The North Carolina Tar Heels have had a big role in the US Women’s National Soccer Team all the way to the very beginning. Legendary UNC coach Anson Dorrance was the first full-time USWNT coach. He was at the helm when they won the 1991 World Cup, which a roster that featured nine Heels.
Flash forward to last summer, there were five in the squad and two in the starting lineup as the US beat the Netherlands to win their fourth World Cup. In between those two World Cup titles, you will be hard pressed to find, if there are even any, US rosters featuring no UNC alumni.
However, the USWNT predates Dorrance and that ‘91 World Cup, and even when you go back to the very beginnings, you can still find some Tar Heels involved.
The US Women’s National Team played it’s first ever match as part of a tournament in Italy in 1985. Club teams had represented the US, but before their trip to Italy, no official team had officially played a match.
Former University of Washington coach Mike Ryan was put in charge of that initial team, and he selected a 17-women squad, three of which were Tar Heels. Stacey Enos, Lori Henry, and Emily Pickering had all played for Dorrance’s UNC program, which, at that point, had won the first three NCAA Championships.
For all the success the USWNT have had, their history actually started with a loss. In their first ever game, Enos and Henry were in the lineup as the US fell 1-0 to Italy. However, it should be noted that Pickering at fellow star Michelle Akers were out injured, which made some amount of difference considering what would happen a few days later.
Three days later, they returned to the field to take on Denmark. Pickering joined Enos to make it two Tar Heels in the lineup, and she made quite the difference. Akers scored for the US, with Pickering providing an assist. Later on, Pickering scored herself, meaning a UNC player was involved in the first two goals scored by the USWNT. The game finished as a 2-2 draw, however.
The US lost their remaining two games in the tournament in Italy. The following year, Dorrance was hired as the first full-time coach in USWNT history. In July of that year, Pickering, Enos and Henry were all in the starting eleven as the US beat Canada for their first ever win. Five years later, they won the World Cup under Dorrance.
From the likes of Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly to today’s starts of Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath, some of the US’s best and most important players have always been Tar Heels. As it turns out, you can trace that back to the very beginning of the team with Emily Pickering’s role in the first ever USWNT games.