Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
It couldn’t have been a better summer in 2001. At least it was for a local sports editor seeking sports news for a reading public that rejoiced over such information.
Heather Aldama was playing pro soccer for the Boston Breakers.
Landon Donovan was up in San Jose, playing for the Earthquakes.
Donovan, for his part, would eventually become arguably Team USA’s greatest player.
Aldama had been a stud scorer at Redlands High just as Landon was arriving at Redlands High in 1995-1996. The Lady Terriers, built around Aldama’s goal-scoring and goal-producing passes, won four league championships.
In one season alone, she racked up a phenomenal 38 goals and 22 assists.
Over four seasons at Redlands, Aldama was All-CIF Southern Section each year. Her Lady Terrier teams reached the CIF quarterfinals twice and the semifinals once. The play was usually in the top tier of Division 1.
She was surrounded by terrific talent, plus coach Rolando Uribe who had been a scoring phenom for RHS’ boys side a few years earlier.
Part of a Southern California Blues side that won a state Under-19 title is, most likely, what landed Aldama in the collegiate spotlight; and, evetually, the pros.
That summer of 2001 was great for a small-town daily sports editor.
SUMMER PERKS OF ALDAMA, DONOVAN
The way it works on a small daily is simple. You’re obligated to produce as much local copy as possible.
That routine wasn’t necessarily so simple.
Due to shrinking budgets, the Associated Press wire services were all but unavailable to produce a sports section. Local copy was becoming even more mandatory.
During summer months at a small local daily newspaper, it’s tough to crank out local copy, particularly because schools are shut down between June and September.
You’d have to make up for it with all-star baseball, country club golf results, bowling scores from the local House, maybe some Junior Olympic swimming results courtesy of Redlands Swim Team, while we followed the exploits of that year’s Redlands Bicycle Classic entries throughout their summer seasons.
But when that pair of soccer-playing, midfield scorers put on their professional uniforms, they attracted plenty of attention.
That summer, though, was great. For me. For readers. You rarely read much in the county or regional newspapers about either player. Each time Aldama, or even Donovan, took the field for their respective sides, it was an opportunity for local coverage.
It almost defied the odds when AP would staff many of those matches with a photographer. A handful of photos from their matches would come across the wire on game nights. Both players, Aldama and Donovan, showed up in photos on local sports pages in their hometowns.
In a way, it almost defied the odds. At any point on a soccer pitch, there are 22 players. One photographer. It seemed like every match included a shot of the Redlanders. It’s not hard to really imagine. Aldama and Donovan were playmakers. Photographers like action. Their lenses are usually aimed toward those making plays.
Photos filled at least one-third of the page.
It’s one way to fill a local sports section.
SANTA CLARA WAS COLLEGE CHOICE
Unlike Donovan, who skipped college to play the European pro leagues at age 16, Aldama chose NCAA powerhouse Santa Clara University as her collegiate stop. Four seasons of Varsity play as a Lady Terrier attacker, plus her club-playing roots, had left her as a prime target for most of the top colleges.
There were some highlights for the Lady Bronco.
As a freshman in 1997, Aldama nailed a game-winning goal against West Coast Conference rival Loyola-Marymount.
She played against No. 3 Florida in the 1998 NCAA semifinals, against No. 19 Brigham Young University, playing in virtually every big Santa Clara match during her 1997-2000 collegiate career.
Aldama netted a 16-yarder against third-ranked Nebraska in a 2-1 win over the Lady Huskers on Sept. 19, 1999.
In an NCAA playoff match against UCLA that same season, she scored in the 23rd minute, assisting on another goal in a crucial win.
Against Connecticut in the NCAA quarterfinals one match later, Aldama assisted on a pair of Aly Wagner goals, helping produce a 3-0 triumph.
In other words, Aldama always seemed to find herself in the mix – scoring, setting up goals and other plays, streaking downfield to work her way open.
Once college was over, though, what next?
REPLACING TEAM USA
Aldama was part of a replacement Team USA side at a Jan. 13, 2000 match in Adelaide, Australia. In an event called the Australia Cup, Aldama surfaced as a substitute in the championship match, 3-1, over the Matildas.
Team USA’s main side had boycotted the match.
Sherrill Kester, Danielle Slaton and Wagner, Aldama’s college teammate, scored in front of 3,500 at Hindmarsch Stadium.
Playing against a more experienced Matildas’ squad, the U.S. held a 20-6 shots advantage, plus a 10-5 edge in corner kicks. It was in the 82nd minute that Aldama fed Wagner for Team USA’s final goal.
