April Heinrichs assumed a daunting task more than three years ago to guide the United States women's soccer team toward a second straight title. While she has one of the best teams in the world, it was proven Sunday in a 3-0 loss to Germany that talent alone is no guarantee of a championship. The U.S. coach once played on the team.
She became the U.S. national women's soccer coach in January 2000. She is the fourth coach and first female in the team's 17-year history. Heinrichs was a key member of the 1991 World Cup championship team, part of the so-called 'triple sword' of strikers. Playing alongside Michelle Akers and Carin Gabarra, Heinrichs scored four goals in the 1991 tournament.
As head coach, she has led the U.S. team to victories in the Four Nations tournament in China and the Algarve Cup in Portugal. The experience has proven valuable as a coach.
"I just think that anytime you have three and one-half years on the job, you feel more prepared," she said. "And with that preparedness comes more confidence. And I think with confidence comes a calmness."
That confidence built quickly during a stellar college career at North Carolina. Heinrichs went on to be named female player of the 1980s by Soccer America magazine and she became the first female player to be inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall-of-Fame in Oneonta, New York. Heinrichs also had a short professional career with the Italian club Prato. Always surrounded by strong, talented players on the field, Heinrichs looked for those same qualities in the players she gathered for this year's World Cup run.
"The biggest focus has been for me for about a year and a half or two years now has been, I like to have depth at every position," she said. "And want to constantly ask myself what if we have an injury here, what if we have an injury there, what if a team plays four in the middle, what if a team plays five in the middle, what if a team plays five in the back against us. And constantly ask myself the questions to make sure we are addressing the answers and we are addressing them before its comes up rather than at the moment that question might come up."
On Sunday in Portland, Oregon, Heinrichs did not have the answer to a smothering German defense that shut out the U.S. women for their first loss after 11 straight World Cup victories. It was a difficult defeat for Heinrichs and her team. Still, the always optimistic coach says watching the second game between Sweden and Canada helped to fulfill and important World Cup aspiration.
"One of our goals is to enjoy the journey," she said. "So I am up there [in the stadium] watching world-class soccer. And I am marveling at Hanna Ljungberg and [Victoria] Svensson and even Malin Andersson. And that is the beautiful part about this."
This journey for the United States women ends Saturday in Carson, California just south of Los Angeles where Heinrichs will lead her team in the third-place game against Canada. Germany and Sweden will take part in an all-European final Sunday, also in Carson.