April Heinrichs and Brandi Chastain participated in a national conference call to discuss the upcoming 2002 Women’s Gold Cup Wednesday, October 16. The tournament, which is serving as both the women’s championship of this region and as the qualifying tournament for the 2003 Women’s World Cup, is being played from Oct. 27 to Nov. 9 in the Los Angeles area, Seattle and Victoria, B.C. The two women discussed the just-announced U.S. roster and the opponents they will face in the tournament.
Question: How do you keep your interest, excitement and edge after so many games and years to keep going?
Chastain: It is easy. Did you hear the names on the roster? I have Heather O’Reilly who is a 17-year-old that I have to chase all over the field. That is how I keep my excitement. There are a lot of young players who would just be thrilled with the opportunity to participate on the National Team. I have always loved the game and I feel younger when I am on the field. I have my best friends out there with me and help me compete for our one common goal - to win the World Cup.
Question: Are there any challenges left for you to accomplish?
Chastain: I continue to play because it is something that I love. It is a passion that I have. It just does not go away because you win championships. Every day is a challenge. Each year is another obstacle, whether it is winning the World Cup or the WUSA. Each new year there is a new goal to accomplish. Just because you won something once does not mean you would not like to win it again.
Question: What impressions did you get from the U-19 World Championship Tournament and players of the future including Heather O’Rilley?
Heinrichs: Having followed the U.S, team and other youth teams and watching the build-up for the last two years, I am struck by the level of play. I am impressed by the overall tactical awareness of all the teams. The commitment by all the federations that they are making with their youth development programs and how the other countries are going about to reach their goals in very different ways. At U.S. Soccer we have tremendous financial support. I was very impressed with about half the teams in youth tournament and the strides they are taking. O’Reilly has stepped up to make this roster and there are a few more young players that are on the radar screen that we will see in the next year.
Question: What impact do you think Steve Sampson will have on the Women’s National Team in
Costa Rica by becoming the Costa Rica’s Men’s National Team coach?
Chastain: If he does have a say it will be in a positive direction for women’s soccer. He has always been a big supporter of women’s soccer, even when he was here at Santa Clara. He genuinely feels sincere about the women’s game with and it’s place with FIFA and our region. I hope they listen to him to help women’s soccer in that country.
Question: Was choosing this roster more difficult than choosing the Olympic roster because of the WUSA and the abundance of good players?
Heinrichs: What I have learned is that choosing any roster is difficult. Whether you are picking a roster of 35 to go into a residence program or you are picking a roster of 18 to go to the Nike Cup or the Gold Cup it is difficult because you can predict about 14 of those spots and then you only have about four spots, but there is about six individuals that deserve a shot that will help benefit them to make that roster. I find it difficult to pick each roster whether it is for a “friendly” because every roster is an opportunity for the young players to develop.
Question: How big is the player pool now?
Heinrichs: In the last 12 months we have brought 51 players into the National Team fold. It has to be a record for us. Realistically, I would say the pool is around 35 players.
Question: Is it safe to say that Heather O’Reilly is leading the vanguard of the next generation of women players to lead this country?
Heinrichs: I would say the top women on the U-19 Championship team are going to be the core of the Women’s National Team one day, probably later than sooner. But you see a young player like O’Reilly and she does very well in our camp because she has played in front of 40,000 people before when it mattered. They are technically and tactically gifted players. Having a World Championship tournament at that age level is going to just make them better players and help them accelerate their development.
Question: What are the pressures of this tournament to get to that one game and if you lose it you are out?
Heinrichs: The pressure of having to qualify for the World Cup will make our team rise to the challenge because they truly embrace pressure as a privilege and we will step up and play some of our best soccer in the Gold Cup. The players are focused and their minds have narrowed in the last 30 days. They understand what is at stake.
Question: What are your thoughts about Aleisha Cramer and her loss from the National Team?
