Philadelphia, 16 August 2001 (TEAMtalk) — It’s not surprising that Philadelphia Charge right back Heather Mitts was flashing her million-dollar smile as she signed autographs following Thursday’s 1-1 draw with the San Diego Spirit. Mitts, after all, had plenty to smile about.
The point she helped gain in tying San Diego pushed the Charge (9-8-4) over the top and punched Philadelphia’s ticket to the four-team WUSA post-season party. The Charge, who finished the regular season in fourth place, will travel to Atlanta this weekend for a 6:45 EST semifinal match-up with the tournament’s top-seeded Atlanta Beat.
The winner will then play for the inaugural WUSA Founders Cup on August 25 in Foxboro, Mass., against the Bay Area CyberRays-New York Power semifinal winner.
Philadelphia, ranked dead last in most pre-season polls, used their league-leading offense combined with scrappy, solid defense to shock the experts with a young, comparatively inexperienced team. Mitts, who played a full 90 minutes in all but three of Philadelphia’s regular-season matches, was a big part of that defense.
The 23-year-old University of Florida product teamed with up-and-coming Jenny Benson and Jen Tietjen as well as German national team veteran Doris Fitschen to provide Charge goalkeepers Melissa Moore and Saskia Webber plenty of support.
“At first, everybody was just trying to get used to each other,” recalled Mitts. “It was a new team with new players, but our team bonded really fast and that was the key to our early success. As the season went on, it was more a question of finding the players who could play well together.”
Philadelphia’s fourth-place finish in a season which started with such low expectations attests to how well Charge coach Mark Krikorian did just that.
While Mitts had little to say about her own considerable contributions this season, she was filled with praise for her teammates, especially forward Kelly Smith and defender Doris Fitschen.
“Kelly has been amazing,” Mitts said. “I can honestly say that she is one of the best, if not the best, attacking player in the league. A lot of times we were caught watching because we were standing there in awe of her. She is amazing.”
Smith’s goal against San Diego, her fourth in 12 appearances, was the biggest in franchise history.
“Doris Fitschen has been a great leader on the field,” said Mitts. “She doesn’t say much, but she has such a great presence out there. It has really been an adjustment when we haven’t had her, such as during the European Championship (and recently after she injured her wrist). Hopefully, we will have her back for the playoffs.”
Despite their contributions, Smith and Fitschen have missed a considerable portion of the season due to injuries and national team commitments. Mitts, on the other hand, has been an almost permanent fixture in the Charge lineup, logging 1,751 minutes.
Mitts is not surprised, however. She was also an “iron woman” during her tenure at the University of Florida. She believes the season begins in the off-season.
“My parents sometimes get mad at me and tell me that I need to give myself a rest, but I really work hard in the off-season,” she explained. “It’s something I take great pride in. That way, when I am out on the field, I can give it everything I have.”
Mitts is not yet ready to begin her off-season training program. In fact, she would like to hold off until some time after the Aug. 25 championship game. She is hoping that the same work ethic that has enabled the Charge to defy the pre-season predictions will be enough to power them to their first league championship.