September 10, 2003
Q & A from U.S. Soccer media conference call with April Heinrichs and Brandi Chastain
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
U.S. National Team Head Coach April Heinrichs
Q. Do you see similarities between Abby Wambach and Michelle Akers?
A. I think as a coach I am reserved about making comparisons to legends because it puts unfair pressure on a player. Physically, she is the same size as Michelle, but moves a little bit different. She is courageous, and strong in the air. She snaps a great header on the frame as she has done in the last two games. In terms of some of our taller players, she is very skillful and has nice deceptive moves in terms of getting in the flank and creating space to serve. I would liken her to a Michelle Akers, pre-1991. If Abby spent as much time in the front of the goal as Michelle did years and years ago and gets repetition after repetition, Abby could be a great finisher the way Michelle was.
Q. Is Abby close to locking up a starting spot against Sweden in the opening game?
A. She has certainly performed very well in the last couple months of the WUSA season. We all saw her standard of play at the club level in the WUSA semifinals and final. She was someone who was inspiring to watch, and I enjoyed watching both the semifinals and final. She also has come into camp with that confidence and the confidence to help this team win. I think we have quite a few players who feel they can start, and we are not locking anyone into a starting position through the course of the tournament. We will take one game at a time, and she is someone we are considering.
Q. Do you feel that this Women's World Cup cannot replicate what happened four years ago?
A. I do not look at the bar being set at a certain spot based on the number of people in the stands. I look at it as a new World Cup with a short period of time to prepare for it, but I think we will be able to - with our TV coverage - reach as many if not more of 1999. I like the idea we are playing in Philadelphia rather than in New York. I like the idea we are going back to a historical stadium like RKF. I think 50,000 or 30,000 can be just as loud as 90,000.
Q. Do you think that the past WUSA season will affect the fitness of the team?
A. I think from the coaching standpoint our players are match fit. They know the pace of the game is a little faster internationally. They have been playing by my estimations, something like 35 games, a good number of games. I feel like we are going into this World Cup match fit. Our form and played-in quality is the best it has ever been because of the WUSA and the way the battle grounds of the league harden the players both physically and psychologically.
Q. What is your opinion about the depth and versatility of the U.S. at the outside back position?
A. The coaching staff has said for the better half of two years that we have six or seven players we feel could start for us. You mentioned the depth we have, and we have great confidence. The best part of moving Brandi Chastain centrally is that she is the voice next to Joy Fawcett, she is the person that can help communicate our message. A good example of that is just recently when Brandi stepped up during a penalty kick opportunity and said to have Aly Wagner take it. That is not just leadership, that is a great voice. I think after two other penalty kicks were already awarded in the game, it can get kind of recreational. Brandi had a very subtle and sophisticated purpose in telling the team to have Aly take the kick. We may need Aly in a penalty kick situation and it was a great opportunity to practice it. We feel like we could play Cat Reddick on the left or right. Kate Sobrero is confident on the left or the right and her start against Mexico was one of the best games I have ever seen her play on the left side as she served some marvelous balls forward. Christie Pearce can play on the left or the right. Kylie Bivens is a late entry, but she is proving to be physical, good in the air and able to serve some balls forward.
Q. Do you think that you have grown as a coach over the years?
A. I feel like I have grown so much more than we have time for me to tell you in an hour and a half. There is nothing like being the head coach, because you have to communicate the message very well. The most growth I have experienced is probably in communicating the message with the players. It is something I would redo in my first month if I could. I felt like in my first month I made too many assumptions. After the negotiations with U.S. Soccer in 2000, having won the World Cup in 1999, and having a coaching change, I made assumptions I could have dealt with better. The part of the job I am fascinated with is trying to help players find another level. I feel like one of the most important aspects of coaching is to make sure players are growing. I have always said that Joy Fawcett is as green as any player you will ever see. She wants to learn. She sits in every meeting, she listens and she wants to find out new ways to solve problems. Another example of growing is Brandi Chastain. For years she played left back and now she is going into this World Cup as not only our center back, but as one of our leaders. I think one of the more fascinating sides of coaching to me is continuing to find ways to help players grow.
