Brandi Chastain on Houston Dash, the USWNT including Head Coach Jill Ellis, and Coaching and Developing players

Chastain with the Capital One Cup trophy - Capital One Cup

I had the awesome opportunity to talk with Brandi Chastain about well pretty much everything- Houston Dash, Jill Ellis and the US Women's National Team. We even discussed a little bit about how Chastain first got into soccer, and how she's coaching her son's youth soccer team.

For those of you who don't remember, Brandi Chastain scored the game-winning penalty kick against China in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup final. She is one of the most iconic soccer players in the United States and the reason many of the players who currently play in the NWSL got into soccer. Since hanging up her cleats Chastain has kept busy. Currently, she is an assistant coach at her alma mater Santa Clara University and she also serves on the board for the Capital One Cup. Chastain was nice enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions we had for her. 

Alicia: After college there wasn’t a women’s professional league for you to play in. Since then leagues like the Women’s United Soccer Association (which you played in) and the WPS have all failed. Now the NWSL is in its second year. Do you think women’s soccer is headed in the right direction in this country despite all of the trying and failing of so many leagues?

Brand: Well there is always something to be learned when you fall down or you miss the ball or you don’t win games. This being the third inception of women’s professional soccer hopefully they as a collective group have learned a lot and I feel that there is a place for women’s professional soccer in this country considering how many countless hundreds and hundreds of thousands of young girls participate in the game. So for me I think it is a no brainer. It is making it viable and having owners who want to take a chance. I am appreciative of the ones who are doing it right now. I think that the players are definitely out there that can showcase soccer on a higher level and I see them coming from the college ranks all the time where I work with the women’s team at Santa Clara University. So I know that there are good players coming up and I know there is a population of people who love women’s soccer and I’m happy that it’s here.

Since you also work as an assistant coach at Santa Clara did you get to spend any time with Dash back up goalkeeper Bianca Henninger while she was at the school?

I did. She went to the same high school I went to, so she and I have a really good connection.

Did you get to work with her much as a coach?

I did. Our women’s goalkeeping coach Chris McAlister had me work with them fairly regularly during the week. I always had the pleasure of warming up Bianca before games.

Do you follow the Dash at all? Have you followed their first season in the NWSL?

I saw they had their first tie so that’s good. I am now jumping on board trying to watch as many games as I can. I am working at Santa Clara and I have a non-profit as well as a seven year old so I am juggling all of those, but I do tune in.

I bet that keeps you pretty busy.

What I love about the league is the different players, who maybe played against each other in college who had the arch enemy experience in college, come into the professional league and are on the same team and now have to work together. I always find that very exciting being an advisory board member for the Capitol One Cup for this wonderful trophy that recognizes men’s and women’s sports… These are fiercest competitors that you have in the NWSL and they have been fighting for their collegiate teams and vying for those precious points for the Capital One Cup and wanting to be National Champions to then go and be teammates with someone they have probably kicked a hundred times. I think that is fun.

How is it going between college and professional play?

Every level is a jump. The lessons that you hopefully learned in the level that you are just leaving will help you to make good decisions and be prepared for the next level. At Santa Clara our main goal, besides trying to win a championship, is to help develop the players to go to the next level if that is what they are after. How do we help them see the big picture and how do they see themselves fitting into a team to make a difference. It is just the biggest challenge that coaches have at the collegiate level.

Dash head coach Randy Waldrum was a coach at Notre Dame last year and he has assembled a young team this year. You hear about the positives of having a veteran team, but how do you think it helps to have a young team?

I think that the positives of a younger team is that there is no fear of what could happen. Everything is new and fresh and they just want to go for it. I think that is an advantage that you can’t rein. That is a previous commodity that Randy has. It is a new team with new players. That’s exciting.

How do you feel about the appointment of Jill Ellis?

Well I was a friend and proponent of Tom Sermanni and I think he, and many others, was surprised that US Soccer let him go. I think that his experience at the international level speaks for itself. But Jill Ellis also has experience working with the national team whether as a head coach or as a support system. She has coached players at the collegiate level and she has been in coaching for a long time. She has a lot of knowledge under her belt. It will be interesting to see what she brings to the table. I am not going to analyze her just yet. I think we have to give her a chance to implement her ideas into training and into games.  

Did you spend much time around Ellis when you were a part of the team?

Very little.

With this coaching change can fans dismiss the poor showing at the Algarve Cup as nothing to worry about or is it a sign the US isn’t as dominant as it used to be?

