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Professional Jul 21, 2010

Mia Hamm: “Carve someone up and see what happens”

Mia Hamm was in Barcelona, Spain a year or so ago, meeting with club officials about soccer in the United States, when she caught up with Thierry Henry. Henry, who just signed with Major League Soccer and has joined the New York Red Bulls, gave Hamm a bit of an inside scoop: at Barcelona, it’s not all about passing.

“Barcelona has a system of play, up until you get to a certain place on the field,” Hamm said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “Henry told me that they wanted him to stay up top, ‘and when we get you the ball, do what you do.’”

Barcelona is appreciated for being the best passing team in the world. But for Henry, “doing what he does” means going at defenders one vs. one with a fearless attitude that says, “It’s not if I’ll beat you, but how many times.”

That’s an attitude that Hamm loves to see in today’s youth players. And she would like to see more of it.

Indeed, Hamm says she would like to hear more youth coaches say: “I don’t care if you fall flat on your face. You never know if you can do it until you try it.”

Recognized as the world’s greatest female soccer player in her generation, Hamm lived the philosophy she articulates. Either as a target forward or as a wing, Hamm was known for her ability to tear defenders to shreds with her feints, cuts and quickness over short distances.

Her approach in just one sentence? “Carve someone up and see what happens.”

The retired national team star will join other former Washington Freedom players Saturday at the Maryland SportsPlex, when the Freedom hosts FC Gold Pride and their Brazilian star, Marta (7 pm).

Hamm has strong local ties, having played club soccer under Denise Mishalow at Braddock Road Youth Club in Fairfax and Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke before moving on to the University of North Carolina, where she won four national championships and was named national player of the year twice.

Among her national team accolades:

  • Named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year for 2001 and 2002, the first two years in which the world’s governing body bestowed the award on a woman
  • Has scored 158 international goals, the most of any male or female player
  • Is the world’s all-time leading scorer with 158 goals and 144 assists
  • She is the second most capped player in the world, behind teammate Kristine Lilly
  • Named U.S. Soccer’s Female Athlete of the Year an unprecedented five years in a row (1994 1998)
  • She joined the U.S. National team at age 15, and played for the squad for 18 years

Hamm hinted that the American emphasis to always pass the ball can hinder players from developing the goal-scoring mindset. “When you’re in the attacking third of the field, is your first thought to pass, or is it to see if you can make a difference?” she asked.

That’s why she encourages youth coaches at the younger ages to emphasize less tactics and more individual skill and creativity.

It’s not about winning, she said. “At younger ages, we need it to be all about development… letting kids get out there and be creative.”

That attack-minded trait can certainly be found in her former national team teammate Abby Wambach, considered one of the world’s top strikers. The Freedom striker has never seen an isolated defender – or two together, for that matter – that she is unwilling to take on.

“What will help these younger kids develop is by coming out and watching professional female players – players who are at the top of their game in the world,” Wambach said. “If they see it with their own eyes, then the kids will know they can do it.”