On the Field - by April Heinrichs
As an added service, each week U.S. Soccer will be producing an “On the Field” article on ussoccer.com from one of our National Team coaches or players. This week, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach April Heinrichs looks back at the 2002 Nike U.S. Women’s Cup, the goals accomplished by the team, and how it will effect to upcoming CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, the USA’s Women’s World Cup qualification tournament, which runs from Oct. 27-Nov. 9 at four west coast venues in the United States and Canada.
The 2002 Nike U.S. Women’s Cup
by April Heinrichs
Goals for the Nike U.S. Women’s Cup
Going into the Nike Cup, we wanted to bring in one of the largest pools of players that we’ve ever had, which produced the desired result of creating tremendous competition for a roster slot. We brought in 28 players, spent five days evaluating them and narrowed the list to 18 for the tournament. We definitely felt that a couple of players that didn’t make the 18 could have easily been on the roster, which is good news for the U.S. Women’s National Team and our competitiveness in future camps. As a coach, a year out from the World Cup, we want to have 30 players in the pool, and we want it to be difficult to narrow it to 28, then 24 and to 20 or 18.
That level of competition is the preferred situation as opposed to having 14 solid players that you know can perform at the international level and having to find four more that might be competitive, which is the way is has been in the past. In the currently environment on the national team, it has become increasingly difficult to reduce down a roster, to choose one player over another and to decide who will represent the USA in Women’s World Cup qualifying.
For the Nike Cup, we chose 18 players who we felt would have the best chance to be named to the CONCACAF Gold Cup roster for Women’s World Cup qualifying, but we also knew from experience that the roster was likely to change.
As we entered the Nike Cup with what the coaching staff felt were the best 18 players in America, we had several goals. We wanted to go undefeated and not give up any goals. We wanted to play attacking, aggressive soccer that created lots of goal scoring opportunities out of our 4-4-2 system and we wanted to play everybody in every game, if possible.
USA 5, Russia 1 – Sept. 30, 2002, Uniondale, N.Y.
We went into the Russia game with the utmost respect for them as they have already qualified for the World Cup in China and we hadn’t seen them play in two years. We knew that the first half would be about assessing our performance, but also about what challenges Russia would present us. In the international game, every opponent is a different story. As you know by reading a book, once you get to the end, you know a lot more, and as a coach, you try to prepare and predict the lesson before you have to learn. As it turned out, the first half of the Russia game was far more about what WE weren’t doing that what Russia was presenting. In the run up to the first game, we had given every player a chance to make the roster and trained right through to the game. As a result, we were mentally tired before kickoff.
At halftime, our goal was just to improve. What separates veteran players from younger players is that the veterans have demonstrated over and over again that they can get better during the course of the game. Sure enough, they stepped it up, we made a couple of substitutions with younger players and were able to score five goals in the match. We did get better, individually and collectively.
We gave up a penalty kick at the end of the game and the players walked off the field a little bit irked that we had given up a goal. My feeling is that when you can win a game when you’re not playing well, score five goals against a team that is in the World Cup and still feel a little bit disappointed, that tells you that our standards are very, very high, and that’s one of the best things about coaching the U.S. Women’s National Team.
USA 4, Australia 0 – Oct. 2, 2002, Cary, N.C.
From New York, we moved to North Carolina, where the weather was hot and there were a lot of off-the-field activities for the players to do. The morale jumped up right away, making the long trip seem not so long. We were also excited to play in a city and state we haven’t been to in a long time.
In preparing for Australia, we knew we would face a team much like Canada, that played a lot of balls in the air and was extremely physical. We had also not seen Australia in a few years.
Our initial thoughts were that they were going to play a 4-4-2, with a lot of long balls, so we needed to brush up on our heading and get our speed of play better from the Russia game, where we just didn’t play quickly and didn’t possess the ball well. Heading into the Australia game the most important thing was to take care of our game. We needed to come prepared to play a physical game defensively, and a composed game offensively, and use the very large field to our advantage by pinging the ball around.
In the first half of that game, what we saw was I think the single best overall performance that we have had at the international level since the Olympics. It was a high level game offensively and defensively, we were attack oriented, our speed of play was tremendous, we pinged the ball around, we were relentless and we were unpredictable. I was thrilled about the first half. In the second half, the quality deteriorated a little bit out of fatigue, but that will happen, plus we made numerous substitutions. Still, there were things to be very pleased about in the second half. Players stepped in and played well, we were able to make all of our substitutions and we won by a four-goal margin and got the shutout.
USA 4, Italy 0 – Oct. 6, 2002, Cary, N.C.
In the final game against Italy, we knew they would sit back defensively and would play in a 4-4-2, as their history and rich tradition is playing a low-pressure defense. Our challenge was to replicate our speed of play from the Australia game. We knew it would be hotter as were we playing during the day, and harder physically, as we are a high-energy team and playing toward the end of the tournament would be difficult. What we didn’t expect was for Italy to sit back offensively and be pretty much content to hold the ball in their defensive third.
At first, that was not a problem for us as we sat back patiently and played some of the most disciplined low-pressure defense we’ve ever played. Our patience was being rewarded as they were giving the ball away on unforced errors, we were winning the ball and then exploding behind them to get chances, but we were not finishing. We missed four chances in the first half and if we score two of those, the game changes. We decided toward the end of the first half that we were going to go after them, and we turned up the pressure, but we were still unable to get a goal. I purposely kept my halftime speech short because I know the players were chomping at the bit to get back out there and that Italy was just barely hanging on. If we got one goal, I knew we would get three, or four as it turned out. It was a great display of us being able to play in a low pressure and shift out of it and go attack Italy aggressively. Around the 75th minute, they quit running and the game was over. That is where our mentality can often separate us from any country.
We won the tournament, got two shutouts in three games and took some consolation that the one goal we gave up was off a penalty kick. We scored 13 goals, played everyone on the roster and were able to evaluate all 18 players in game situations. We gained valuable information in helping us choose our roster for Women’s World Cup qualifying and got momentum heading into the Gold Cup, which we feel good about.
With two weeks rest, and hopefully the players are resting, we will head into the Gold Cup having spent just two weeks apart, and that puts us in a good place heading into our first World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on Oct. 27 in Los Angeles.