Contributed by Steven Torres
As the United States Women’s National Team looks to repeat as FIFA World Champion next year in France, however it begins its road to the event in Europe with Concacaf qualifying this coming Fall.
With the three-time world champion U.S. hosting its sixth Concacaf Women’s Tournament this coming October, we take a look back at the inaugural confederation qualifying event, that was won by the Stars & Stripes, in 1991.
After beginning its women's national team program six years earlier, the U.S. traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti from April 16-28 for the confederations first women’s tournament.
"This was the first opportunity for us to perform in the region and see how we fared against the Concacaf other teams," said former captain and midfielder April Heinrichs in an interview in 2011. "Our preparations were very limited and there was great sense of uncertainty in this new tournament as the players didn't know what to expect. However, we were still confident that we were going to perform well and obtain the goals which were to win the event and qualify for the first world championships."
The eight-team tournament had all its games played at Port-au-Prince's Silvio Cator Stadium, and the host fans were a highlight of the competition, as 340,000 attended the 11 match dates (30,909 avg.) with eight sold out days of 40,000 spectators.
"The people were fantastic," remembered former striker Carin Jennings Gabarra, when asked in 2011. "They were very passionate and energetic throughout all the matches. We gave flowers to the crowd before the games in a sign of mutual respect for their hospitality. It was a great atmosphere and the people were very supportive which gave us a special bond with them."
Under the direction of head coach Anson Dorrance, the U.S. started the tournament impressively, topping Mexico 12:0 in a Group A encounter on Apr. 18. The match was underlined by a five-goal performance from defender Brandi Chastain.
Two days later, Heinrichs scored three goals to lead the Stars & Stripes to another 12:0 triumph, on this occasion, against Martinique.
The U.S. closed group play on Apr. 22, winning once more by double digits, 10:0, over Trinidad & Tobago. Jennings Gabarra, defender Wendy Gebauer and forwards Michelle Akers-Stahl and Mia Hamm each struck for two goals.
Next up was a semifinal meeting against the host on Apr. 24. Another capacity crowd at the stadium was on hand to watch Akers-Stahl, Heinrichs, Jennings Gabarra and midfielder Tracey Bates score two goals apiece in a 10:0 victory, paving the way for a place in the finals against Group B winner Canada, who also topped Trinidad & Tobago in the other semifinal.
Heinrichs recalled: "We always played with great respect towards our opponents and we were able to win the people (fans) in attendance and the country over with our competiveness."
In the Apr. 27th championship match, Akers-Stahl finished as the tournament's top scorer when she netted a hat-trick to take her total to 11 tallies, lifting the U.S. to a 5:0 win over Canada. Heinrichs and midfielder Kristine Lilly each added a goal for the Stars & Stripes, which also qualified for the inaugural FIFA Women's World Cup in China later that year.
The U.S. went on to compete at, and win, its first Women's World Cup in November 1991 by defeating Norway 2:1 in a thrilling finale. All the top post-tournament awards went to the U.S. players with Gabarra taking the Golden Ball (Most Valuable Player) and Silver Shoe (tournament second leading scorer), while Akers won the Silver Ball (second MVP) and the Golden Shoe (top scorer).
Gabarra and Heinrichs credited the 1991 Concacaf Championship as "starting the growth process of women's football in the region."
Since 1991, nine confederation women's competitions (including World Cup & Olympic Qualifying) have been added along with eight youth championships (Under-20 and U-17), throughout the three Concacaf zone regions (North, Central America & Caribbean).
U.S. Roster – 1991 Concacaf Women’s Championship
Goalkeepers: Amy Allmann, Kim Maslin-Kammerdeiner;
Defenders: Debbie Belkin, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett (née Biefield), Wendy Gebauer, Megan McCarthy, Carla Overbeck (née Werden), Keri Sanchez;
Midfielders: Tracey Leone (née Bates), Amanda Cromwell, Julie Foudy, April Heinrichs, Shannon Higgins, Kristine Lilly;
Forwards: Michelle Akers-Stahl, Carin Gabarra (née Jennings), Mia Hamm.
Coach: Anson Dorrance
Written by Steven Torres.