Anson Dorrance’s one big, huge mistake

Anson Dorrance and his University of North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010.

Anson Dorrance and his University of North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010.

As I’ve written here, and here, Anson Dorrance is hands down the most successful coach in the history of women’s collegiate soccer.

That’s one reason he’s the 2016 recipient of the Werner Fricker Builder Award, U.S. Soccer’s highest honor. The award “recognizes those who have developed programs that will outlast their own involvement in the sport.”

Dorrance has surely done that at the University of North Carolina, where he’s won an unparalleled 21 national championships.

The Tar Heels have also won 20 of 27 Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments. Their combined  record in those tournaments is 59-4-4 — and their first loss didn’t come until 2011.

anson unc

Anson Dorrance. (University of North Carolina)

Anson Dorrance is the UNC women’s soccer program. He was the men’s soccer coach when Carolina made women’s soccer a varsity sport in 1979, and for a while he coached both teams. His mastery of the women’s game quickly became apparent, however, and in just their third year, the Carolina women won their first national title.

They’ve never had another coach.

His lifetime winning percentage is over 900. He’s recruited and taught many of the game’s great players, including Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, Crystal Dunn,  April Heinrichs, Siri Mullinix, Lindsay Tarpley, Tisha Venturini, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, and Heather O’Reilly.

Anson Dorrance and Mia Hamm after the University of North Carolina Tar Heels won the 1992 national collegiate championship. The team went 25-0-0 and beat Duke 9-1 in the title game.  

Anson Dorrance and Mia Hamm after the University of North Carolina Tar Heels won the 1992 national collegiate championship. The team went 25-0-0 and beat Duke 9-1 in the title game.

When it comes to women’s soccer, Anson Dorrance doesn’t make many mistakes.

But he made one in 1998.

That year, Abby Wambach was a senior at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester, N.Y., and the No. 1 recruit in the country.

She was considering several colleges, including UCLA, the University of Portland, the University of Virginia, the University of Florida — and, of course, North Carolina.

University of Florida Athletics

Abby Wambach. (University of Florida)

But Dorrance decided not to offer Wambach a full scholarship.

She chose Florida, whose women’s soccer program had only been in existence for three years. Wambach later said she welcomed the chance to help build a program from the ground up, rather than joining one that was already well established.

In her freshman year, she led the Gators to their first national championship.

The team they beat in the title game? North Carolina.

gatorslogoWambach was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year in 1998 and a freshman All-American.

She made the All-SEC first team in each of her four years at Florida.

She was  a two-time SEC Player of the Year; a two-time SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player; and a first-team All-American as a sophomore, junior, and senior.

She set school records for goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, and hat tricks.

In a 2013 ESPN documentary, Abby Head On, Dorrance allowed that he wished he had a do-over on that scholarship offer.

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