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Heinrichs, Chastain Discuss Upcoming World Cup, U.S. Team's Preparations

U.S. Women's National Team head coach April Heinrichs and defender Brandi Chastain spoke with the media today for more than one our prior to the team entering training camp this Friday.

April Heinrichs, U.S. WNT Head Coach

On the similarities between Abby Wambach and Michelle Akers.
“I think as a coach I’m always reserved to making comparisons to legends because it puts unfair pressure on a player. Physically, she is the same size as Michelle, but she moves a little bit different. She is courageous. She is strong in the air. She snaps a great header on the frame, which 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.”

On if Abby is close to locking up a starting spot against Sweden in the opening game.
“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’re not locking anyone into a starting position through the course of the tournament. Rather we will take one game at a time, and she is someone we are considering.”

On the feeling that this Women’s World Cup can’t replicate what happened four years ago.
“I don’t 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.”

On how the WUSA season will affect the fitness of the team.
“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 and 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 are hardening the players both physically and psychologically.”

On the versatility the U.S. has at the outside back position.
“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, Brandi stepped up during a penalty kick opportunity and said to have Aly Wagner take it. That’s 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’ve 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’s proving to be physical, good in the air and able to serve some balls forward.” 

On how you’ve grown as a coach over the years.
“I feel like I’ve grown so much, I don’t think we have time 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’ve had is probably in communicating the message and 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 ‘99, and having a coaching change, I made assumptions I could have dealt with better. The part of the job I’m fascinated by 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’ve always said Joy Fawcett is as green as any player you’ll 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’s 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.”

On what you don’t 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 will say it is 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 that will play in big moments and we know we have a large portion of players on our team that have World Cup experience and know what is in front of them. Having said all that, nothing can compare you for the opening game of the World Cup as the butterflies are going.”

On how Tiffany Roberts has improved.
“The league has provided her an opportunity to hone her game and re-invent herself. I think she comes our of her third year of the WUSA 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.”

On who will break out and become the core of the team in years to come.
“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 ’99 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 ’99. I think the core could be radically different in 2007. It will be difficult to predict and a large influencing factor in that is the WUSA and its continued impact and influence. It’s 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 be 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.”

On the strengths of this team.
“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.”

On how Shannon MacMillan is coming along.
“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’s on the very aggressive schedule and our trainer continues to be confident and each week she’ll make greater and greater progress. We’ve all been very impressed with Shannon and her ability. Physiologically, I think she is very close to 100 percent.”

On having Tiffeny Milbrett on the roster.
“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.”

On whether a decision has been made on who will be the starting goalkeeper for the first game of the World Cup.
“We are leaning in directions, but we haven’t conveyed who is going to start for the Sept. 21 game. What we keep telling the team is with this depth and versatility, we don’t 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. WNT Defender

On the play of Abby Wambach.
“As a teammate of Abby’s, I think one of the greatest attributes she has is that she’s different. She’s 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’d like to play the ball to the midfield, you just have to play it forward and Abby is a wonderful target.”

On if there is a feeling that this World Cup can’t replicate what happened four years ago.
“We’re put in a position where we have to work around other schedules – 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 ’99, people are ready for this World Cup. They have their TVs set to the time of the games, they know what’s coming, and they’re excited. We didn’t have that in ‘99. It was a unusual situation with the first-ever women’s event on that large of a scale. We’re looking forward to this tournament I think with even anticipation in terms of people who will be watching on television.”

On how the team’s personality is different from four years ago.
“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.”

On how much this World Cup can help the WUSA.
“Times are hard right now, and we are working really hard to sustain the WUSA. We’re 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.”

On how the WUSA season will affect the fitness of the team.
“I think from the players’ perspective, they understand the Wednesday / Saturday / Wednesday situation is how we play in the WUSA. So, we know the proper amount of rest we need, what we need to eat and how we need to prepare to be ready for those games that close together. I think it fits to our advantage to have the season prior to the World Cup.” 

On what don’t you know about the team yet.
“We don’t know how we will deal with a World Cup situation because a lot of players haven’t been involved in one yet. But we also 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 don’t know who those are going to be at this moment because we haven’t played yet. But, I’m confident you will see players like Kate Sobrero and Christie Pearce, who aren’t normally called upon to be leaders, will become leaders by their actions on the field. That is something we will see in the World Cup.”

On whether you thought Shannon MacMillan would be able to make such a quick comeback.
“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 don’t 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’s been a wonderful example of how to fight through tough things and we’re 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 didn’t 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.”

On what is different this time around leading up to the World Cup.
“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’ve 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 World Cup ’99 and the Olympics in 2000 and ’96. There is just a greater awareness. I went to the grocery store today and the check out guy said, The World Cup is starting, aren’t you excited?’ I just don’t think that ever would have happened without the WUSA and ’99.”

On how big your audience will be with such a busy sports schedule.
“I honestly believe we have a cross-section of people like we’ve 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’t 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 ’99. And we are competing with baseball and football, but however there are times in between those games where they will look for something to watch and I think they will find women’s soccer and they will continue to watch it.”

On how important it is to win the World Cup and if there more expectations after winning it in 1999.
“That’s about competing. It doesn’t matter if it is here, China or Australia. Going out to the field, it is about facing challenges. We don’t 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 can’t say we have the same expectations or higher expectations. You can’t compare this year to 1999.”