Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bye, Bye Blog

The team gets on an airplane back to the States tomorrow morning so this is the final entry in the WNT Blog for the 2007 WWC. Amazingly, we don’t have carpel tunnel syndrome, or ever seemed to run out of stuff to talk about (well, almost), but such is the character and characters of the U.S. Women’s National Team. We’ve been at this Blog thing since Aug. 18, that’s 45 days of almost daily Blog (we might have missed a day somewhere in there). That’s thousands of words, dozens of anecdotes, and hopefully, non-stop “infotainment” for the fans of the WNT. Thanks to all those out there who posted comments. We really do appreciate you visiting ussoccer.com, reading the blog, and most of all, supporting the WNT through the tough times and the great times. We’re not exactly sure when the WNT Blog will be back, but next year will feature the 2008 Olympics, the 2008 FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups, and qualifying for each tournament, so it will be a busy year for the WNT programs. So for now, thanks and Blog you later.

Bronze It Is

What a wonderful performance by the team tonight, perhaps the best of the tournament. The team didn’t accomplish its ultimate goal of winning the Women’s World Cup, but it battled through some difficult times, and in the end, came together on the field with an inspiring performance against Norway, one that should make the fans and their country proud. The players on this team are a truly special group, and although they need some much-deserved rest, no doubt they will be back on the field soon training and working to be the best. In fact, the USA has three games in October, all against Mexico, to finish the year, and for all the fans planning on coming, or who already have tickets, see you in St. Louis, Portland and Albuquerque. (Tix available on ussoccer.com).

Eye on Beijing

It’s now about 10 months until the Olympics, and another chance for gold. The USA has to qualify for Beijing sometime next year, but with all the young players who cut their teeth in this World Cup, gaining invaluable world championship experience, the team can only get better and stronger for the run to the Olympics.

Thanks, China

In the end, hats off to China for putting on an excellent Women’s World Cup. The stadiums were packed, and everyone from the local organizers, to the volunteers, security, hotel staff, transportation, etc., went out of their way to make sure that the U.S. team was well taken care of. We don’t know all of your names, nor could we pronounce most of your names, but a huge thanks to everyone who made our 34 days in China a memorable experience. Xie Xie to all.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back at It

The U.S. team hit the training ground this morning for its last practice in China at the Women’s World Cup. Spirits were high, and truth be told, the team was glad to be out doing what they love to do, kicking the soccer ball around. The team has now been in China for 33 days, a long road trip by any standards, and the players are anxious to end the tournament on a high note, then get some much deserved rest before playing their final three matches of 2007 on October 13, 17 and 20, all against Mexico. After the Norway match, the team will spend much of the evening with friends and family, before heading back to the USA on Monday.

Happy Birthday Rylie!

Today was the birthday of one of the U.S. team’s favorite people, well, babies. Rylie Rampone, daughter of defender Christie Rampone, and the unofficial team mascot, turned two today. On the way to training, the team sang Happy Birthday into Rampone’s cell phone to Rylie, who was on the other end. (Yes, in 2007 even two-year-olds use cell phones.) Rylie didn’t really know what was going on saying something like, “lots of noise mommy” but the sentiment was sincere. The team had a birthday party for her in the afternoon, with cake and tons of presents. For a two-year-old who has traveled abroad far more than the average American adult, a birthday in China was somehow appropriate. With the Olympics running from Aug. 6-24 in 2008, Rylie should be able to celebrate her third birthday at home. Although, if the U.S. team isn’t around, it might mean less presents.

When Pigs Drive

On the way home from training today, the U.S. bus pulled to a stop at a light, and right next to it was a huge truck full of pigs. These weren’t small pigs either. We’re talking big, pink porkers. These guys had to weigh over 100 pounds each, some bigger. Stacked in cages three levels high, the pigs actually seemed pretty happy and content. We don’t know their final destination, and due to their pig smiles, they probably didn’t either.

Decision Made

U.S. head coach Greg Ryan, after consulting with the team, made the decision not to include Hope Solo in the team’s preparation for the Norway match or have her at the game, choosing to move forward with the 20 players in the best environment to enable the squad to bounce back and have success in the final match of the tournament. Quotes from today’s media session featuring Ryan and team leaders Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach are available on ussoccer.com.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ryan Speaks

Anyone who even marginally follows the U.S. WNT, or perhaps owns a computer, is aware of comments made by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo following the loss to Brazil. U.S. head coach Greg Ryan met with the media today and spoke about the situation. To hear some quotes, you can log onto the podcast on www.ussoccer.com.

Just the Pool

There was no training today, just a pool workout to get the legs back for what will no doubt be a tough third-place match against Norway. Most of the players spent time with family today, perhaps the perfect remedy to deal with the disappointment of the loss. The USA will hold its final training of the WWC tomorrow in the late morning in preparation to face Norway on Sunday.

