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The Tradition

‘Like a phoenix from the ashes’: Catching up with Briana Scurry, former UMass and US soccer star, as she rises again

Briana Scurry did her part for the 1999 World Cup champions by coming up big in the penalty shootout against China.ERIC RISBERG/Associated Press

It’s been almost 25 years since Briana Scurry’s most famous save, the sprawling stop down and to her left in the penalty shootout of the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that put the Americans on the brink of history at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Brandi Chastain’s conversion from the spot minutes later became one of the defining images of women’s sports in the United States, sealing a win that inspired a generation that would one day lead the national team to even greater success. But it was possible only because of Scurry.

Scurry will be honored for her accomplishments at The Tradition Wednesday at TD Garden, alongside other local legends including Dennis Eckersley, Doc Rivers, and Kevin Faulk at The Sports Museum’s 22nd annual gala.

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“I was thrilled once I realized what the award meant and who got it in the past,” Scurry said. “I absolutely love Boston and Massachusetts, so I’m just really thrilled to be going back there to accept this award. I’m really honored because there’s some fairly big names that have won this in the past, and I’m really appreciative to be among them.”

Scurry’s local ties lie a bit further west in Amherst, where she starred at UMass from 1990-93. She landed in Western Massachusetts thanks to the guidance of her longtime club coach, Pete Swenson, who lobbied then-UMass coach Jim Rudy to take a chance on a raw goalkeeper who was, as Scurry acknowledges, “long on athleticism and a little short on technique.”

“Jim said, ‘You know, Pete, I already have one of the best goalkeepers in the country. I don’t need a goalkeeper,’ ” Scurry recalled. “And Pete told him, ‘You know what? You need this goalkeeper.’ ”

Scurry split time in goal as a freshman before starting all 19 games as a sophomore, posting 12 shutouts. Her senior year in 1993 put her on the fast track to the national team, as she backstopped the Minutewomen to an Atlantic 10 championship and a trip to the Final Four. She was named National Goalkeeper of the Year by the Missouri Athletic Club after keeping 15 clean sheets as a senior.

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“[UMass] was a wonderful choice,” Scurry said. “I mean, even now, after all this time, my God, almost 25 years, I still just love it.”

Scurry posed with the World Cup trophy this past summer in Sydney, as the tournament was held in Australia and New Zealand.SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

The plan back then was still law school after she completed her political science degree, but Rudy was well-connected with Anson Dorrance, the legendary North Carolina coach who was then leading the national team. Scurry made her US debut in 1994, a shutout win over Portugal, and she wouldn’t let go of that No. 1 shirt for the next decade.

Her time with the national team finished in 2008 with 175 caps to her name, two Olympic gold medals, and that unforgettable day in Pasadena. Her club career was still going strong, but then was cut short by a traumatic head injury in 2010 that derailed the next few years of her life. Brain surgery in 2013 finally brought relief from the excruciating headaches that had become near-constant for more than three years.

Public speaking is Scurry’s focus these days, as she travels the country to talk about anything from concussion awareness — she appeared in front of Congress to discuss it in 2014 and 2016 — to team building to diversity, from her highest highs as a World Cup champion to her lowest lows in the years following her injury.

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The last couple of years have been a breakthrough for Scurry, who wrote her first book, “My Greatest Save,” and was the subject of a Paramount+ documentary, “The Only,” in 2022.

“I’d been struggling so much with my concussion, and now I’m really feeling like I’m coming out of the ground,” Scurry said. “You know, like a phoenix out of the ashes.”

Public speaking brought Scurry back to Amherst this past spring, when she delivered the keynote address at UMass commencement.

“It was just really cool,” Scurry said. “My wife came with me, and it was just great to show her all my old haunts, stop at Antonio’s [Pizza] for a slice, it was such a good experience.”

Next summer will mark 25 years since the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and this current iteration of the US team will get its crack at making up for a disappointing 2023 World Cup at the 2024 Olympics.

Scurry threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a Brewers-Nationals game in Washington in 2022.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Little exemplifies Scurry’s impact, more than two decades on, like the current roster. Scurry was the only Black player on the national team in 1999, a familiar feeling throughout her career. Now, the US women boast plenty of Black stars, from Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith leading the forward line to Alana Cook and Crystal Dunn holding things down at the back.

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“I consider it as absolutely, positively a part of my legacy,” Scurry said. “I was the only one playing back in the day that had, like, a core starting role on the team. So all they saw was me.

“We’re talking about a generation now of players — in general, but of course players of color — that are so skilled, so gifted. They understand it. They get it.

“So it’s so exciting to see where it’s going to go.”


Amin Touri can be reached at amin.touri@globe.com.