I am speaking from my opinion and what Jill choses to do with the information from the Algarve Cup is up to her, but every win and every loss and every opportunity that you have to play is a chance to consider the value of your team and the value of your opponent. And I think it is also a good opportunity [for players] to evaluate themselves and overall it was a positive. Beyond wins and losses US Soccer has to get better and that’s what the direction should be always whether you are preparing for the World Cup or not.

Looking ahead how do you think the team looks for the World Cup in Canada?

I think if you look at the pool of players Jill has at her disposal it could be the deepest in terms of young players with experience. Back when I was playing there was no youth national team to dip your cup into if you needed to develop young players. This team and this group have more experience playing international games than any group that any coach has had to pull from in the past. Now that doesn’t mean that the players are better, but that they have more experience. The manager’s job is to find the best collective group and put them together. I think the chances of the US winning are as good as ever. Whether or not they are prepared at that time and on the ascending part of their road is really the question and that is really what Jill Ellis’ job will be to make them prepared and to be reaching their pinnacle at the right time.

Do you think having the World Cup in Canada will be a benefit to the US team?

Well there is a certain amount of familiarity now that they have qualifications in the US. That’s comfort, that’s home, that makes things a little bit easier. Then only having to go just north of our border there are a lot of question marks you don’t have to worry about. I think the hardest thing with the team will be how do you handle playing on synthetic surface in all the games. That wears on your body and that can be tough to deal with for some players. That is a game changer in a way that is different from a natural grass surface. So we’ll see. Soccer is such a crazy sport because there are a lot of variables that you have to handle at one time. I love watching the chess match that happens between the players and the coaches in preparation and during the game.

Do you think that Canada was a good choice to host the World Cup even though everything will be synthetic surfaces?

Initially it wasn’t divulged that it would all be on synthetic surfaces. So I think that Canada was a great choice and when I say that it’s because they have proven over time the players playing in Canada are world class. I’ll give you one name, well actually I’ll give you two names- Charmine Hooper was a force to be reckoned with. She could score goals and was strong and just incredible. Now they have Christine Sinclair and she will go down in history as one of the best goal scorers ever. There are products coming out of Canada. They are playing collegiate soccer here in the United States for teams that are vying for the Capital One Cup. They just hired a new coach John Herdman who has been working to raise up women’s soccer in New Zealand and that is a guy who is dedicated. I think there are a lot of good things happening in Canada with soccer so I think it is the perfect place to have it.

How was it not playing professionally [no women’s league existed at the time] but playing national team when you first got out of college?

It was a long time before that happened in my national team career and it was hard at times, because to shoulder different responsibilities with the different roles you may play your role at home and then your role with the national team. And what I am hoping to share with young players and the players at Santa Clara and in the future hopefully with the national team or youth national team is that they have to be able to meld those two personalities and be the best all the time. That takes a lot of hard work and honest effort, and you have to be very dedicated to the process and if you are you can find that the transition can be very seamless.

It’s a positive to have that club team to train with all the time, but what did you do to stay fit on a National team level without that?

(laughing) I worked my tail off! I went out to the soccer field sometimes by myself. I would get anybody who would play to come out to the field. Again I think it is having the desire. I think it was an honest desire to not let other people down that made our team so great. We weren’t together very often and we had to do a lot of work on our own, so to do that it really took people who cared about the ultimate outcome. I think that was our driving force to be better for each other.

What was the travel like back when you were on the team?

The biggest difference, Alicia, is we did go to all those places around the world. Maybe not as many countries playing but teams have to their advantage now that they have all these devices that they can watch movies and occupy their time when they are contained in an airplane. That was a bit more difficult when you were stranded in an airport and there was a delay of hours, but being together was the most important thing and it was always the best.

What had gotten you into soccer when you were younger?

Luck. (laughing) Nothing but luck. I was a rambunctious very active young girl and my parents recognized this. I loved to play sports. It didn’t matter what. I played with the kids in my neighborhood most of which were young boys. I would go outside and play. It just so happened that a girls youth soccer team started in my neighborhood and sign ups were a block away from my house. So I walked down and signed up without knowing anything about soccer. My dad became my coach for eight years and we fell in love with it as a family and we learned together.

A lot of parents coach their kids youth teams. Do you think that is a positive for kids to have a parents as a coach?

It was positive for me. I learned a lot of things from my father who didn’t know anything about soccer. He learned the game at the same time I did. It was a great experience for the both of us to share that. Now I coach with my husband (laughing) as two professional soccer people [Chastain's husband is the head coach at Santa Clara]. We are the assistant coaches for my sons U-8 soccer team which is a lot of fun. I think when parents get involved it can be very positive. It can be a nurturing environment. It can be more about team and more about results. It’s like parenting, you are not always going to get it right.

Huge thanks to Brandi Chastain for taking the time to talk with me! 

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