Why U.S. women’s soccer pioneer Sharon McMurtry matters to this generation of players

Seattle native Sharon McMurtry, the first woman to be named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and one of the finest midfielders of her era, has become something of a forgotten idol. But her generation’s influence can be felt three decades later as the players seek pay equity.

Sharon McMurtry stood over a penalty kick, 12 yards from history.

On an August day in 1985, the United States’ women’s national soccer team was competing in its first-ever international match, against Italy in the Adriatic coastal town of Jesolo. McMurtry, with a well-placed spot kick, would become the USWNT’s inaugural goal-scorer.

Penalties had given McMurtry the willies going back to her youth soccer days in Kenmore. If she converted, McMurtry’s name would’ve been etched into the record books. She missed, low and past the left post.

Sharon McMurtry file

Hometown: Seattle

National team career: 1985-86

Career caps: Six

College: Seattle U

Notable: Was part of the Washington Youth Soccer’s 50th anniversary team announced last month.

“I missed it by a foot,” McMurtry recalled with painful clarity 30-plus years later.

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Three days later against Denmark, fellow Seattle product Michelle Akers netted the inaugural goal, going on to become one of the most lauded USWNT players ever.

McMurtry, meanwhile — the first woman to be named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and one of the finest midfielders of her era — has become something of a forgotten idol.

“I feel like everyone thinks women’s soccer started with the 1999 World Cup,” said her contemporary, Jan Smisek. “That initial trip was very undocumented. It’s basically oral history. The rest is a mystery.”

McMurtry’s journey through the soccer wilderness was emblematic of her generation — a group of pioneers whose influence can be felt three decades later in the current national team’s fight to put the program on…

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