Q. Anything you do not know about the team yet?
The proving grounds, the trials and errors, the environment in which these players have endured over the past three years are tremendous. You speak to anyone who has played a year or three years in the WUSA and they will say it is a grueling season. So, they are hardened in a way that I think will serve them well in the World Cup. They are more tactical because every Wednesday and Saturday, these players are dealing with new tactical situations and questions by their coaches. As we go into this World Cup I think we know what we are going to get. We know we have leaders who will play in big moments and we know we have a large portion of players on our team who have World Cup experience and know what is in front of them. Having said all that, nothing can prepare you for the opening game of the World Cup when the butterflies start.
Q. How do you think Tiffany Roberts has improved?
A. The league has provided her an opportunity to hone her game and re-invent herself. I think she comes out of her third year of the WUSA as multi-dimensional, playing well on both sides of the ball. At times she carried her club team on her shoulders. I think she is more versatile than she was a few years ago. I am just astounded by the technical advances in her game that the WUSA has provided.
Q. Who do you think will become the core of the team in years to come?
A. I think the core in four years from now could have a very different look. If you look at this World Cup, Canada is probably going to have four to five players from their 1999 team, as is North Korea. So there was a lot of turnover in several teams. On the flip side, Germany, Norway, China and the U.S. will have a large majority of players on their team from 1999. I think the core could be radically different in 2007. It will be difficult to predict. A large influencing factor in that is the WUSA and its continued impact and influence. It is not new news to any of us that there is a generation of players that have been here for many, many years and there will never be another generation like that in terms of talent, personality, charisma, leadership and experience. But, I think we can say the following generation has the benefits of opportunity of growing up knowing nothing but a professional league. We are likely to see many of these young players still around in four years. If they are prone to complacency, they might get bumped out as well because the league is that good right now.
Q. What are the strengths of this team?
A. I would just hate to put the strength of our team in a nutshell. We are by far more attacking orientated than we are defensive orientated. But about a year ago, I presented the team with a video on an international opponent and said here is a model of how I would like to play defense. Here we are a year, year and a half later and I think we are a solid defensive team. We have built our backline and our entire defensive scheme around Brandi and Joy, and I think we will display some of the best defensive teams in the tournament.
Q. How Shannon MacMillan is coming along?
A. She continues to recover and do extremely well. I think by all accounts she is ahead of the pace all ACL patients are put on. She is on a very aggressive schedule and our trainer continues to be confident that each week shewill make greater and greater progress. We have all been very impressed with Shannon and her ability. Physiologically, I think she is very close to 100 percent.
Q. What's your thoughts about having Tiffeny Milbrett on the roster?
A. It is good to have her back. I just kept telling her that last week. We are going to need Tiffany Milbrett. We are going to need her to win games. We are going to need her to win consistently. One of the greatest challenges any team faces is winning consistently. I think there are a lot of teams that can win a game or win two games, but you have to win consistently to get out of your group and then you have to win three more games. So, we will need her. I just kept putting my arm around her and telling her how good it was to have her back.
Q. Has a decision been made yet on who will be the starting goalkeeper for the first game of the World Cup?
A. We are leaning in a certain direction, but we have not conveyed yet who is going to start in the September 21st. game. What we keep telling the team is that with this depth and versatility we do not want to be locked into one starter for five or six games. We want to be versatile. The Mexico game was a good example. With Briana Scurry getting injured, I had great confidence in putting Siri (Mullinix) into the game, just like I would in any World Cup game.
Brandi Chastain, U.S. National Team Defender
Q. What do you think of Abby Wambach?
A. As a teammate of Abby I think one of the greatest attributes she has is that she is different. She is a big target, you can find her in the air, and you can find her on the ground. Over the last year playing with Mia, I think she has developed a very good rapport with her and they work well off of each other. Sometimes in the back, although we like to play the ball to the midfield, you just have to play it forward and Abby is a wonderful target.
Q. Is there is a feeling that this World Cup cannot replicate what happened four years ago?
A. We are put in a position where we have to work around other schedules such as NFL, college football ’ so those are things we have no control over. As far as the stadiums we are going to, if you have not been to the Home Depot Center, there is nothing like playing in a soccer specific stadium. Sure, it hold 30,000 people, but it is made specifically for the game, will be fan friendly and will have that great World Cup feel to it. I think, unlike 1999, people are ready for this World Cup. They have their TVs set to the time of the games, they know what is coming, and they are excited. We did not have that in 1999. It was a unusual situation with the first-ever women's event on that large of a scale. We are looking forward to this tournament I think with even more anticipation in terms of people who will be watching on television.
