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11 Questions with Heather Mitts

On the verge of earning her 100th cap for the USA, defender Heather Mitts sat down with while at the Algarve Cup in Portugal to discuss her long career, the historic milestone and how she often gets just a little bit feisty during games.

You are on the verge of your 100th cap. It took you about 10 years to reach this point since your first cap in 1999, so it must be a satisfying feeling? 
“Absolutely. It’s about time! Really, my only individual goal was to reach 100 caps, and I first thought about it back in 2003 when I got cut after coming into numerous training camps. Through getting cut and my injuries [broken leg, ACL] it took a lot of time, but I overcame a lot of adversity to get to this point so it’s definitely a good feeling.”

When you earned just four caps over five years from your debut in 1999 to 2003, did you feel that you might never break in to the top of the player pool?
“It never crossed my mind because all I knew is that every time I didn’t make a roster, it just made me want to work harder to make that next roster. I think I learned a lot about how motivated I could be. I kept finding a new inspiration to try to reach this level and I also knew I was competing against some of the best players of all-time so that showed me the level I had to reach, but also gave me confidence every time I played with them.”

What changed for you in 2004 when you played 28 games and won an Olympic gold medal?
“I would say my versatility paid off, but also a little bit of luck. I think I was in the right place at the right time and when Joy Fawcett got hurt I got a chance to play center back. I did well enough there to show April Heinrichs that I was capable of making the Olympic roster and that I could give cover to all the positions on the back line. My confidence grew every game and that is something that just comes with experience. It’s hard to get games with the national team, but when you do, that experience is invaluable.” 

You are from Cincinnati, went to college in Florida, played professionally in Philadelphia in the WUSA, lived for a time in Miami, and also lived for 18 months Los Angeles. Now you live part of the time in San Diego, and you are going to play in Boston in the WPS. How has this nomadic life been? 
“Crazy, but fun. I can just say that life for a soccer player is very much living out of a suitcase on the road. For me, I’ve had to move more times than most but I am still young, and I am going to live this lifestyle while I can. It’s been stressful and chaotic at times, but looking back at it right now, all of it has made me who I am and gotten me to where I am today.” 

In the 2004 Olympics, you didn’t play that much. In the 2008 Olympics, you played all but 33 minutes and played a major role in keeping Brazil off the scoreboard in the gold medal game. With a little time to reflect now, looking back, can you put the experience in words? 
“In 2004, I was fortunate to be on the team, to learn from and play with Joy Fawcett, and the other amazing backs. I was grateful for that experience and to see those great players go out on top, but it left me wanting to contribute even more. From the time that those players retired, I had the opportunity to step in, grow as a player and gain experience. I had another injury, which was a major setback, but once again that motivated me even more and luckily for me I was able to come back strong, start and contribute to this amazing team winning another Olympics. It was really a team effort in every sense and defensively it was display of all of our hard work the entire year.” 

You scored twice in 2004, both off corner kicks. They were your first two career goals, but haven’t found the net since. What’s up with the scoring drought? 
“Talk to Pia! She’s got to put me closer to the goal! I just keep moving further and further back on set plays. Put me in coach!” 

You are not the biggest player by any means, but you have had some great success marking much larger players. What’s the key to that success? 
“I am lower to the ground, and I am quick and feisty. I am just trying to avoid them stepping on my toes. You don’t have to be big to be effective as long as you are strong, smart, aggressive, and have good timing on air balls. Sometimes Abby Wambach throws me around, and I become her personal rag doll, but that just helps me against forwards from other countries.”

You tore your ACL in May of 2007 but made it back for the Olympics. What were the keys to your comeback? 
“First of all, choosing the best surgeon and therapist around. I also listened to my body and worked as hard in rehab as I do in practice and treated it like my job, which it is. Once I was able to start playing again, I headed to New Jersey to work with my trainer James Galanis doing double-days and then slowly worked my way back while learning Pia’s new philosophy and regaining my confidence with the team again. It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” 

You are getting married next February. How are the wedding plans progressing? 
“Slowly. That’s all I can say. It was really hard to find a date that works with both of our schedules [her fiancé A.J. Feeley plays quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles]. It’s hard to organize because it’s going to be a destination wedding, but we’re going to pull it together and it’s going to be a blast.” 

Things got a little rough and tumble in the Iceland match and the feisty Heather came out. What are feisty Heather’s thoughts on matches that start to get a little nasty? 
“I think it’s a good thing to get emotional, but to remain composed at the same time. Against Iceland, I was able to remain composed even though I got grabbed, kicked, hit after I jumped to head a ball and a big girl landed on me. But sometimes, that’s how it gets. You just have to give as well as you take and roll with the punches. And try not to get a yellow card.” 

The U.S. team is in the championship game of this year’s Algarve Cup, against either Germany or Sweden. What are your thoughts on facing those two teams? 
“This is why we come to this tournament, to face competition like that. It’s surely going to be a tough game against either team and with so few games this year, it’s a great test for us. Both teams play great soccer and have some really talented forwards, but we love a challenge. First, we’re focusing on Norway and then we’ll start thinking about the final.”