Mountain Bike Hall of Fame

A quick shout-out from the WNT Blog to USA Today reporter Sal Ruibal, who is covering the Women's World Cup in China for the national newspaper. On Wednesday, Sal was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Las Vegas . Of course Sal wasn't there because he is still on the beat here in China, but that is a pretty impressive life accomplishment for a top notch reporter who has spent most of his career chasing around France and covering the Tour de France every year for the paper. Sal was even brave enough to hop on a bike and join the hundreds of thousands of bikers and motor scooters here China, and lived to write about it.

The Morning After

Last night’s game was a crushing loss for sure, but much credit needs to be given to the Brazilians, who played an excellent match. Take away the own goal and the red card and perhaps it’s a different game, but since you can’t do that without a time machine, and since the WNT blog doesn’t have one, props must go to Brazil. The U.S. players were understandably heartbroken, but they are a tough bunch and count on them to rebound for a good performance against Norway in the third-place match to make their country proud.

Bus Back to Shanghai

Bummer. A painful game for the USA, which fought its hardest, but it just was not the USA’s night. After the match, the players returned to the hotel for a quick meal, spent some time with friends and family at the team hotel, and then boarded a bus for a two-hour ride back to Shanghai, arriving around 2 a.m. A tough night for sure, one of the toughest. The players hit the sack right away and have the day off tomorrow to recover mind and body.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tasty Match-Up

Women’s soccer fans all over the world must be looking forward to the USA-Brazil game as it shapes up to be one of the best of the tournament. With high stakes, world class players on both sides, lots of history, a beautiful stadium and plenty of story lines, this game is what World Cups are all about. The U.S. team is rested and ready for a match that certainly will stretch both teams to their limits, but that’s what makes entertaining, attacking soccer.

Germans to Final

A bit of a strange semifinal tonight between Germany and Norway. The Norwegians played some awesome soccer in the first half. They may not have hit even one long ball (gasp!), keeping the ball on the ground and working their way through the German defense to create more than a few scoring opportunities. It was some great soccer by Norway and some typical dangerous counter-attacking by Germany. Of course, the Germans were too strong in the end, but the goals were a bit wacky. They scored an own goal, off a deflection from a shot by a defender and through a substitute forward who picked off a poor back pass. But they all count the same and credit the Germans for getting the ball in dangerous spots where things can happen. The Germans will now have one more day of rest than their opponent in the World Cup Final, which will be played on Sept. 30 at the Shanghai Hongkou Stadium.

Stadium Training

The U.S. team held its pre-game practice today at Hangzhou Dragon Stadium and it was sharp. The team is ready, the pitch is in good shape and the stadium towers over the field, creating a pretty intimate atmosphere for such a large stadium that features a track around the field. The media and photographers were out in force as well. It definitely felt like a practice before a Women’s World Cup semifinal.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Training at Dragon Stadium

The U.S. team will train tomorrow afternoon at the game venue…Dragon Stadium. The 52,000+ seat stadium is gorgeous. The U.S. Women’s National Team actually played the first-ever match at Dragon Stadium in 2001, tying China 1-1. The organizers offered 10,000 Yuan (about $1,300) to the first player to score a goal in the stadium, pretty confident that it would be a Chinese player. It was actually the USA’s Jen Lalor, a member of the 1995 Women’s World Cup Team who earned 21 caps from 1992-1995 and then another two caps on that China trip 2001, one of which saw her score the 10,000-Yuan goal. As a side note, she had a lot of trouble finding a bank that would exchange 10,000 Yuan once she got home to the States.

Harvest Moon Festival

The U.S. team arrived in Hangzhou to see massive amounts of people on the streets. Yes, more than usual in China which meant a MASSIVE amount of people. The team later found out that today is actually a holiday, and most people took off work early. It’s the Harvest Moon Festival in China (also called the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn harvest) and apparently it’s the biggest holiday in China outside of the New Year. It’s the day when the moon is the biggest and brightest in the sky. It happens every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Children are told the story of the moon fairy living in a crystal palace who comes out to dance on the moon's shadowed surface. The legend surrounding the "lady living in the moon" dates back to ancient times, to a day when ten suns appeared at once in the sky. The Emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. There’s much more to the story, but it was kind of long for the Blog, so if you are interested, you can Google it like we did.

Hello Hangzhou

We’ve only been here a few hours, but so far, these seem to be the differences between Hangzhou and Shanghai.

Shanghai: 14 million people. Hangzhou: 6.5 million.
Hangzhou: Much greener and much more scenic. We saw a bunch of pine trees. There is also a famous lake here.
Shanghai: Hundreds of skyscrapers. Hangzhou: Dozens of skyscrapers.
Shanghai: Thousands of apartment builders. Hangzhou: Seems to be more condo-looking dwellings.
Hangzhou: More bikes than Shanghai (it doesn’t seem possible, but that’s the way it seemed).

