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April Heinrichs U.S. Soccer

Quote Sheet: Sunil Gulati, April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis Discuss New Positions


U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati

On the announcement of April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis being named to full-time positions with U.S. Soccer:
“Obviously, I’m very pleased that April and Jill have joined our efforts on a full time basis. As the press release outlines, they’ll be responsible in leading the overall technical program and technical development on the women’s side of the game. April is the technical director and Jill working with her as the development director. It’s possible that in the short to medium term they’ll also be involved in coaching one of our age group youth competition teams, in particular the U-17 and U-20 teams. Those decisions will be made shortly and with their input and involvement but that’s something certainly that we’re considering depending on time constraints and so on. These appointments aren’t a direct reaction to any particular results of the last year or anything else whether it was our Under-17 or Under-20’s or the Women’s National Team not qualifying directly for the World Cup, but really just a recommitment to the Women’s National Team and girls’ player development side. It’s an ongoing challenge and that’s what these appointments have everything to do with. I think we have two highly skilled, highly experienced, certainly motivated from talking to them, individuals, and we’re looking forward to having them get to work and helping us continue to develop girls and women’s players in the best possible ways. The last comment I will make is Pia Sundhage obviously continues to coach our national team, the technical side of April’s role isn’t directly related to the Women’s National Team or player selection or games or anything like that. There’s kind of a dotted line, as is the norm in most countries around the world. While there is certainly coordination between the two, it’s not a direct reporting role in either case. Pia is enthusiastic about these appointments so that is a huge plus and we certainly wouldn’t have made them without her agreement and support, but it’s not a direct reporting relationship.”

On how Women’s Professional Soccer is involved in the development process of U.S. Women’s soccer:
“We’ve had some discussions with WPS. I think in the short term, because April is just coming on board, obviously the women’s league is very much focused on the six teams, on the first team play and over time hopefully they can become more involved in some of the developmental programs. But in the short term, it’s very much focused on first team play for those teams.”

On how these appointments play into a possible U.S. Development Academy for girls:
“It’s something we’ve looked at obviously and people have asked a lot about once we had the program on the boys’ side. It’s something we’ve discussed internally and with Jill and April and something I think they’ll take the lead on now and looking to see if that’s the best fit. We’re still evaluating the results on the boys’ side and the needs on the girls’ side may or may not be the same. It may or may not be the best way forward, whether it’s how we set it up, whether it’s how many teams, all of those things. It’s something to look at but at this point it’s not something we’ve confirmed were going to do.”

On how long the positions have been contemplated:
“In some ways, years, in the sense that we always wanted to try the right fit for a technical director, and more formally for several months in talking to candidates and talking to people. Part of it is that we now have new cycles of U-17 and U-20 competitions so we need to get teams on the field starting this January, but we’ve had people we’ve formally been talking with several candidates for several months.”

On how much interaction and overlap there will be between the new positions:
“In a sense, I can’t do that because part of what we’re doing is bringing people on to lead the program and some of that will take place as they get involved and engaged in the job. It’s not as if we have a structure of 20 slots and we can define what these two will be doing. These are new positions, as I mentioned earlier, they may well be involved in coaching one of the teams but we’re going to leave that to April’s discretion, working with Jill on putting all of the pieces on this chess board together in the best possible way going forward. There will be a lot of overlapping because they’re going to be working together. If they end up coaching teams then there’s obviously some overlap as players move from one to the other, but we’re trying to look for a coordinated approach to player development, whether it’s on the boys’ side or the girls’ side and April and Jill are going to be heading that effort up on the girls’ side, so there will be a lot of overlap.”

U.S. Soccer Technical Director for Women’s National Teams April Heinrichs

On being named Technical Director for Women’s National Teams:
“It’s exciting for me and I know for Jill to jump into these new positions. It demonstrates a great commitment by U.S. Soccer on the future development of the women’s game. I’m particularly looking forward to identifying the best and the brightest coaches, assistant coaches and staff members that we can find to be involved in our youth national team program and then start spending some time speaking with coaches and administrators in the soccer community and hearing what they have to say and extrapolating some of their great ideas and start to put some ideas together and collaborate with Jillian on her appointment and her vision for the program and put a 20 year vision plan in place and get to work. Thank you Sunil for entrusting myself with this role and I look forward to getting started.”

On the perception that the world has caught up and, in some cases, overtaken the U.S. Women’s soccer program over the last decade:
“In a lot of respects the U.S. sports teams, all of our women’s sports teams, had a 50-yard head start in a 100-yard dash. Over the last 10, maybe 15 years, those other countries have spent time, energy and now their resources across all of our sports, including soccer. These countries have caught up and it’s a matter of us now saying, ‘Okay, where do we need to go now?’ and I think that’s what today’s announcement is about. What do we need to do to develop players to be prepared to play at the international level because we’re putting them on the international field at even younger and younger ages. It’s important to be competitive at every age group and develop the technical skills so that they can implement the tactics and we can put more and more complete players on the field in all positions.”