Heinrichs: She was a bright young star in our youth programs. She has played with the Women’s National Team and has had some success. To not have her in the mix and part of the team is a loss, but we have made the decision to not be overly concerned about her loss because she is young. Her absence has created some opportunities for some other players to step up like Aly Wagner.
Question: Do you have any worries about playing in Seattle on a non-specific soccer field?
Heinrichs: It is always a concern, but there are so many factors that go into the decision to who, where and when we play that I had more control when I was a college coach than I do now. It is part of the job. You just have to be prepared for every game.
Chastain: Even when we do not play on a traditional soccer field, when the fans get into the stadium in Seattle and the are cheering for us it will not be big deal. Seattle has a great soccer community and it will be a soccer stadium once we arrive.
Question: How has qualifying for the Women’s World Cup changed in the last 11 years?
Chastain: I had a different perspective in the beginning back in 1991. I was just trying to make the roster and break into the starting lineup. I watched qualifying mostly from the sideline and with great pleasure because we had great players on that roster. Qualifying for a World Cup in a different country was an important lesson for us to go through. People climbed fences to get into the match to see so many cultures clash on the field and in the stands was an eye opening experience. There is a focus we learned and we try to pass it down to the young players.
Heinrichs: The 1991 World Cup is a lot like how the Youth World Cup was this year. There are unfriendly fans and hostile environments in soccer. In the end it was a warm feeling because we won over the fans with our play. In the Gold Cup, I feel like we will feel the same feelings but in a non-hostile environment. People just expect us to win now. Our challenge is to play the best soccer we can and to impress the people that know more about soccer these days.
Question: How threatened will you be with the Central American teams and Mexico?
Heinrichs: I think we have a great rivalry with Canada and Mexico. We play them frequently and both teams have played well against us recently. Watching their developments over the past two years, Canada and Mexico have made tremendous improvements in their programs and they are competitive and a great rivalry. Our soccer team is not taking anything for granted. We are here to qualify for a World Cup and we are motivated. It is an honor to play each of the teams, but they are all obstacles for us to get to the World Cup.
Question: What are your thoughts on the group that Canada has to face to qualify?
Heinrichs: Canada has a great team. They are going to have some young players from the U-19 World Championships that are talented players. I have watched Costa Rica and their developments soar, then you have Haiti and Jamaica whom I have never seen play before. We will have a scout when they play.
Chastain: Canada is a very improved team. I love playing against them because they have closed the gap in the last three years. They are a great rivalry for the U.S. team and their players have gotten stronger faster and are more technically superb. We always like playing them and competing with them.
Question: How do you select a roster mixing talent and youth?
Heinrichs: We always try and pick a roster that will best influence a desired outcome. We select players that we feel can help us in the short term, but long term they are an investment for us. We are putting money in the bank for them to help us in the long term. We pick the best 18, not the 18 best players. We need the best 18 that works best together. This Gold Cup roster is great. We have experience and youth and every individual can help us win.
Question: What is your view on China’s Women’s National Team and their recent slip?
Chastain: I do not have any Chinese players on my team, but they have one of the best teams in the world. They may have slipped a little recently, but when it is time for them to turn it up and step up they have great players and coaches to bring them to the next level. They are amazingly talented with older players mixed with new upcoming young stars. They are always prepared.
Heinrichs: China is a terrific team. Results have not mattered in the last two years for them. They do not miss a step and they will be prepared to challenge for the World Cup 2003. The Chinese have great fans and the women on that team are national heroes.
Question: What is Hope Solo’s National Team position look like for the future?
Heinrichs: Hope is very much in the National Team pool of players still. She is a great keeper and she still has college eligibility left and she can still play for the U-21 team. She is going to be a high selection in this year’s WUSA draft. I think one year in WUSA is going to be a tremendous help for her.
Question: Do you plan on playing both Mullinix and Scurry in the net?
Heinrichs: My staff and I will talk about it and we plan on looking at it on a per game basis. Both keepers are very talented and we want to invest in both of them in the next year. We want to provide opportunities in the next year for both of them.