In 2004 FIFA asked soccer legend Pele to create a list of the 125 best soccer players alive. The list is littered with some of the greatest that have ever played the game, including Pele himself, naturally. Among the Cantonas, Beckenbauers, Maradonas, and Shevchenkos of the world, Pele has listed two Americans. One of those is University of Central Florida women’s soccer alumna, Michelle Akers.
Her UCF career began in 1984. She was that season’s MVP and Rookie of the Year, as the Knights went 10-4, losing to women’s college soccer powerhouse North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. Michelle’s time at UCF was marked by a tremendous work ethic and passion for the game.
By the time Akers’ career at UCF was finished, she was named an All-American four times and led the team to three NCAA tournaments. She still holds the team record for all-time points and is second in all-time goals, with 54. She was UCF’s Athlete of the Year in 1988-1989. In 1988 she was the first winner of the women’s Hermann Trophy, given to the best player in college soccer. UCF has honored her by both putting her in the inaugural UCF Athletic Hall of Fame and retiring her signature No. 10 jersey.
Her career after UCF is pretty impressive as well:
- 153 Caps and 105 goals for the U.S. Women’s National Team
- Gold Medal winner at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics
- She scored the first goal in the history of U.S. women’s soccer
- First FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Boot winner in 1991
- Member of two FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning teams (1991, 1999)
- Member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame
- FIFA Order of Merit
- FIFA Female Player of the Century
At one point she even drew interest from the original Orlando Lions. She had no interest in playing professionally for the men’s club, but spent a number of years playing professionally in Sweden for the club Tyresö FF.
I watched Akers play often as a kid. Men’s and women’s double-headers were a standard for UCF soccer in the 1980s. Of all the games I watched with my coach, team, and family, I only remember being told to watch one player on the field—Michelle Akers. I was a tall lanky forward and was encouraged to not only observe Akers’ skill, but her imposing dominance on the game. I was also lucky enough to catch both of the 1996 Olympic women’s soccer games in which Akers featured.
She retired in 2000 and now lives outside Atlanta, working with her non-profit organization, Horse Rescue and Outreach. This program works to rescue, rehab, and find homes for horses. She is still active in the soccer community and is a passionate supporter of the U.S. national teams. You can learn more about her career, life, and horse rescue on her website.
Fun Fact: The UCF women’s soccer team won its first game ever in 1981 against Miami by a score of 20-0; its second game against Florida State by a score of 15-0; and its third game against the University of Florida, 14-0.