On her relationship with U.S. WNT head coach Pia Sundhage:
“First of all, I think she’s the best coach we’ve ever had. She has a great way with players. She runs great training sessions. She really manages her emotions extremely well and I’ve been a big fan of the way she has gone about her soccer coaching here in America. Our paths have crossed all the way back into the late 1980s, when we were playing against each other. Then we lived in Italy, she played on one team and I played on another team, back probably when the video was black and white. Then we were both coaching youth national teams, her for Sweden and myself for the U.S. and we came across each other a couple tournaments. Then, when she came to America as the assistant coach of the Philadelphia WUSA team, I was the national team coach, so we would talk on occasion about players that she was coaching, her learning curve in America and some of the players that she thought highly of and so that’s why she was a great selection for me when I was looking for a scout in 2004. I have tremendous respect and admiration. I love her personality, she has a big personality. She is exactly what America needed when we hired her.”

On whether there is anyone part of Sundhage’s coaching ability that stands out:
“She keeps it slow. She was a central midfielder so she uses her brain more than her speed. I couldn’t say that I’ve even closely watched her coach the U.S. team in the last four or five years. I don’t know if I’ve even been to one or two sessions, but I was around in Beijing when they were preparing for the final. She just was a great leader, with confidence and I think going into the game against Brazil in the final, there was the usual relaxed mode at the training center in Beijing but she was particularly relaxed and confident, she knew she had the U.S. team on her side of the bench. I think that’s one of the most amazing victories, the one in 2008, and she led that team into the gold medal game and to the gold medal. I can’t say that I would have any criticism.”

On how much interaction and overlap there will be between the new positions:
“One of the things that I liked when the structure was presented to me is that it was presented to me as a team. We’ve got Jill, myself, Jim Moorhouse, U.S. Soccer all working together along with the soccer community, ECNL, ODP, US Youth, all working together to assemble some new initiatives and initiatives that have been great for many years, to polish them up and continue to develop players. One of the most attractive things about the way that they articulated the structure is that we’ll work together as a team, collaboratively.”

On the American philosophy to player development and where it is heading:
“In the press release, the word ‘philosophy’ is a good place to start right now, for all of us to get together on the phone at U.S. Soccer to start shaping what the philosophy is and where we’re going to go, to assemble it and then over a time, as much as we’re enthusiastic and excited to hit the ground running tomorrow, I do a little bit of assessment to see where we are and then establish that philosophy and then start putting in initiatives and putting in layer after layer after layer in place so that we can positively impact the game.”

On the current structure of the U.S. Women’s National Team program:
“I think clearly we have a structure in place that is a massive pipeline, a massive pyramid. We have the Women’s National Team program at the top of the pyramid, we have the women’s professional league right under that and then our youth national teams and their structure. We have under that some of our club initiatives and the university system and then the grassroots program. So we have a structure, each of those layers of the pyramid have a philosophy in place. It would take me days to even articulate what those philosophies are. But I think even with the national team program, we’ve had structure that’s been layered on and on and on over the last eight to 10 years, we’ve added a U-15 team, we’ve added a U-14 team. Now as we create a philosophy for this new era, we work with Pia and Jill and myself and Jim Moorhouse at U.S. Soccer, peak over to what the men are doing, peak over to what some of the other countries are doing and I think we really need to articulate what that new philosophy will be so that if it’s coming from us we can articulate it and start to spread that word. We can get more and more people involved and more and more people invested in it.

U.S. Soccer Development Director for Women’s National Teams Jill Ellis

On being named Development Director for U.S. Women's National Teams:
“I’m truly honored to take this position. It’s a great opportunity, I recognize that. It’s on the cutting edge of moving this game and the women’s game which I care so passionately about, forward. Like April, I’m looking forward to working with the soccer community and forging relationships and really getting an encompassing feeling of where we want to take this game and our continuing development of our game as we move forward into a new era. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it and looking forward to hitting the ground running.”

On how the new philosophies will incorporate the technical aspects of the game into the current system which focuses on the physical aspects:
“We certainly have a lot of technical players in our midst, but now marrying that with a style of play that highlights that is going to be the challenge. As April has alluded to, it’s establishing a philosophy of how we want to play and how we want to develop players, it’s not simply identification. It really is development. We have tremendous athletes in this country and that begs the question, ‘Why can’t we have tremendous athletes that are tremendous technical players?’ That is ultimately what you’re trying to establish in developing players. I think there’s a place for everybody. I certainly have, in my college years and my selection of players for the national team, have picked players that play the game and understand the game and there has to be a certain variety of the types of players on the field and we can’t have everyone being a piano player, there has to be some piano carriers out there and I think that’s our challenge and our charge is to try and find those players, find a style of play that really marries our strengths as a country. We have athletes and we have technical players but I think ultimately we realize that we do need to further our development, technically, and that’s going to be a big push for us.”

On the decision to leave her position as head women’s soccer coach at UCLA and her replacement B.J. Snow:
"Obviously, it was a difficult decision because this has been my home, but honestly the excitement in my discussions with Sunil and Dan and Jim has superseded what I have here. I feel like I’ve established the program here and I’m definitely ready for a new challenge and there’s no greater entity than to go and work for your federation and spearhead this opportunity. For me, I’m definitely ready for a new challenge, I’m excited. I’ve got a lot of fond memories and friends here but I’m really, really excited about the future opportunities and I believe I’m ready for this. I’m ready to do something different. Today’s announcement about the hiring of B.J. obviously makes me happy. He’s a tremendous guy, tremendous coach and obviously there’s a seamless transition so I’m thrilled for our department and for our players."

 

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