Twenty-one NCAA Championship titles. Eight-time National Coach of the Year. Nine-time ACC Coach of the Year. The first U.S. coach to win a World Cup title in 1991.
It’s no wonder Anson Dorrance has been bestowed U.S. Soccer’s highest honor, the Werner Fricker Builder Award, after successfully developing women’s soccer at the collegiate level and pioneering the sport on the national stage.
Dorrance, the winningest coach in college soccer history, has set the gold standard for coaching, accumulating astonishing career numbers that anchor his legacy.
He coached some of the greatest women to have played the sport; many of whom thank him for helping them define who they’ve become on and off the field. Six current U.S. Women’s National Team players continue to integrate his teachings into their daily lives long after graduating from his tutelage.
Midfielder Tobin Heath spoke highly of her former coach and his interesting methods of teaching individual players. She is still motivated to excel with the WNT by the lessons Dorrance shared.
“He’s been a constant source of encouragement even past my days at Carolina and I feel like I belong to a family back in Carolina because of him,” said Heath. “The thing about Anson is that I feel like he’s able to impact so many different types of players in different ways. If you ask any player they’ll have a million stories about him and each one of them is so different and so unique to them and has motivated them in some way that’s unique to the person they are.”
Heath played for the Tar Heels from 2006-09, collecting three NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship titles. She was named twice to the NCAA All-American First-Team and named to the ACC Conference First-Team three times.
Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris took the life lessons passed to her by Dorrance further than the pitch.
“He was constantly there, pushing me to be better, pushing me to be a better person and just grow in my overall character and who I genuinely was in my core,” said Harris. “Not many people do that in those types of moments.”
From 2006-09 Harris became a three-time NCAA Champion after overcoming season-ending injuries at the start of her UNC career. She was involved in Dorrance’s two goalkeeper method, subbing a different goalkeeper in the second half of each match. Harris eventually gained the starting position her senior year.
After finishing up her college career in 2010 with two NCAA Championships, defender Meghan Klingenberg dedicated much of her growth as a person to Dorrance. “I think that I grew in my personal life,” said Klingenberg. “I grew as a soccer player. I became a better person. And that is, almost fully, in part to Anson and the coaching staff and the culture he created.”
Klingenberg started playing as a left-mid for the Tar Heels, but soon after Dorrance saw her versatility he moved her to different positions all over the field for the remainder of her collegiate career. In 2011, Klingenberg stayed with the Tar Heels as an undergraduate assistant coach, following in the footsteps of her former mentor.
WNT defender Whitney Engen was captured by the feeling of never being pressured by Dorrance to attend UNC. After signing with the Tar Heels, she knew Dorrance had faith in her as a player, but also loved that Dorrance’s motivation tactics were personal for each player.
“Something I really appreciate about him was that he didn’t treat every player the same and he was able to get the most out of everybody because of his understanding that we’re all unique and his ability to just get the most out of us was kind of a special trait of his,” said Engen.
Along with Heath and Harris, Engen was part of the three-time NCAA Championship title squad from 2006-09. She began her soccer career at UNC as a forward, only to morph into one of the top center backs in the program during her junior and senior year.
Former Tar Heel forward and current WNT midfielder Heather O’Reilly spoke about how Dorrance’s impact on the game has been immeasurable through the years.
“I think at the University of North Carolina he bred these players to learn how to compete and how to win and I think that platform was so important into the development of soccer in our country,” said O’Reilly.
She ended her collegiate career as a two-time NCAA Champion. After her senior season, O’Reilly’s No. 20 jersey was retired by the program, joining prestigious players including Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
The latest Tar Heel to grace the U.S. WNT, forward Crystal Dunn chose UNC because of Dorrance’s impact on the game. “He grew the women’s game when people didn’t know about women’s soccer and for him to recruit these great women to play this sport and for them to be just so dominant was turning heads across the board,” said Dunn. “It was such a key stepping stone for women’s soccer that I was basically jumping at the opportunity to play for him because I knew he could teach me so much more about the game.”
In Dunn’s time at UNC, Dorrance helped her lead the team to the 2012 NCCA Women’s Soccer Championship. That same year, she won the MAC Hermann Trophy Award and the Honda Award for Soccer as the best player in collegiate women’s soccer.
Dorrance created a one-of-a-kind program that sparked the growth of women’s soccer all over the country. He created much more than a soccer program at UNC. He created a dynasty that will be treasured by all those who benefit from its lasting lessons.“A dynasty isn’t created by luck,” said Harris. “Luck has nothing to do with this. He set in stone a philosophy, a way of life and an enduring culture.”