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UNC continues to stock the USWNT roster

UNC and the USWNT share a deep intertwined history.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rio Olympics fast approaching, this blog recently touched on five UNC Soccer alumni who will take the field for the U.S. Women's National Team in the coming weeks. As mentioned, three of those women are first time Olympians. Moreover, as stated, the United States will be competing for their fifth Olympic Gold, and fourth in a row, in the event. All those feats are quite impressive and worth being recognized. However, they are simply part of a long, proud, borderline ridiculous tradition that has intertwined UNC soccer stars with the USWNT for the last 25 years. 

A little digging shows a deeper connection between the two programs than most are probably aware. UNC and soccer fans are familiar with the dominance Coach Anson Dorrance's teams have displayed since he took over the program. Although, truth be told, with the rise of women's soccer competition at the collegiate level across the nation, UNC has recently found it a little more difficult to accumulate National Championships. However, for those who are too young to truly remember, there is a strong case to be made that the UNC program may be just as responsible for the USWNT's rise and subsequent dominance over that same time.

Since the first Women's World Cup in 1991 every single WWC has had at least two former UNC players on the U.S. squad, totaling 43 out of a possible 143 spots. That averages out to six Tar Heels, or approximately 30% of any given roster, over seven Women's World Cups. That alone is impressive, but the trend carries over the Olympics too. 

Over the course of six Olympic Games, starting in 1996, at least 30 Tar Heels have been named to the team, not counting alternates. (There are some discrepancies between the all-knowing Wikipedia and the never-should-be-questioned GoHeels.com.) That's an average of just over five players per Olympic Tournament out of a possible 108 openings (Olympic rules dictate fewer players). Again, approximately 30% of the overall selections.

Essentially, over 70 roster spots, and 30% of the USWNT has been occupied by former Tar Heels. Consistently. For 25 years. In the biggest international competitions. On the world's largest stages.  The results were nothing more than the equivalent of seven gold medals, two silvers, and three bronzes. 12 tournaments, 12 medals, with a 13th to be determined.

Plus a fun bonus fact: at least one Tar Heel has scored in every one of those competitions, with the exception of the 2012 Olympics.

If that is where this argument stops, that would be impressive enough. But wait! There's more! (R.I.P Billy Mays.) None of this also takes into account the prestigious yearly Algarve Cup, which has been held since 1994. The USWNT owns 10 of those Championships. They have participated 20 times, and a UNC player has scored in 17 of them. Sadly, those rosters are really hard to find (I'm open to suggestions!), and I have a family with which I like to spend time.  

Now, some of you are probably thinking, "Yeah, but that includes Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Heather O'Reilly. It's easy when a small amount of players continue at a high level over such a long period of time." I agree.

Except, that is not the case.

Every single Women's World Cup roster added at least one Tar Heel who had not previously played in either the WWC or the Olympics. The same is true for three of the six Olympic Games. 10 of these 13 international tournaments, featured at least one brand new Tar Heel. That includes those three players this year in Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, and Allie Long. I will even add Meghan Klingenberg to that tally, since as mentioned above, I'm not counting previous alternate statuses.

In short, UNC's talent pool and pipeline continues to run deep.

Then there are the sheer numbers that UNC women have produced at the international level. A whopping 54 UNC alumnae have made an appearance for the U.S. in international competition. Starting from 1988, Lori Henry, Carla Overbeck, April Heinrichs, and Kristine Lilly have served as team captain for a combined 605 matches. A Tar Heel has been the Female Soccer Athlete of the Year 10 times, led the USWNT in scoring six times, and led the team in assists eight times.

Mia Hamm ranks first in assists, second in goals, and third in caps (appearances). Kristine Lilly (first in caps, third in goals, second in assists), Heather O'Reilly (seventh in caps, sixth in assists), and Cindy Parlow (seventh in goals) also litter the statistical leaderboards. Even the newest addition to the family tree, Crystal Dunn, has already tied the USWNT record for most goals in a game with five.

Additionally, Anson Dorrance, Lauren Gregg, and April Heinrichs have all coached the U.S. women at the international level, with multiple championships to their names. And their pupils have grown up to become coaches at schools across the country, helping build national powers to topple UNC from its perch. Carla Overbeck can even be found right down the road in Durham.

The USWNT has been the most dominant soccer organization for the past 25 years on the international stage, on both the men's and women's sides. During that time, UNC has been a gold standard for collegiate programs, across all sports and sexes. It's no coincidence their rise and dominance parallel one another. Next month, their history and legacies will hopefully continue in that tradition.

Go Heels! Go America!