Mandy Clemens was part of the team, plus Jenn Mascaro (Streiffer), Michelle French and Veronica Zepeda with Lakeyshia Beene in goal.
Team USA, 2-0-1 in the four-nation tournament, had the same record as Sweden (playing to a 0-0 draw), winning on goal differential, holding a plus-nine to Sweden’s plus-four. The Czech Republic and host Australia made up the remaining tournament qualifiers.
It was that 8-1 win over the Czech Republic that did it for Team USA.
Considering that Sydney, Australia would be the host of that year’s 2000 Olympics, it had to occur that Aldama could see action when the Summer Games started.
Team USA’s co-coach Lauren Gregg noted the team’s approach.
She told Associated Press that Team USA achieved its objectives.
“First, we won by playing some exciting, attacking soccer.
“Second, these players invested in their development every minute they were on the field and took every advantage of this opportunity.
“Finally,” she said, “these games gave us a chance to evaluate our young personalities against much more experienced players, which gives us extremely valuable information as we go forward toward the Olympics.”
Team USA, Olympic gold medalists in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012, took silver in the 2000 Sydney Games. That team was largely built around the same group of historic women that won World Cup in Pasadena a couple years earlier.
China and Team USA played to a 1-1 draw, but the American women made it to the championship match, won by Sweden, 3-1.
Aldama was not part of the side.
SETTING STAGE FOR WUSA
While USA’s women were forming a global powerhouse at the international stage, Aldama was on the bubble to crack onto a formidable national team that included the likes of Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Cindy Parlow, Tiffeny Milbrett, Clemens, Tisha Venturini, Joy Fawcett, Shannon MacMillan, Julie Foudy and goalkeeper Brianna Scurry, among other well-known American players.
In its most famous triumph in 1999 came in a 5-4 shootout win over China after a 0-0 draw through extended time. Chastain’s famous goal-winning shot was celebrated, dropping to her knees, whipping off her jersey and photographed in her sports bra.
That match was played at the Rose Bowl in front of nearly a packed house while shown on live international TV.
It had to affect an up-and-coming player like Aldama, who was still playing at Santa Clara – Chastain’s collegiate stop, incidentally.
The U.S., who knocked off North Korea, Nigeria and Denmark in pool play, had beaten Germany, Brazil and China, all world soccer powers. By contrast, Team USA’s men had never been able to produce a winning equation during international play.
Aldama had a few national team appearances. The timing of her departure from Santa Clara, however, was met with the formation of a new pro women’s soccer league.
SQUARING OFF AGAINST ’99 CUP SQUAD
In 2001, the Women’s United Soccer Association, or WUSA, was created. One of the founding eight teams was the Boston Breakers. The league lasted three seasons.
Aldama was part of a side that included Lilly, plus Kate Sobrero and Tracy Ducar. International players came over from Germany, Maren Meinhart and Bettina Wiegmann, plus Norway’s Dagny Mellgren and Ragnhild Gulbrandsen.
Aldama showed up in Boston, courtesy of being the 28th player selected in the 2001 draft, a fourth-round pick by the Breakers. They played her on defense.
It was tough beginnings for Boston, which played to an 8-10-3 mark in its inaugural season, following that up with a 6-8-7 mark in 2002 – but no playoffs.
Matches were played at Nickerson Field in Boston. The team was owned by Amos Hostetter, Jr., who had served as chairman of C-SPAN.
That third and final season, though, under coach Pia Sundhage, former Norwegian scoring playmaker, was a little different. Boston finished 10-4-7 and reached the semifinals before a shootout against the Washington Freedom ended the Breakers’ season.
Aldama, wearing jersey No. 12, missed a shot in the penalty kick phase.
Eventually, when WUSA suspended operations, that was about it for the 25-year-old Aldama.
The Breakers reappeared, however – twice.
In 2007, they showed up as part of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), folding in 2012. After that, the Breakers became part of the Women’s Pro Soccer League Elite.
Who was Aldama playing against in WUSA?
It was that same core group of 1999 World Cup players.
Instead of watching them or dreaming of being their place, Aldama was attacking the likes of Scurry, plus defending against the all-star talents of Fawcett, MacMillan, Akers, Parlow, Milbrett, Venturini, Foudy, Hamm, Chastain and Clemens, among others – America’s best players.
In a July 3, 2003 match between Aldama’s Breakers and the Washington Freedom, Aldama notched her first professional goal in the 66th minute. There were 8,105 fans at Boston’s Nickerson Field to witness the two sides play to a 1-1 draw.
The shot was a curving, 25-yarder into the upper right hand corner of the net.
That shot might have originated in Redlands.