Briana Scurry on her big-screen acting debut, the new USWNT generation, her memoir, and the NWSL

There's a lot going on these days for Briana Scurry, a National Soccer Hall of Famer and women's national team trailblazer. Scurry won gold at the 1996 Olympics and starred for the fabled 99ers in net. She plays herself as Coach Scurry in the recently released movie "High Expectations," starring Kelsey Grammer, Ally Brooke and Taylor Gray. Scurry also has a memoir coming out in June — "My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a Hall-of-Fame Goalkeeper" — accompanied by a documentary by CBS in mid-May. 

"It's exciting because it's happening in a time of my life where I wasn't expecting to have a whole lot of soccer-related things going on," Scurry says over Zoom. "But it just seems like there's so much happening in 2022. ... I'm really coming out of the ground."

Tuning in from Virginia with her World Cup jerseys mounted behind her, we talk acting, the state of the NWSL, and more. "I don't think people understand how amazing the talent on the women's national team is," Scurry says. 

SOCCER AMERICA: What was it like being in a major motion picture, High Expectations?

BRIANA SCURRY: It was really fun. It was challenging because of Covid. This movie was one of the first productions to start up again. I filmed for three weeks in the Atlanta area in October 2020. It was challenging but the production and everyone was wonderful.

We didn't have any Covid shutdowns or anything — there were quite a few movies back then that had to get shut down, but we didn't, so that was interesting. Also, to even to get the part, I had to do a table read on Zoom. Now it's second nature but back then it wasn't. 

SA: How did you get approached to participate in the movie?

BRIANA SCURRY: Chris White, a producer for CDW Films, approached my agency, Livewire Media Relations Strategic Communications. My PR person and manager were in touch with them. He had written in a female coach for an MLS-type coaching role. He thought it'd be great if it was me. Originally, he thought I would play another coach, but then he decided to rewrite it and made it Coach Scurry as opposed to being named some other coach.

Then we did a table read with the director over Zoom. I read my parts over Zoom — it was fine for me but it was all new for them. They don't normally do it that way. Apparently I did OK so I got the part. The energy you have to convey in a Zoom ... that's not the easiest thing to do.

SA: Did your history in broadcasting help at all? Was it hard to get into character?

BRIANA SCURRY: I think it did. The fact that I do keynote speeches for a living ... that probably helped a lot. It's not a stretch to say I wasn't already a coach. I coached the Washington Spirit in 2018. So I think that really helped me. I was essentially just going to be myself and hopefully be what they wanted. And it turned out I was good.

In High Expectations, Coach Davis (Kelsey Grammer) of the Carolina Mantis faces off with the Georgia Wild, led by Coach Scurry.

SA: Did you take any acting lessons?

BRIANA SCURRY: I didn't, but you know what was really helpful? The guidance of Jonathan Southard, the director. He was so kind and so great at putting me in the proper headspace for what he was expecting for my different scenes. I'm coachable, you know? As many of us are who played at a high level.

He was really in a coaching role for me. He would put me in a space where he would tell me what he was envisioning for that scene and I would try to match that. He was really great and treated me with great respect and dignity and understood that it was my first role.

One of his goals was to have me be a very serious and stern coach. That wasn't in my nature — I'm always smiling nowadays. He wanted to make sure he conveyed to me the seriousness of the situation that Coach Scurry was in as the only female coach in the league. I needed to convey that in my acting — he basically said, 'I don't want to see you smile, at all.' That was the standard. It was hard but we laughed a lot off-screen. 

SA: You're on set for three weeks in Atlanta ... what surprised you most about the filmmaking process?

BRIANA SCURRY: Everyone knows it takes many many hours of getting the right angles and whatnot. What I thought was interesting was one scene in my office set. When you watch the movie, you see one character speak, then another character's face, then the wide shot, then the narrow shot. All of those shots are individual takes. You don't think about it until you're actually doing it. 

When I was in my office talking to a player, the player would speak, we'd shoot that part, I would speak, we'd shoot my part, then we'd shoot the wide shot then the narrow shot. It was just ... for a 30-second conversation, it was literally an hour to get that right depiction.

Because our movie wasn't heavy on computer generated graphics, it was a lot of person-to-person acting. I thought that was actually really cool because I got to know different people pretty well. I was often opposing someone at the time and we'd talk about different things. 

SA: Do you have any future acting plans?

BRIANA SCURRY: Well ... this thing came out of the blue! So sure, why not? I told Jonathan, if you ever have a role for me in the future, I'm right here, ready to go [laughs].

