Gabarra, head women's soccer coach at the U.S. Naval Academy since 1993, is retiring to devote more time to her coaching duties and her family. She is married to former U.S. international Jim Gabarra.
She leaves with 117 caps, 53 international goals, a winners' medal from the 1991 women's world championship, an Olympic gold medal, and more memories than she can count.
"I'll never forget the gold-medal game in front of 76,000 people, that has to be the highlight," says Gabarra. "And winning the first world championship in China, that was wonderful."
She earned her first cap in 1987, several months after a unique tryout staged when her U.C. Santa Barbara team (for which she scored an NCAA record 102 goals) faced North Carolina in the playoffs. At that time, Tar Heel head coach Anson Dorrance was the U.S. women's coach.
"I told Carin this was her tryout for the national team," recalled Dorrance. "I wanted to see how she handled it. And she shredded us.
"Even though we won the game easily, we couldn't stop her."
For most of her U.S. career, it seemed no defense could stop her whirling, slashing dribbles. Her pigeon-toed stride prompted nicknames of "Gumby" and "Crazy Legs", and also gave her an uncanny ability to control the ball while changing direction.
"With Carin, you know exactly what she's going to do, but you still can't get the ball from her," says defender Carla Overbeck, who has also started a family but wants to play at least two more years. "She's so crafty and so quick."
Gabarra scored six goals, including three in a 5-2 semifinal win over Germany, while winning the MVP award of the '91 world championship in China. In the opening game against Sweden, Kristine Lilly suffered a hip pointer and had to leave the game.
"Before every game, Anson would challenge us, asking us which of us was going to make the difference," says Gabarra. "I always wanted to be that player."
Says DiCicco, "She picked up her game, scored a goal late in the first half and another in the second half. She really got us going.
"When I first came to this team, I was amazed at what she could do with the ball. She epitomized the creativity and entertainment that his team became, and now you see Mia [Hamm] doing those kinds of things."
"She set the standard for us in those early days," says midfielder Julie Foudy. "She's an amazing force, and an amazing influence on me as well as the team because of the incredible things she could do on the field."
"I'm really sad," says Overbeck. "She's a great person, a great player, and a good mom. I understand what she's doing, because it's hard with a family, but we're definitely going to miss her."
Gabarra joined her U.S. teammates April 5 to play in a charity match in Milwaukee. The game raised more than $50,000 for the Garrett Hamm Endowment Fund. Hamm's brother Garrett died last year from a rare blood disorder.
Says Gabarra, "I'll miss playing with these players a lot, but I'll keep playing. This team has been like a family to me. I've been to a lot of weddings, and we've been together so long and been so many places.
"I'll miss that more than anything."
By Soccer America Senior Editor Ridge Mahoney
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