Tiffeny Milbrett reacts to Heinrichs resignation

By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor, Soccer America Magazine

A year and a half ago, Tiffeny Milbrett quit the U.S. women's national team, citing philosophical differences between her and then-coach April Heinrichs.

The news of Heinrichs' resignation surprised Milbrett, as it did many people, and she's making no assumptions that simply because Heinrichs is out it means that Milbrett, 32, is in.

''I had no idea, honestly,'' said Milbrett on Wednesday of the resignation that ends Heinrich's five-year run as national-team coach. ''I had heard every rumor imaginable, but I learned a long time ago that nothing is done until it's announced, and I've been so far out of the loop I wasn't sure what was true and what wasn't.

''I'm not believing for a second that just because AprilÆs gone it means I'm back on the team,'' says Milbrett. ''This is a good launching point, no question, and being completely recovered physically, emotionally, and psychologically will really help.''

Milbrett, a member of the national team since 1991 with 99 goals and 199 caps on her resume, left the team after the 2003 Women's World Cup, and since then hasn't played competitively while recovering from core exhaustion and letting a bothersome knee injury heal.

She chafed under what she perceived as a stifling, rigid style of play preached by Heinrichs and also complained about her poor player-management skills, as did other players, including retired forward Michelle Akers.

''We just differed on how the game should be played,'' says Milbrett, who scored the winning goal in the 1996 Olympic gold-medal match and scored three more goals as the U.S. women won the 1999 Women's World Cup. ''I think you need to trust players of this caliber and give them a lot of freedom on the field to make decisions, and she didn't agree with that.''

Milbrett has arranged to play in Sweden this spring with Susanna SK to gauge how much of her form she can regain after more than a year of relative inactivity.

''My summer is already pretty busy with camps and appearances, but I'll play for a couple months over there, come back for the summer, and then in September or October see where I stand,'' she says. ''I haven't played a game in 15 months. You can only do so much running and lifting, and besides that I've just been out there with a ball: me, myself, and I.''

Several American players are discussing contracts with European clubs. Midfielder Kristine Lilly has been negotiating a deal with KIF Orebro, which is coached by ex-Swedish international and former WUSA Boston Breakers coach Pia Sundhage, who is one of the candidates to replace Heinrichs as U.S. coach.

Milbrett believes hiring a foreign coach might be a good move. Since the women's program was instituted in 1985, the national team has been coached by Americans, including North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance and Heinrichs' predecessor, Tony DiCicco.

''I think this program is ready for a new voice, a new direction,'' says Millbrett, ''and that's nothing against April or Tony or any of the other coaches we've had. When you look at national teams around the world, five years is a long time to have a coach, so the time is probably right for a change. We might learn a lot by taking a different route this time.''

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