I'm the kind of person that's open to opportunities that come my way. Who knows where it might take me.

SA: Why should fans watch High Expectations?

BRIANA SCURRY: People should watch this because it's a great storyline. It's a very inspirational film about a young man who's not only trying to figure out who he is but has a lot of obstacles that he's fighting through. He's trying to achieve his dream — not only is he trying to do that but Coach Scurry is trying to do that as well. I think there are a lot of great storylines that people can relate to and that are inspirational and are very heartfelt. People can see themselves in the character of this movie.

SA: What else are you up to?

BRIANA SCURRY: High expectations airs on April 7. In mid-May I have a CBS documentary being made on me. That process has been 18 months in the making — it's airing on CBS Sports and on streaming in mid-May. My book is coming out — I've been writing a book for the last 18 months with author Wayne Coffey called 'My Greatest Save.' That's launching on June 21. 

That's my whole story. If you've ever wondered about women's soccer, what it's like to be on the national team, and all of the dynamics you've see and haven't seen — I went into great depths in my book. Wayne and I worked really hard on it for nearly two years. Now it's launching in June — I'm very proud of that. 

In the mix in there I'm doing some broadcasting in there too. So it's a lot going on right now.

SA: Tell us more about the documentary.

BRIANA SCURRY: It's essentially going to be the visual of my story. There's a lot packed in there. A lot from the last few years of my life — the soccer mom I've become now, I have two step-children, Andrew and Sydney, 19 and 15 years old and my amazing wife Chryssa, we've been married for four years since June. 

There's a lot about my post-soccer life, which I think is intriguing because I feel like a lot of times people wonder what happens to someone when they're done playing. I go into great depth about that. And also some of the more difficult times of my life — when my father passed away, I talk about that. We have parts in there about different soccer trials and tribulations I've had. As we know, my career hasn't always been a straight line up. All of that is in there — it's a really honest depiction of my journey.

SA: Were documentary filmmakers following you around during that? What was that like?

BRIANA SCURRY: It's really interesting. There's a segment in there about when I was doing speeches. There's a segment about medical challenges I've had to overcome. They went with me to those appointments. There's also a lot of footage of me just with my kids and my wife. Just a lot of great stuff — lifestyle, the way I live, and there's going to be some soccer in there, of course. It's going to be a fantastic documentary. It's exciting because it's happening in a time of my life where I wasn't expecting to have a whole lot of soccer-related things going on other than my book. But it just seems like there's so much happening in 2022 I'm really coming out of the ground. 

SA: Pivoting to women's soccer ... what do you think of the recent settlement between the U.S. women's national team and U.S. Soccer?

BRIANA SCURRY: I'm thrilled for them. We've been battling the federation for decades. I want to give a shoutout to Cindy Parlow Cone — if she wasn't the president of the federation I don't think this deal gets done. And to the players who filed the lawsuit in 2019 for really putting themselves out there in a legal document. it's a very different evolution of the battle to really put yourself out there and fight something in a court of law.

At the same time trying to win stuff — trying to win World Cups and Olympic games at the same time you're battling your federation. Which is what we've done for decades. But people sometimes forget how hard that is to do. How hard it is to continue to win — which is what's expected of us — while at the same time fighting for equality. I'm thrilled about the settlement and I think the next step is the CBA and hopefully they can cross that line as well. And maybe we can see some equality instead of talk about it all the time.

SA: How does that internal conflict affect the U.S. women's national team player?

BRIANA SCURRY: The way I see being a member of the U.S. women's national team is that it's a dual-mandate. There's a high expectation of soccer excellence on the pitch and essentially your expectation is to win all of the time — World Cups and Olympics Games. That's the expectation of the women's team, it's not necessarily the same as the men have.

There's that expectation.

The second part of the mandate is to raise the bar for equality. When I was playing When I was playing, we were [seated in] middle seats [on flights] and getting bagels in between training sessions. Now the team has evolved to fight in a court of law. All along it's difficult because it's on top of trying to win World Cups and Olympic Games. It's incredibly taxing. All the women say the same thing. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, have said as leaders of the team how much time is put into dealing with that. It's not necessarily something that they want but they have to because it's how things get done. 

It's difficult but it's how it's always been. The truth is that for over 30+ years we've been doing the two things at the same time. And still winning stuff — every cycle, we win something. Imagine how well we'd do if we could just focus on the one thing.

