Among the many hats worn by Amy (Allman) Griffin are that of mom, associate head coach at the University of Washington and goalkeeper coach to the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team. Griffin will be wearing the latter, hopefully through Nov. 16, while with Team USA at the first-ever FIFA Championships in New Zealand. Before she departed for Down Under, we interviewed the Federal Way native and member of the American squad which won the first World Cup in 1991.
This U17 World Cup is the first for FIFA. How can you prepare a young woman for such an experience?
We’ve been struggling with how to organize it because these are full-time students and it’s a really tough year for them. They’re taking the SAT and AP tests, and we’ve had 18 camps over the last 18 months, and so they’ve all missed a week, sometimes two weeks, of school every month. You have to find a good balance. Kaz [Tambi], our head coach, has done a really good job of just picking up where we left off and building. He’s had a pool of 50 players, but it’s been basically same core of 12-15 players for those 18 months. I remember a year ago, we were scratching our heads and we had some holes in certain positions. Now we’re pretty strong, two deep in every position. We’ve been training in New Jersey, not at the home of the national team. Most of our competition has either been women’s college teams, U15 boys or we’ve played the Seton Hall men’s reserves. They’re used to getting pushed around and challenged and we’ve done pretty well. The most difficult part is going to be the pressure. We’ve played no tournaments where when you lose, you’re out. For 17-year-olds, they’re going to land, see these signs and TV commercials, different stadiums and different venues and banners and all that. They’re going to be pleasantly shocked and really excited and of sudden realize all of this work and this grind is going to pay off.
Have you been to New Zealand before?
We went in January with a core of players. There couldn’t be a better place to take 17-year-old players than New Zealand because of how they view sport. I was in Australia during the Olympics, and it was similar; it didn’t matter whether you got the gold, the silver, the bronze or finished as the 100th runner in a race, they treat every participant like they were the gold medal winner. For a 17-year-old that’s perfect. It still should be about development. In the USA, it’s always about winning at all costs, it doesn’t matter that you’re only 16. Our goal as a staff is that we want to play great soccer and hopefully come out on top. Sometimes in the US we get away from that, especially in the college scene. Sometimes in college, there’s so much pressure on wining that it looks like a bunch of track athletes that know how to kick a ball and run. That’s really not the beautiful game that you see Brazil play. That’s the culture we’ve been trying to instill in these kids. New Zealand is great place to feel what sport is all about. It’s a sport and should be played for fun. You try to win, but if not, it’s all in good fun.
You participated in the first women’s world championship. Did you feel prepared?
Ours was similar in that no one knew about it. It’s not like now, where all eyes are on the women. We were in a different boat. Up until the 1991 World Cup, we weren’t winning many games so there wasn’t much pressure on us. Now when you put on the U.S. Soccer crest, in the women’s game there’s pressure to come back with the gold. We didn’t have that; the first time we’d ever beaten Sweden was in the opening game of the World Cup. We tied twice and been trampled twice. It was fantastic that we won, but it definitely wasn’t expected.
You grew up around here. Who were your idols, especially for keeping goal?
Jack Brand of the Seattle Sounders, and honestly I have so much Sounders paraphernalia, it’s ridiculous. It was the Sounders and Pele and on Sundays, after soccer practice, we’d go to our coach’s house and we ‘d watch Soccer Made in Germany. I was a Sounders groupie. I remember watching a Sounders-Cosmos game, sitting so high up in the Kingdome that I really couldn’t even see the game. I remember Benny Dargle, Ian Bridge, Tony Chursky, Stevie Buttle, you name it. If I had to learn how to juggle a ball pull a move or keep the nets, I went and watched the Sounders play. The level was so high. It wasn’t an option to look at women. I was happy watching the men, and I didn’t think watching women would ever be an option. Now I’m jealous, there are so many women as role models. I didn’t have one. I’m more excited about the Sounders coming than you can imagine. I’m so happy they kept the name.
Back in the day, it seemed like everybody who was anybody
committed to North Carolina. You and Michelle seemed to be the
exception, opting for Central Florida. Was that a pact you two made?
Not at all. Michelle and I really didn’t like each other because were rivals on club teams. The funny part is that Michelle will tell you that she didn’t like the arrogance of Anson [Dorrance, the UNC and national team coach]. He couldn’t tell her why that was the best place to go other than to say, ‘Well, we’re Carolina.’ For me, I simply wasn’t recruited [laughs]. However, if I’d had the choice, I would not have gone there because rarely do the keepers get to be the ones to make a difference at their school. They were winning by big margins, at least back then. I went to Central Florida because the keeper on the national team was Kim Wyatt, and I knew I was going to be playing behind her, and that would be good for my development.
Was it strange, then, to play for Anson Dorrance with the national team?
He and I may not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but I owe him a ton. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. More than anything, I regret not having a goalkeeper coach up until the World Cup. When Tony DiCicco stepped in, all of a sudden I realized what I was missing, that everybody else at this level was getting. Playing for Anson was a blast. Who wouldn’t want to play with the best players in the country? He created an environment I thrived upon and loved.
Keeper is a wholly different position. Not only because of
the rules, but also because being No. 2 might you as well be on the
moon, in terms of playing time. How did you deal with that, and how do
you tell your keepers to handle that?
I had a lot of experience being No. 2, which in retrospect is great for my job right now. I played behind Kim Wyatt in college for two years and behind her on the national team for two years. She kicked my butt at practice. Over the course of time, we became friends. I remember complaining; I felt I trained harder and deserved a chance. Michelle was a better friend, just telling me to deal with it. That was the end of my moaning. It is what it is. You need to make the most of your time on the bench. It is the nature of the position. If you are the No. 2 keeper and you have been using your brain the entire time, when you get off the bench and come into the game you’re going to do some wonderful things. It is a high risk, and chances are that someone is going to get hurt during the course of a season. And when you go in it’s not like you get a couple minutes to get your feet under you. When you’re in, you’re in. The slightest mistakes can give your team a loss.
How do you size-up the USA’s chances in New Zealand?
The players are going to struggle with FIFA rules—three subs and once you’re out, you’re out--which is what everyone else in the world has been playing. If we handle that well, we have a really, really good chance. From what we’ve heard and scouted, France seems to be getting a ton of press and is playing well. We just picked our final team, but Japan has had their team since picked since last April, and their technical speed is wonderful. Germany is a favorite for all the right reasons. They’ve gone through two years of qualifying. We get three teams from CONCACAF, and other than the U.S. and Canada, we don’t have a whole lot of history. Europe has pro leagues and only four teams go for them. If anyone’s prepared, it’s Germany; their experience will make it tough for us.
Kate Bennett, a Bellevue High junior, is a member of the U17 WNT. As a national team coach, tell us about her.
It’s clear to me that she is as fantastic a person as she is a player. She is so humble that many of her friends only recently found out she's been on the team for almost a year. Her passion for the game matches her skills with the ball, which makes her fun to watch. If you ask her to send a ball that is decelerating from 40 yards to the person's right foot, she’ll smile and just ask, ‘Want me to use my right or my left?’ Most people are just happy to get the ball in the general area, she can put it on a specific blade of grass.
These young women must have some interesting stories, committing this much time to training and traveling.
They are amazing. There are so many good players. Some of the kids have made every camp, and no one’s been good enough to knock them off during all this time. But is that more amazing than the kid who tore her ACL and broke her collarbone (Rachel Quan) a year ago, and came back to make the team? Or what about this kid, Mandy Laddish, an outside shot who came to the last camp and made the team? We thought we might as well give her a chance and she played her way on to the team. All the stories about these girls are pretty cool.