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World Cup Fever: Former Soccer Pro Julie Foudy Talks Performing Under Pressure

She may no longer play professionally, but Julie Foudy still knows how to have a ball. (Photo courtesy of PUMA)

She may no longer play professionally, but Julie Foudy still knows how to have a ball. (Photo courtesy of PUMA)

For the past three weeks, the FITNESS crew has been captivated by the amazing action on the field at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. The incredible agility and endurance on display each match takes us back more than a decade, when women's soccer burst onto the world stage after Brandi Chastain gave her famous sports bra show at the 1999 World Cup. So how fitting is it that we were able to connect with one of Brandi's teammates (and one of our favorite sports icons of all time) Julie Foudy?

After retiring in 2004 and being inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007, Julie now keeps busy as a mom of two and a soccer commentator for ESPN. We caught up with her—she's over in Germany for the World Cup as we speak and she'll be doing commentary for this Sunday's final match!—to hear about her impressions of this year's team and how the sport has changed since she first stepped on the field.

The U.S. Women's team is headed for the finals this Sunday against Japan! What are your impressions of the team and their performance so far?

Their courageous play has been awesome to watch. During the game against Brazil, they had to go a player down for almost an hour. They were still able to gut it out given the referee, some of those calls and everything else—it was tremendous. I think they can win it all, but the next level will not only involve that mentality, athleticism and great fighting spirit, but will also require combining in a little more possession play, especially against the Japanese team that's so good.

Who do you see as the rising stars of U.S. women's soccer?

Lauren Cheney is a name people are less familiar with, but she's had an awesome World Cup. Lauren's played from the middle of midfield to outside midfield, but her natural position is forward, so it shows how versatile she is. The youngest player on the team, Alex Morgan, scored a goal against France and scored it with class, I think. And Amy Rodriguez had an awesome game against Japan in May. I think their style suits her, so she'll probably have a great game on Sunday. She has a confidence boost from playing well against them in the past. Amy may end up getting her first World Cup goal on Sunday, and that would be great to see!

Keep reading for more about Julie Foudy's top career memory and her tips for keeping cool when the pressure is on.

How has the sport changed since you first began playing?

More people are accepting it. Soccer was traditionally a very male sport, so you found large pockets of the world who were resistant to women playing. It's refreshing to see countries like France and England, who have been known for their men's team but haven't supported their women's teams in the past, starting to change their attitudes towards women's soccer. The field is much larger because of that support.

After all of your clutch performances at tournaments, World Cup matches and the Olympics, do you have any tips for performing well under pressure?

Just make sure you take the time to enjoy the moment and the pressure. That was something we learned from Billie Jean King when she said, "Pressure is a privilege." Know that you worked that hard for something, and this is your chance to show the world that you can be the best.

What is your favorite way to exercise today? Do you still play soccer?

I still run, but I don't play much soccer. Here in Germany, I've been running along many beautiful rivers and crossing over many bridges. It's my way of sightseeing. When I'm home, I mix in the elliptical at the gym or hike to change it up a bit, but mostly still like to run.

What do you consider to be the top moment of your career?

Winning the gold medal right before I retired in 2004 against a very good Brazil team was obviously a favorite. But when we walked into the Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999, after hearing for a few years that people would never show up to this tournament, and saw 90,000-plus screaming fans giving us a standing ovation...that's a moment I'll never forget. Not just for the significance of what we were doing for women's soccer, but the lesson of that you can't listen to naysayers and pessimists. Believe and you can achieve.

Besides sharing your expertise on ESPN, what are you up to these days?

I co-founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academies in 2006, which combine soccer and leadership into a residential, week-long experience. It's all about young girls and women finding their voice and confidence through sports, so it's something I'm incredibly passionate about.

I'm also a PUMA Women's Soccer Ambassador and am supporting their Project Pink initiative. People can tweet messages with the hashtag #projectpink between now and October 31, and for one tweet per person per day, PUMA will donate one dollar, up to $25,000, to the winning charity nominated and chosen at puma.com/projectpink.

Now tell us: The women playing at the World Cup are certainly inspiring to us. Which female sports icon is your role model?

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