Among the nation's most famous soccer players is Brandi Chastain, who scored a shootout goal to win the 1999 World Cup and celebrated by dropping to her knees, taking off her shirt and pumping her fists with unfettered exuberance.
Then there’s Abby Wambach, who scored more goals than any man or woman in the world before retiring from professional soccer last year.
Now there’s Julie Johnston, a Mesa, Arizona, native and 2013 Santa Clara University graduate playing for Team USA in the Olympics.
[Rio2016 - Soccer]Model Olympian: Julie Johnston
Her former coach predicts Johnston will be the next household name in women's soccer.
"There’s Brandi. There’s Abby. And there’s Jules," said Santa Clara University women's soccer coach Jerry Smith.
He should know. He coached all three women — and married one of them.
That's why it's not a good idea to ask him to draw too many comparisons between the 48-year-old Chastain, and 24-year-old Johnston, both of whom graduated from the private Jesuit school in Silicon Valley, which can claim ties to roughly a dozen Olympic athletes. He and Chastain have been husband and wife since 1996.
"I don't think that would be wise," Smith said, with a laugh.
He did, however, admit to one difference between the two soccer powerhouses.
"Brandi grew into being a great captain and leader," he said. "And Julie was born to be a great captain and leader."
Smith then began ticking off Johnston’s distinctive characteristics on the field.
"She’s fearless, a tough competitor. She’s always interested in how she can help other people," he said.
Many elite athletes care prioritize their personal scores and accomplishments, Smith said, but not Johnston.
"She’s about the team. If she does well and her team doesn’t, she’s sad about it," he said. "That’s really unusual."
What’s also rare about Johnston, Smith said, was that she decided as a sophomore she was done with the party scene and hunkered down to make the World Cup team, which she accomplished last year.
"I’ve seen that light switch go on with other people," he said. "But not at 19."
And as a senior at Santa Clara University, Johnston, normally a midfielder, made first team All American, first team All-West-Region and was chosen West Coast Conference player of the year, among other awards. Last year, as captain of her team, Johnston helped achieve victory over Germany in the World Cup.
Smith described Johnston as "rock solid" mentally and flexible on the field. For example, he said, she’s playing her second-best position (center back) for Team USA because they need her to.
Asked if Johnston had any flaws, Smith thought long and hard before answering, "Um ... No."
So, why hasn’t the world heard of her?
"She’s new. She’s young," Smith said. "Brandi and Abby didn't become Brandi and Abby until they played in two or three World Cups and multiple Olympics."
Chastain and Wambach have both won two Olympic gold medals and plenty more World Cup awards and international titles. Smith figures Johnston could soon join their ranks.
"She’s mature beyond her years," he said.
FUN FACTS ABOUT JULIE JOHNSTON
- Majored in communications at Santa Clara University
- Wore a No. 2 jersey as a Broncos midfielder
- Did not play high school soccer
- Currently plays as a defender for the Chicago Red Stars
- Engaged to Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eages, after meeting at a Stanford baseball game
- Nicknamed "J.J." and "Jules"