I had the opportunity to speak to two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist Brandi Chastain this week.
She is in San Diego for the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer College Cup as part of the Capital One Cup.
The Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men's and women's Division I college athletics programs in the country. Chastain will be taking over the @CapitalOneCup Twitter account during Friday’s national semifinals.
Chastain took the time to talk about the women’s College Cup, the United States Women’s National Team and the new women’s professional league.
Bleacher Report: So, you’re in San Diego for the NCAA College Cup?
Brandi Chastain: That’s absolutely right. I am here with the Capital One Cup. This championship will earn points towards a university winning that award, so I’m the Capital One Cup ambassador helping celebrate women’s soccer and getting people stoked and excited about how awesome this weekend is going to be.
B/R: Who’s your favorite to win the championship this weekend?
BC: It’s a great tournament weekend, four good teams. I feel like there’s something special that’s going to happen with Florida State, even though I think Carolina [UNC] and Stanford have proven in the past to be champions. Florida State has been close and I feel like they might be on the verge of doing something special for the first time.
B/R: What do you think about the choice of Tom Sermanni as the next USWNT coach?
BC: Awesome. I was so thrilled when U.S. Soccer announced that Tom Sermanni was going to be the head coach of the women’s national team. I know him as a professional, I’ve played for him, I know him as a friend. I appreciated working with him when broadcasting when he was the coach of Australia.
His knowledge is quite deep, his experiences are very different from any other coach that has coached the U.S. national team. He has taken a team from the Oceania region and had to compete with China, Japan and Korea to qualify, and I think he’ll bring a new and fresh perspective and personality to the national team.
B/R: You weren’t disappointed US Soccer didn’t go with an American for the USWNT job?
BC: No. For me, I want whoever is the most qualified and the best, and I don’t think that being an American is necessarily a prerequisite. I think if there’s an American that is qualified and who can give something more to the team, then, yeah, I’m for that, too. But I love the hire of Tom Sermanni.
B/R: I know Tony DiCicco was pretty outspoken about [not hiring an American] and I know he was a little disappointed.
BC: I love Tony. Tony is one of my favorite coaches that I ever played for. We had a really great rapport. I think what he did for the U.S. Women’s National Team should be held in the highest esteem. He has a lot of experience, so I think his perspective being an American in an American environment makes sense, but I don’t think it’s the only thing that makes a difference.
B/R: Some of the U.S.’ options at right-back are getting a little older—are there any faces you see as being able to compete for that spot over the next few years?
BC: A lot of young players that are playing collegiate soccer who are playing in this College Cup this weekend can come in. The right-back position is such a unique position. It’s a little different than the left-back in that the majority of players are right-footed, No. 1.
No. 2, the way soccer has been evolving, the right-back is as much of an attacking player as a defensive player. There are a lot of options for the right-back. I think what’s more of a question is who is at the left-back position? Is Kelley O’Hara the player who will be there going forward?
There will be a lot of players playing in the College Cup this weekend who could be influencing the national team pretty soon.
B/R: Crystal Dunn, who plays as a forward for UNC, did a great job as a right-back for the U.S. U-20’s this fall winning the U-20 World Cup. Could she play there?
BC: I think that’s a great point, but we had a player for Santa Clara, Julie Johnston, the [U.S. U-20] captain, that can play any position. The U-20 team has a lot of players that could be challenging at the next level on the national team and I think that’s exciting.
Tom [Sermanni] was notorious, in a good way, for introducing young players to the national team scene in Australia.
B/R: You mentioned Kelley O’Hara who is a converted attacker much like yourself. Do you think it would be worth it for the U.S. to try to do the same thing with a player like Amy Rodriguez, or even Sydney Leroux, who played right-back a little against Germany a few weeks back?
BC: I think Tom Sermanni has the luxury of time right now. There’s no major tournaments coming up, and they’re going to spend a lot of time figuring it out. I think the topic for debate is, do you put the best athletes on the field and then put them in a position, or do you find the player who plays best in those positions and then try and put them together?
I think the first six months will be interesting to see who’s on the roster and have there been any shuffles in the lineup.
B/R: You mentioned Julie Johnston, and you’ve had a chance for several years to coach her at Santa Clara, and she was so impressive with the U.S. U-20’s, winning the U-20 World Cup. I’m wondering what you think her future holds as far as the national team?
BC: I hold Julie in the highest esteem. She’s not only a hard-working player, but she loves the little things about the game. She’s becoming a better leader—she was a great leader for U-20’s. What I love about her is that she is as demanding of her players as she is of herself.
I think she has a great future.
She’s the kind of player the U.S. needs. She can be physically dominant in the air, on the ground, in a tackle, she’s hard, she’s strong, but she’s also skillful like Tobin Heath. She’s got great composure on the ball, she loves playing under pressure, and that is not something that’s been that prevalent on the national team for a while.
I think having a player like Julie Johnston for the U.S. is really important.
B/R: One of the biggest challenges the U.S. is going to face over the next couple of years, if Shannon Boxx doesn’t make it to the 2015 World Cup, is who takes over the holding midfielder role. Do you think that’s something Johnston could handle?
BC: [Johnston] plays all the way through the middle for us. She plays up front, in the center midfield and as a center-back. Our players are asked to be interchangeable, they have to know the game, and Julie, for us, is such a great leader and such a great player. She’s a chameleon.
I think she’s capable of growing into that position. There will be a lot of work to do in terms of maturing. That’s a mature position. But I think [Johnston] has a great future. With the right attitude Julie can grow into that position.
I think the one thing we haven’t talked about is that [Johnston] has a great defensive awareness. She sees the space around her, she anticipates where the player on the ball is going to play it, she sets her body up in a really good position. And, I am as impressed with her ability to win the ball as I am with her ability keep the ball.
B/R: So, what are your thoughts on last week’s announcement of the new women’s professional league?
BC: I’m so happy. I’m not happy that there’s no team in California, but I’m happy that U.S. Soccer is making more of a commitment to the league than it has in the past. That’s been proven successful for Major League Soccer.
Hopefully, the benefits will be there for many years to come for the national team, but also for players like Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx, who without the WUSA and WPS maybe never would have played their way onto the national team.
B/R: Sunil Gulati mentioned in the conference call announcing the league that some of the players would likely have to find part-time jobs or off-season jobs. What are your thoughts on that?
BC: That’s a reality, unfortunately. When I played in Japan some of the players also had to find other sources of income. You do what you do because you love playing. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of the professional female athlete in soccer.
Hopefully, with the growth of the league, that will change.
B/R: Is that something you saw a lot, players having to [work other jobs], when you were playing professionally in the women’s league in the U.S.?
BC: Yes, absolutely. It’s been our past and it will be our future. Hopefully, in the not too distant future it will be different.
B/R: U.S. Soccer is paying for 24 full-time players in the new league. With a player like Lindsey Horan, who went to Paris Saint-Germain and reportedly signed a six-figure deal, are you worried that the U.S. is in danger of losing some of its talented youngsters if the new league can’t afford a full-time contract for them?
BC: Well, I hope they do [go overseas]. I hope those players take the risk and the chance when they have the opportunity to play overseas. Soccer is such a global game that it’s important for players to have that experience.
Our players learned a lot from the European players and the South American players and the Asian players that came over to play in the WUSA and the WPS. Those interactions were very important for the growth and development of those players. Ultimately, the league strengthens in a couple of years and those players will have a tougher choice, whether to stay or to go.
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