Q. Is the team's personality different from four years ago?
A. The personality is as crazy as ever. We have Julie Foudy leading the way, so you can only imagine what kind of personality our team has. We get along very well. Kristine Lilly and I were just talking about this yesterday, and we were saying how we just get along so well. We look forward to seeing who our roommates will be when we show up on Friday. We love each other and we want to take care of each other and we want to play this World Cup.
Q. How much can this World Cup help the WUSA?
A. Times are hard right now, and we are working really hard to sustain the WUSA. We are trying to get people to recognize how important this sport is to young girls. Not only on the athletic side of things, but on the social side of things on how sports can help them develop as people in their communities and their families. We are working really hard. I think the WUSA is using the World Cup and the World Cup is using the WUSA. With the players and the development, we have to lean on each other to make women's soccer successful.
Q. How will the WUSA season affect the fitness of the team?
A. I think from the players's perspective, they understand the Wednesday / Saturday / Wednesday situation is how we play in the WUSA. So we know the proper amount of rest needed, what to eat and how to prepare to be ready for those games that are close together. I think it is to our advantage to have the season prior to the World Cup.
Q. What don't you know about the team yet?
A. We do not know how we will deal with a World Cup situation because a lot of players have not been involved in one yet. But we have leaders on this team that have been there, and at the appropriate times you are going to see new leaders in the games. We do not know who those are going to be at this moment because we have not played yet. But, I am confident you will see players like Kate Sobrero and Christie Pearce, who are not normally called upon to be leaders, becoming leaders by their actions on the field. That is something we will see in the World Cup.
Q. Did you think that Shannon MacMillan would be able to make such a quick comeback?
A. From personal experience, the answer would have been no. Every time we go out to training and I see her out there, whether it is in non-contact drills or in scrimmages, I am truly amazed. We do not treat her any different than any other player. Shannon right now is not only doing well for herself, but she has created a feeling among the team that if she can work that hard, we have to raise our level. She has been a wonderful example of how to fight through tough things and we are going to go through tough times during this World Cup and we can use her as an example. Again, I am amazed. I think after my first surgery I did not get out of bed for the first two weeks and she was probably already in therapy and walking. I just think it is a great story and I applaud her for her efforts.
Q. What do you find different this time around as you the World Cup approaches?
A. I think the number one difference is the professionalism among the players. Not that we go about our job on the field any different, but in the attitude in which the players go out knowing they are fighting for their position. They are representing so much more now than they ever had before, and I think they are doing it with grace. Kylie Bivens, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach are shining examples of how the WUSA has given them the luxury of training on a daily basis with international players and they have just raised their games. They have become more complete players than they have in the past. I just think the awareness of the general public is greater. I think the WUSA has helped that, along with the 1999 World Cup ’ and the Olympics in 2000 and 1996. There is just a greater awareness. I went to the grocery store today and the check out guy said, "The World Cup is starting, are'nt you excited?" I just do not think that ever would have happened without the WUSA and 1999 World Cup.
Q. How big do you think your audience will be when there is such a busy sports schedule?
A. I honestly believe we have a cross-section of people like we have never had before. Number one, we have soccer fans obviously, specifically young girls, who may have been too young to comprehend it in 1999, but people talked about it and now they are going into high school. I think we have that audience and their parents, who have watched their development. Also, I think we have a great cross over of just sport fans. I can not tell you how many letters I received from people saying they had never watched soccer before, but said they watched in 1999. I think we have a cross-section of people who are new to soccer, but have grown since 1999. We are competing with baseball and football, but however there are times in between those games when they will look for something to watch and I think they will find women's soccer and they will continue to watch it.
Q. How important is it to win the World Cup and are there more expectations after winning it in 1999?
A. It is all about competing. It does not matter if it is here, China or Australia. Going out to the field, it is about facing challenges. We do not worry about other people's expectations. We have high expectations and that is all that matters. Our objective is not to sell more tickets and get more people to watch us on television - even though that would be nice. It is to go out and play Sweden and obtain three points. This is a different team, a different atmosphere, different venues even, so we cannot say we have the same expectations or higher expectations. You cannot compare this year to 1999.