Goalkeeper Briana Scurry's national team career (173 caps, 1994–2008) included the 1996 Olympic gold medal win and the 1999 World Cup title, sealed with a final game victory over China in which Scurry famously saved Liu Ying's spot kick during the shootout tiebreaker.

SA: How would you rate the state of women's soccer overall in the USA, in 2022?

BRIANA SCURRY: It's fascinating, really. The NWSL has expanded to 12 teams. That feat alone is amazing — it's not easy to create a league and grow one. I mean, many a league has failed and I'm not just talking about women's soccer. The state of the game from that barometer is quite good.

The national team — the great stars are going to have turnover soon. A lot of players are in their mid-30s or higher. But we have a fantastic crop of new talent. I don't think people understand how amazing the talent on the women's national team is. The Trinity Rodmans, Midge Purce, players making resurgences like Mal Pugh. There's amazing attacking talent that's very young and can carry the team for another few cycles. I think the state of the team in terms of playing is very good.

The fact we have Cindy Parlow Cone for another four years as president of the USSF — the corporate C-suite if you will — I think you have a table that's really set for both the men and the women to thrive in. Between the dynamic that Cindy has really focused on — she really wants to get things done. I talked to her at the Equal Pay White House Summit, and she's like, 'you can't be a person who complains and doesn't do something.' So, she's doing something at the highest possible level. She's in there every day working at it. I think the teams and the soccer at the highest level for the U.S. is in a very good spot.

And the men just qualified so don't forget that — that's a really big deal. Soccer here in this country is looking as shiny as it's been in a long time.

SA: Rate the new generation of the USWNT? 

BRIANA SCURRY: Here's what I will say. the talent is ... here's an example: if you put Sophia Smith, Rodman, and Purce on a front line, I don't see any defense that could hold them. There isn't one. But the important part is the secret sauce — the blending of talent. Players need to be brought through the culture of the team. They need to learn how to be professionals and how to thrive in a pressure cooker. I think right now the current leadership of the team has a great responsibility. Back when it was Abby [Wambach] passing the torch onto Alex Morgan, and Mia Hamm passing it to Abby. Right now Alex and Megan have that responsibility, for example, to pass it onto the attacking players. Never mind about the midfield, defense and goalkeeping crew, which is looking quite good.

It's all about the secret sauce that needs to be put together. I think Vlatko [Andonovski] understands that. But you gotta play the game — you can say all you want to say about the talent pool, but just like the NCAA final last night, you just don't know how the popcorn is going to pop until you play.

SA: One thing I think about is a country like Mexico barely had any women’s pro soccer as of 10 years ago. Even though their national team isn’t very successful their women’s league has been hugely successful and is growing in popularity every year — now they get more people into seats than many NWSL teams. What does that say about the struggles of the NWSL and women’s pro soccer in the U.S. in general?

BRIANA SCURRY: I am thrilled that Mexico and Europe now have these amazing leagues that are thriving. That wasn't the case a minute ago, really. I love the fact that the pie is growing. It's going to be more competitive. Players have options — they don't just have to stay in the U.S. They can go to France and play for a high-level team or you can go to England or Mexico.

I think that's amazing. I love that the U.S. has dominance and has had dominance. But the fact that all these countries are pouring money into their women's programs is truly the evolution of women being able to play and have choices all over the world. I feel like I'm a big part of that — me and my teams in the past have really been able to light the fire there and put money into the women's leagues.

It's going to be difficult. Just like how it was when we started the WUSA way back when. We had players come from outside the U.S. and play in our league and that made it really hard for our national team to beat them. Because we were seeding the talent pool for all of these other countries.

And as much as I love to see the USA win all of the time, what I love even more is seeing the game grow all over the world. The fact that the NWSL fanbase may be a little bit low right now I think we can work on it. I think there's room for growth. But the fact that these other countries have had amazing starts with their new leagues is a great barometer to look at in terms of women's soccer as a whole and the growth of it.

2 comments about "Briana Scurry on her big-screen acting debut, the new USWNT generation, her memoir, and the NWSL".
  1. Francisco Cleaves, April 7, 2022 at 5:42 p.m.

    they had to pick a "mega maga " for this film?

  2. Kevin Sims, April 8, 2022 at 9:39 a.m.

    Perhaps  have mssed something. I read for weeks and weeks about "High Expectations" playing 1 night only ... April 7. Indeed, I had a soccer commitment. Is the flm set for general release? Online availability? Streamng avalability? 

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