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Heinrichs is awarded the multi-year contract DiCicco wasn't offered.

By Gary Davidson

(Wednesday, January 19, 2000) -- New United States women's national coach April Heinrichs immediately has something that was never offered her predecessor, Tony DiCicco: the security of a four-year contract.

In a media conference call following the New York press conference yesterday in which Heinrichs was introduced to the public, U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia confirmed that DiCicco was offered no more than a one-year extension, but could not explain why the coach of the 1999 Women's World Cup champion was not offered a longer deal.

"I don't know. I was not involved with Tony's negotiations prior to recently," Contiguglia said. "I don't know the answer to that. I was involved only with the months before he determined he did not want the job. We were in the process on negotiation an extension of his contract for a year. That was partly his choice."

Had DiCicco been offered a long-term deal, would he have remained? That's hard to say because DiCicco isn't talking.

Contiguglia did say a long-term contract was important for the new coach of the women's program, which since 1991 has produced two world championships and the 1996 Summer Olympics gold medal in the first year the competition was held. Heinrichs will also carry the title of technical director, overseeing the entire women's program.

The contract runs through the completion of the 2003 Women's World Cup. "I think it's important that an individual has a chance to express himself over that period of time and to go to tournament to tournament," Contiguglia said. "We're talking about a program here and not an event. We're building a sport. Obviously, we have expectations for success on the field, but there's more to it in my mind than just that."

Heinrichs, the captain of the 1991 U.S. team that won the inaugural Women's World Cup, steps into an ugly situation with the 20 members of this summer's WWC titlist in the midst of a job action. They boycotted the recent Australia Cup, which was won anyway by a young U.S. replacement team. Though reports are the dispute may be settled as soon as Monday, Heinrichs can not be sure of the cast for her first international match, a February 6 meeting with arch-rival Norway in Fort Lauderdale.

"I am looking to get 30-35 players together for a training camp starting at the beginning of February in preparations for the February 6 match against Norway," Heinrichs said. "We will get the ball running and the best 11 will start. . . . This past week has been incredibly exciting. I am hopeful U.S. Soccer and players will come together soon. I can't wait to get on the field, put my cleats on and get down to business.

"I think the biggest challenge will be whittling a player pool of about 41 people that I have on a list right now down to 16 (for the Olympics). So already four from the World Cup roster will not make it. That's a huge challenge."

DiCicco recommended his assistant Lauren Gregg to replace him and Gregg was reported to be extremely upset Friday when she was informed she did not get the job. Heinrichs, however, would not say that Gregg would be asked to remain as an assistant, but did say she was given total control of picking her staff.

"I haven't spoken to Lauren. I don't think it was my place to contact her," Heinrichs said, "It is important that U.S. Soccer did their research and sought out great coaches. There wasn't just one right choice. There was more than one good choice. I'm certain that Lauren will be tremendously supportive and she knows how important support is to be successful.

"I have lived in a whirlwind these last five to six days. I have not given a lot of thought to staffing yet. I'm also technical director, so I'm looking at a big picture. I'll tap into people that are currently in place and the grass roots soccer community."

Heinrichs faces a unique problem being that she was a teammate in 1991 with seven current national team players -- Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Carla Overbeck. Heinrichs was an assistant coach to DiCicco in the 1995 Women's World Cup, where the U.S. finished third, and in the '96 Olympics.

"I coached them in '95 and I coached them in '96 and I had what I felt was a very healthy and respectful player-coach relationship," she said. "I'm looking forward to picking up where we left off in '96."

Foudy, a midfielder current U.S. captain, took time off from the regulars' job action to join the media call and endorse Heinrichs. Overbeck was on the selection committee. "We are happy with all the candidates and pleased with the process," she said. "We knew that it wasn't our decision but it was appreciated that our input mattered. April is an incredible leader, a gifted motivator and great tactician."

Heinrichs didn't get too much into the specifics of her plan for the national team, other than to say: "The most important thing is that I am going to let the players be themselves. There are a bundle of different personalities on the team. I am going put the best starting 11 on the field and let them play. We'll fight for every win and compete for every ball. I haven't felt pressure yet. In my course as a player and coach, I have found that I love to win and I will put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to win and prepare a team in a fashion to win and that's the greatest pressure I'll ever have."

Gregg had been the senior assistant coach for a decade. She left her position as head coach at University of Virginia after the 1995 season to work full-time for DiCicco. Heinrichs, then the University of Maryland coach, replaced Gregg in Charlottesville. Both Heinrichs and Gregg are North Carolina alumni.

In four seasons leading Virginia, Heinrichs compiled a 52-24-10 (.663) record and made the NCAA tournament each year. Prior to that, she was coach at Maryland for five seasons with a 65-40-7 (.612) and one NCAA tournament visit. She started her college coaching career with one year at Princeton.

Heinrichs was not among the original candidates considered by U.S. Soccer to replace DiCicco, but was later added to the mix.

"The interview progress was long and when Tony (DiCicco) resigned, I thought that maybe in five years I would have the opportunity to interview for the position," Heinrichs said. "But when, U.S. Soccer called and ask me to summit a paper, I said I'd love to. So I tried to write the best paper and have the opportunity to get a face-to-face interview and hope that they would remember me in future as a top candidate."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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