Women's Professional Soccer: Brandi Chastain

She's 40, she's whipped off her jersey and flashed a sports bra to celebrate winning a Women's World Cup, she's won world and domestic championships, and after more than two decades of competitive play she's learning another new position.

Yet Brandi Chastain just wants to be regarded as just another player. Yeah, right. Still, she's giving that approach - and the new women's league - her best shot.

"I'm going to be playing soccer somewhere," she says of her spot with FC Gold Pride, based in northern California, where she was born and raised. "It might as well be here."

"Here" is Buck Shaw Stadium, where she finished her college career with Santa Clara nearly two decades ago. Once home to the Broncos' baseball team as well as the soccer teams, it's been expanded and spruced up from the days Chastain scored 32 goals during two seasons (1989-90) that ended with losses in the national semifinals.

"This is my favorite place in the world to play," she says. "It's great. I love it. A lot of good memories there, I can envision my parents and my grandfather, I can hear my mom yelling."

Her parents and grandfather, all deceased, instilled a strong sense of family. She helped the San Jose CyberRays win the inaugural WUSA Championship in 2001, but the league folded two years later. When she heard in late 2007 of a revival, she had to temper her interest with duties as a mother to son Jaden and wife of Jerry Smith, coach of the Santa Clara women's team.

"It started to become exciting but life had changed for me so much, becoming pregnant and having a son, that all of a sudden priorities or focus start to change a little bit," she says. "But in the back of your mind you still wish that you could play."

Chastain never retired from the national team, but the callups stopped coming in 2004. She played for local amateur teams, did some broadcasting work and kept up with a demand for appearances, the fame of her exuberant celebration having only slightly waned since that hot afternoon of July 10, 1999, in the Rose Bowl.

The taut, toned physique she attained while converting herself from a prolific forward to solid defender in the late 1990s notwithstanding, getting back into shape again, at age 40 going on 41 (in July), tested her resolve.

"When I went out to that first day of practice and it was double-days for the first three weeks and I hadn't had double-days for five years or even more, the first three days I was so mentally and physically exhausted I don't think I could see straight," she says.

After a few more days of torture, she looked around, and felt a lot better, at least psychologically.

"From the seventh to the 12th day, I realized I hadn't missed a practice, I hadn't missed a session," she says. "There's younger players sitting out a session with a little tweak here or a little pull there and it's like, 'I'm 40 and I'm still out there.'"

She's out there at center mid, a position she'd always liked but never played, which brought this response from former teammate Julie Foudy, who played that role: "You hear that Foudy laugh and she says, 'Does the coach know how old you are?'

"I thought that was pretty damn funny, but maybe I'm disproving that saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks."

(This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.)     

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