Anson Dorrance, the celebrated women’s soccer coach for the University of North Carolina and the coach of the U.S. national team that won the first Women’s World Cup, is the recipient of the 2016 Werner Fricker Builder Award, U.S. Soccer’s highest honor.
The award is presented annually to an individual who has dedicated at least 20 years to soccer in America. In the words of U.S. Soccer, it “recognizes those who have developed programs that will outlast their own involvement in the sport.”
It’s impossible to argue with the selection.
Dorrance, by a huge margin, is the most successful college coach in women’s soccer history. The NCAA instituted a tournament 34 years ago to determine the national championship of women’s collegiate soccer. Under Dorrance, North Carolina has won the title 21 times. During one remarkable stretch, from 1982 to 1994, the Tar Heels were champions in 12 of 13 years. (The one time in that period when they didn’t win it all, in 1985, they were second, losing to 2-0 to George Mason in the final.)
Dorrance coached the U.S. women’s team in 1991 in a new international tournament, the Women’s World Championship, which would become the Women’s World Cup.
His team took home the inaugural trophy, winning all seven of its games, culminating with a 2-1 victory over Norway in the final.
But it’s been his tenure at Carolina that has established Dorrance as one of the most successful coaches in any sport, male or female, at any level.
Of the 23 players on the U.S. team that won the World Cup last summer in Canada, six — or more than a fourth — played for Dorrance at North Carolina: Lori Chalupny, Whitney Engen, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, and Heather O’Reilly. And that’s not all. Three other Tar Heels played in the World Cup for other national teams: Katie Bowen (New Zealand), Lucy Bronze (England), and Robyn Gayle (Canada).
The roster of stars who have come out of his program is truly staggering: Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, Crystal Dunn, April Heinrichs, Siri Mullinix, Kealia Ohai, Cat Reddick, Lindsay Tarpley, Tisha Venturini… among many others.
It’s certainly true that recruiting players of that caliber would make it easier for any coach to win.
But very few coaches could do it year after year for as many years as Dorrance has.
As Ashlyn Harris said, “A dynasty isn’t created by luck. Luck has nothing to do with this. He set in stone a philosophy, a way of life and an enduring culture.”
Coming in Part 2: Anson Dorrance through the eyes of his players