Gazette Profiles Soccer's Haneishi

This article originally appeared in the July 16, 2011 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Cup final matchup is perfect for Mount Holyoke soccer coach
By Chad Cain
Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY - Kanae Haneishi says the right thing when asked who she's rooting for in Sunday's World Cup showdown between the United States and Japan.

"I am actually happy if either team wins," said Haneishi, who is entering her fifth year as soccer coach at Mount Holyoke College this fall.

But it doesn't take long for the real truth to come out.

"Having said that, I would love to see the Japanese team win, which will be the first time in history," she said, interviewed via email. "Japan has never beaten the U.S."

Who can blame her? Not only does Haneishi hail from Japan, but she played on that country's national team before the sport brought her to the United States more than a decade ago.

She played with some of the players on the current Japanese team who will take the field on Sunday, including Kyoko Yano, Yukari Kinga and Kozue Ando, and she is very good friends with one of the team's managers.

Haneishi said she has not communicated with anyone on the team since the World Cup began, but she has followed every one of their games, including the team's big 1-0 upset over host Germany in the quarterfinals.

She said that victory was the first indicator that Japan had something special in the works.

"Considering that they beat the host country and a former world champion, I am, and I am sure the whole country is, very surprised about this huge accomplishment," she said.

It's the country's best showing in history, eclipsing a fourth-place finish at the last Olympic Games. The team's best showing was a silver at the 2003 World University Games.

This year's run in the World Cup has captivated a nation at a time when it needs it most. It's been four months since an earthquake and tsunami left 21,000 dead or missing and caused a nuclear crisis that's still ongoing.

"There are many people who are still suffering from the disaster," Haneishi said. "This team is not only playing for them but also playing for their country. This great news is surely helping the Japanese people to keep their heads up and move forward."

She also said this summer's success will do wonders for soccer in Japan, although the country has a long way to go to catch the United States. It is common that girls aren't allowed to play or are forced to stop playing because they don't have an organized team to play on or they have to travel hours to get to the closest soccer practice.

"Most of the girls have never played on a nice grass field, only sand or dirt," she said.

If Japan does lose, at least it will be to the United States, a country that has given her the opportunity to excel in the sport she has played since childhood. That's why this finals matchup is the best of both worlds.

Haneishi, who is in her early 30s, came to the U.S. to play soccer for Christian Brothers University in Tennessee, where her team won the NCAA Division II national championship. She continued to play soccer for the New York Magic, a semiprofessional team in New York, until last summer. She was captain of that team for the last six years.

Soccer would not have opened these doors in Japan because the opportunities simply aren't there for women, she said.

When she was named women's soccer coach at Mount Holyoke in 2007, Haneishi said she was the first Japanese person, man or woman, to be a head soccer coach at the intercollegiate level in the U.S.

"Yes, being a soccer coach and making my career in my passion, soccer, has always been my goal and dream," she said.