Carin Jennings-Gabarra was an integral part of USA's World Cup-winning side in 1991
Secured first-ever Women’s World Cup Golden Ball
"I think we were one of the first teams ever to play with three forwards"
“What I remember most is the friendship of the players on the team... We all played for the love of the game and for our team-mates.”
In conversation with FIFA.com, USA forward Carin Jennings-Gabarra opted to reflect on how special it was to be a part of the Stars and Stripes’ side at the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup at China PR 1991 rather than putting her sensational performances back in the spotlight.
It is perhaps easy to understand why the naturally humble Jennings-Gabarra chose to focus on the stellar USA squad instead of her own achievements, especially when considering who the California native played alongside during the Americans’ historic triumph. Featuring the likes of Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, April Heinrichs, Brandi Chastain, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett and a fresh-faced 19-year-old Mia Hamm, Jennings-Gabarra found herself among a truly exceptionally talented group of footballers.
Yet despite this star-studded selection of team-mates, it was Jennings-Gabarra’s performances that secured the first-ever Women’s World Cup Golden Ball after USA beat Norway 2-1 in the 1991 Final. Jennings-Gabarra combined up front with Akers and Heinrichs to form arguably one of the most threatening forward lines women's football has ever seen, a trio affectionately named the ‘triple-edged sword’ by Chinese media during the tournament.
The combined output of Jennings-Gabarra, Akers and Heinrichs totalled 20 of the United States’ 25 goals scored at China 1991. Few teams proved capable of fending off USA’s ‘triple-edged sword’.
“I think we were one of the first teams ever to play with three forwards,” Jennings-Gabarra recalled. “It was a different style for other teams and they didn’t know how to handle that or how to react to it because they had never seen something like it before.” And as she alluded to in the beginning of her conversation with FIFA.com, even after all these years, Jennings-Gabarra still holds dear the memories of playing not only with her two attacking team-mates, but the squad as a whole.
“April Heinrichs is one of the most competitive human beings I have ever met, on and off the field,” Jennings-Gabarra said. “Michelle Akers is someone who puts her heart and soul into everything she did. How lucky and honoured was I to be playing on the same line as them and then have the midfield and defence we did as well? Everybody was special.”
The triple-edged sword’s performance against Germany in the China 1991 semi-final was particularly ruthless as the Stars and Stripes ran out 5-2 winners, with the three forwards responsible for all five goals. Jennings-Gabarra scored a first-half hat-trick, which accounted for half of the goals she scored that tournament, with her second goal undoubtedly the finest of the bunch.
After creating space for herself with two quick touches away from her defender, Jennings-Gabarra unleashed a ferocious effort, which fired into the far top corner from 25 yards out, leaving goalkeeper Marion Isbert flat-footed and helpless. But how did she manage such an impressive treble in such a short span of time against one of the best teams in the world?
“It’s a little bit about strengths and weaknesses,” Jennings-Gabarra explained. “Even before that game I always enjoyed playing against Germany because of the style they played. Did I ever play really well against Norway, who had the ball in the air a lot? No. I’m not very dynamic in the air. It’s not something I was known for or very good at. But when the ball’s being played on the ground, that’s what I love to do. It’s a style that I loved playing against and it just kind of worked for me that day.”
Jennings-Gabarra also shared her thoughts on that important semi-final in general, which many considered to be an upset in the Americans’ favour. “Everybody was very motivated," she said. “They were considered to be No1 in the world. They just won the European title and everyone thought they were going to win the World Cup. What was also special about that game is that was the day my husband (then fiancé), Jim, flew over to watch. He hadn’t been to any other game, so it helped having him there!”
The Americans’ desire to win and competitive nature has long been a distinct character trait of any of the three Women’s World Cup winning teams, and Jennings-Gabarra’s desire to succeed trumped any personal accolades she collected during her career. “It’s in my house, it is kind of like a bookend here,” she said about the Golden Ball trophy she brought home from China. “I do appreciate it but I appreciate winning and the time I spent with the team over there as well.
“It was a different world, none of us knew there was a Golden Ball or Golden Boot or any of that stuff. None of us played for that. Apparently it was in the papers back in the States, but we didn’t get any of that while we were in China. We were all just focused on playing the game and doing what it took to win and doing it together. It’s special for me to have that but I have that because of the way our team played.”