Mitts earned ‘Ironwoman’ status with Charge

Philadelphia, 28 August 2001 (TEAMtalk) — The reputation preceded Heather Mitts before she began her first season as an outside defender for the Philadelphia Charge. Well before becoming a professional, Mitts was known for her ability to log plenty of minutes.

The 23-year-old Mitts is the all-time leader at the University of Florida in minutes played with 7,547. She is also the career leader in games played (95) and starts (94). The only game she didn’t start was the first contest of her freshman year.

This year, she has experienced more of the same for the Charge, one of the surprise teams in the WUSA by clinching the fourth and final playoff berth. Mitts played in 20 of the 21 games and led the Charge in minutes with 1,751.

“I love it,” Mitts said about the extended minutes. “Some of the players can be known as goal scorers or having a lot of assists, and I guess what I am known as is being an ironwoman. In the off-season I work hard to stay in shape and I’m happy to be out here.”

Just as happy is Charge coach Mark Krikorian, who selected Mitts in the second round of the WUSA combine draft.

“In the pre-season Heather’s strength was her athletic ability,” Krikorian said. “But now she has become a good soccer player.”

Even though Mitts is a defender, Krikorian likes to have her and fellow outside defender Jenny Benson bring the ball up on the attack. The Charge frequently use their outside defenders to begin the attack, taking the pressure off the midfielders and putting more heat on opposing defenses.

“Attacking with the defenders is part of our system, and it’s also the way I like to play,” Mitts said. “When Mark saw me play in college, one of the things he liked was that I liked to be part of the attack.”

While the Charge lost player after player to injury this season, Mitts was a constant in the starting lineup. In the Charge’s season opening 2-0 win over San Diego on April 22, Mitts came out for the final four minutes. She then played 17 and a half straight games before being replaced at halftime of a 5-1 win over Carolina on Aug. 6. During that span, Mitts had played 1,575 consecutive minutes.

Mitts had suffered a charley horse in that Carolina game and said she wouldn’t have been able to return after halftime. It really didn’t matter that game since the Charge was well in command with a 3-0 halftime lead.

Mitts returned to the lineup on Aug. 9 as the Charge tied San Diego, 1-1 and clinched a playoff berth. With a post-season spot assured, Krikorian decided to rest Mitts during Sunday’s season finale, a 2-1 loss at Boston.

“As much as I respect Mark’s decision, I wanted to play,” said Mitts.

Did anybody expect any other type of response?

Mitts was fine physically in the Aug. 18 semifinal at Atlanta, a game the Charge lost in double overtime, 3-2. Throughout her career, she has been a big part of teams that not only got to the post-season, but prospered. As a junior in 1998, Mitts helped lead the University of Florida to the NCAA championship. Prior to that season she had always played outside midfield, which accounts for her ability to attack.

Naturally, she led Florida in minutes played during that championship season with a school-record, 2,329 and was named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team.

Mitts realized that playing in the WUSA would be more difficult than college, but she wasn’t sure how much higher the level of competition would be. She soon found out.

“It’s way more competition than I expected,” she said. “You hear about all the great national team players, but then you play against them and see how talented they are. It’s awesome to play with and against so many great players.”

Mitts could now put herself in that category.

“She has had an incredible season and done everything we have asked her,” Krikorian said.

By finishing the season on a playoff team, Mitts feels a bit of redemption. After all, the Charge was picked to be near or at the bottom of the eight-team WUSA.

“Nobody wants to be on a last-place team,” Mitts recalled about hearing the pessimistic pre-season predictions for the Charge. “We were all excited to play, and it was a bummer when people were saying that we would be a last-place team. I think we’ve proven to be a good team.”

And Mitts has proven to be one of the Charge’s top players and certainly their most durable.