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OOSA! Asheville City welcomes 1985 US Women's National Team

By Kristy Kepley-Steward, 05/31/23, 9:15AM HST


On Saturday, July 1, Asheville City Soccer Club will welcome the original members of the US Women's National Team to Greenwood Field to watch the Blues take on Wake FC. 

“I am proud of our beginning and being the shoulders that the current team is based on and hence, their success,” says Emily Pickering, midfielder, who assisted the first goal for the US Women’s National Team and scored the second. “I still get tears during the National Anthem as it makes me swell with pride and gratitude for the opportunity to have played for the United States of America.”

Before the ticker-tape parades, Sports Illustrated covers, sold-out tours and media days, a group of seventeen players were selected from a pool of seventy from across the country to represent their country at the Mundialito in Italy. The group had three days to practice as a team before jumping on a flight to compete in the first four games of the U.S. Women’s National Team history. 

“The first game was probably the most memorable because we were on the field for the National Anthem and I remember getting goosebumps as we sang together,” Linda Gancitano, defender, says about her international debut for the United States in the team's inaugural match on August 18, 1985 against Italy.  

There was no forethought into changing the history of women’s athletics, no consideration of becoming one of the greatest sports dynasties in history. Just seventeen women, supplied with hand-me-down oversized USMNT men’s kits and an Irish coach carrying a bag of soccer balls onto a plane to travel around the world. 

The 2023 Asheville City Soccer away jersey features the names of the members of the 1985 National Team members. Photo courtesy: Stephan Pruitt

Michelle Akers, Pam Baughman Cornell, Denise Bender, Denise Boyer-Merdich, Tara Buckley, Laurie Bylin, Stacey Enos, Linda Gancitano, Cindy Gordon, Ruth Harker, Tuca Healey, Lori Henry, Sharon McMurtry, Ann Orrison, Emily Pickering, Kathy Ridgewell and Kim Wyant.

“I remember the excitement of the Olympic Festival in Baton Rouge, LA. It was a precursor to what was to come down the line for women’s soccer. We knew they were choosing a WNT after the tournament,” says Pickering. 

“Two weeks before we were set to fly to Italy and play, they called each one of us to the field and told us we were going to Italy for the Mudolito,” Gancitano noted. “We just looked at each other and were in awe that this was even happening. The US Soccer Federation rushed our passports and we were on our way to CW Post College in New York to meet and train before we left.”

What the trip and the future held was a bit of a mystery, but the excitement was palpable. In August of 1985, when the team boarded the plane for Italy to compete in the Mundialito (“Little World Cup”) they knew they’d be taking the pitch to battle it out against Denmark, England and the host nation, Italy. What they didn’t know was what that exactly meant. There was no women’s soccer in the Olympics, no Women’s World Cup and no other major tournaments being played. 

“[We slept] on the floor of the plane with Michelle Akers and Kim Wyant because of the long flight. Kim and I met with the pilot and he congratulated us over the PA. It sounded so nice to hear we have the USWNT Soccer team on board with us today,” says Gancitano. 

On August 18, 1985, the first US Women’s National Team lost to Italy 1-0. A few days later, Michelle Akers and Emily Pickering each tallied a goal against Denmark, leading the team to a 2-2 draw. The following two games were both losses, with England winning 1-3 (on another Akers goal) and Denmark finding their revenge with a 1-0 win. 

“We went 0-3-1 and with each game our confidence grew. I had no doubt that when we returned we would be ready for the global stage,” said Stacey Enos, defender, Just Play WNC board member, and Asheville City Soccer Club co-owner.

Despite the game results, the team found themselves crowd favorites and, unknowingly, pioneers of the game and immediate crowd favorites. 

“In Italy, the Italians were incredibly welcoming.  We arrived sleep deprived and weary.  We drove to our hotel and immediately had to change for a parade. The streets were lined with people. It was incredible. We loved the hotel on the beach in Jesolo, Italy and the food. Mostly, we just wanted the pasta as it was fabulous,” says Pickering. 

“The Italian fans were great. The stadiums were full. They were so happy to have us there and they cheered both teams, not just their own. As they were cheering for us, we kept hearing them chanting ‘OOSA.’ Kim Wyant and I were running through the stands with the Italian flag during one of their matches. The fans started chanting ‘OOSA’ again and we asked what it meant. ‘OOSA’ means ‘USA’ in Italian!  It has now been the USWNT cheer for 38 years and has been trademarked by the USWNT Players Association. It says we are one and we are together,” Pickering. 

“The fans chanting ‘OOSA’ as our anthem ended for our very first game was overwhelming,” says Enos. “The stadium was rocking with foreigners cheering for the USA! When the national anthem ended, the fans got louder and louder and louder, and the stadium was packed. It was overwhelming, we were all taken with the support. When we huddled up, that’s when I just took the moment and said ‘OOSA on three’ and it stuck. It was just emotional and inspiring.” 

This summer, as the National Team prepares to battle against the top teams in the world in the 2023 World Cup, Asheville City Soccer Club, in collaboration with Just Play WNC, welcomes the original members of the USWNT to Asheville. 

Join us on Saturday, July 1, as we welcome the team to Greenwood Field to watch your Blues take on Wake FC. Help us show these incredible trailblazers and role models the kind of soccer community they helped create.