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Mitts Shoots For a Defender's Dream

Heather Mitts is not a goal scorer. And that’s fine with her.

Ok, that’s a lie. Like any defender, she would love to find the back of the net.

Actually, Mitts has two career goals for U.S. National Team. Both came during 2004 from goal mouth scrambles and both were late game-winners. One was before the Olympics against Canada in a 1-0 victory in Nashville, Tenn. and one came after the Olympics during a 4-3 win over Iceland in Rochester, N.Y.

She’s had a taste of what it feels like to put the ball in the net and she wants more.

As witnessed by the right back creating three excellent chances to score so far during the 2008 Olympics.

For sure, U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage encourages her outside backs to attack, which means Mitts gets up the field as often as she can. Mostly, though, it’s to serve crosses into the box.

But against Japan in the USA’s second Group G match, she tried to channel Mia Hamm.

Her first chance came when she ran onto a ball at the top of the penalty area and hit a screamer on goal.

“Honestly, all I was thinking was keep it low and put it on frame,” said Mitts sounding like a forward. “At least, worse case scenario, it hit someone or the goalkeeper made a save, that way I would give my teammates a chance to get another shot. When I saw it heading towards the corner, I definitely got a little excited, but obviously the goalkeeper made a nice save at it. I thought, there goes my chance, but hopefully I’ll get another one because they don’t come very often.”

The overlapping Mitts did in fact get another chance in the game, this one coming in the second half as she played a give-and-go with Angela Hucles.

“I just started dribbling up the field, played it to Ang, and felt like there was some space, so I just kept going,” said Mitts, who regularly finishes in the top percentile on the USA’s fitness tests, so she likes to run. “The Japanese players didn’t go with me, maybe because I’m a defender. Unluckily for me, the goalkeeper came out and we had a little bit of a collision and she came up with another great save.”

“I was just trying to be in the right place at the right time and get on the end of it,” said Mitts, still sounding like a forward.

Still, she looks back on that play and wonders what the heck she was thinking.

“The fact that I went into a tackle with the goalkeeper, I’m pretty luck I came out unharmed,” said Mitts, who is usually the one doing the tackling. “It was not one of my smartest decisions, especially after seeing (U.S. goalkeeper) Hope (Solo) break Brittany Timko’s ribs against Canada last night.”

You would think that with two great chances against Japan, Mitts used up her scoring chances for the entire tournament. Not so. With just seconds left in overtime against Canada in the quarterfinal match, she took off on another foray down the flank.

“I keep replaying it my mind,” said Mitts, who by the way, hit the crossbar in the Peace Queen Cup championship game against Canada last June. “It was sort of like the Japan game. I just played it and the defender didn’t step up to me so I just kept going. It was so late in the game and I was pretty tired. I should have dribbled deeper, but I kept thinking if I took a bad shot, KK (Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc) would just grab the ball and throw it back over my head and I wouldn’t be able to get back so I hit it from a little too far out. It wasn’t one of my best shots, but now I keep thinking about all the things I could have done to give myself a better chance of scoring.”

A smiling Sundhage told Mitts after that game that perhaps she should have put herself in a better position to score as defenders need to take advantage of those rare opportunities.

“But what can I say?” said Mitts. “I couldn’t help it, my defensive mentality took over.”

Spoken like a true defender.