Location, Location, Location

The U.S. team has stayed at some nice hotels during its stay in China for the Women’s World Cup, but unlike the hotel in Hangzhou, none have had a Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs and McDonalds just steps from the front of the hotel. The U.S. team was not going to be doing too much sight-seeing or shopping anyway with the semifinal looming, but those establishments, and it looks like a mall across the street, meaning all of the players basic needs will be met within a 200-yard radius of the hotel.

Bus, No Plane

The U.S. team trained in the morning in Shanghai (surprise: it was hot), went back to the hotel, finished packing, did some media interviews and board a bus to Hangzhou. Needless to say, the U.S. players were very happy to travel by bus instead of plane, as they had already taken five flights including the one over to China. The bus ride took about two and half hours, but it was smooth and easy. Most of the players slept the whole way. A few watched some videos on their computers, but for the most part, the players passed through Naptown, blew through Snoozeville and didn’t even see Sleepburg go by before waking up in Hangzhou.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mellow Monday

Now this was what you call a day off. No training, no meetings, no mandatory meals, no nuthin’ except a bit of R&R for the players. Most spent at least a part of the day with friends and family, and a few players, their families, and most of the staff went out to a nice dinner at an upscale western eatery in an upscale area of Shanghai. The burgers and steaks were certainly tasty. The team returns to training tomorrow morning and then will board a bus in the afternoon for the two-hour drive to Hangzhou to make final preparations for the semifinal match against Brazil on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Just Going for a Coffee

When Marci Jobson and Nicole Barnhart headed to the “Old Town” section of Shanghai today, Jobson’s goal was just to get a strong cup of coffee. She ended up going on a shopping spree, buying no less than 12 t-shirts for her nieces and nephews, as well as some other goodies, including some Chinese art. Barnhart got two sets of the ancient Chinese game of Mahjongg, one for her and one for Christie Rampone. The U.S. players have definitely come to enjoy the game after Natasha Kai bought one and taught them the rules. Jobson saw some key chains that had small bats encased in plastic (one of the many “unusual” items you can find in a Chinese market) and thought they would make good gifts for her nephews, but Barnhart talked her out of it. Probably a wise choice, and one that Jobson’s brothers and sisters would likely agree with. Although, how cool would it be to be in middle school and have a bat in plastic on your key chain?

Two Captains

Former U.S. captain Julie Foudy, that’s ESPN’s Julie Foudy, came over to the hotel to today to interview current U.S. captain Kristine Lilly for an upcoming piece. They played some video bowling on camera, and let’s just say these are two competitive women. We can’t give away who won, but let’s just say Foudy was very good at picking up “spares” while Lilly was more of a “strike” striker.

Abby on Studio 90

With the team’s return to Shanghai, the Studio 90 set got a workout today, as Abby Wambach joined the crew for an interview and the infamous Back Four Quiz. Abby talks about the tournament so far, the challenge of Brazil in the semifinal and her very large family. She even pulled a fast one on host Neil Buethe, but you’ll have to log on to find out what it was.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day Off

Tomorrow is a much deserved day off from training for the U.S. players. Many will spend some time with their friends and family, but the team will try to stay off its feet as much as possible to rest and recover after a tough game against England. There is, however, a brief shopping trip planned in the afternoon because you just can’t buy enough pearls and knock-off purses. Well, maybe you can.

Aussie Heart

And the USA will face Brazil in the semifinals. Brazil defeated Australia 3-2 tonight in what was an extremely gutsy effort for the Matlidas, coming from two goals down to tie the game, only to give up a brilliant score to Cristiane in the 75th minute as she smacked a shot into the upper right corner from the top of the box with five defenders around her. Yeah, Australia only took four shots, but they scored on two of them. Yeah, Brazil was not firing on all cylinders, but they are still Brazil. And yeah, after Australia tied the game, the possibility of holding on for 45 more minutes (through overtime) were slight, but it was a lot better performance than the pundits expected from Australia. And one of Brazil’s goals came after a dubious penalty kick call. This will be the second time the USA has faced Brazil in a Women’s World Cup semifinal, also playing in 1999 on July 4 at Stanford Stadium, a 2-0 U.S. win on goals from Cindy Parlow and Michelle Akers.

Leaving Tianjin

The U.S. team had a relaxing morning in Tianjin, holding a light training for the players who did not play the night before while the starters just jogged and stretched. The team had time for a leisurely lunch and then boarded the bus to the airport for its flight to back to Shanghai. Several players had time to play the ancient Chinese game of Mahjongg that Natasha Kai picked up while shopping. It looks pretty complicated, but apparently it’s some sort of combination of gin rummy and dominoes and the Chinese are always quite amused when they see the U.S. players break it out. During the game, the U.S. team was treated to a performance of a group of lounge singers that would have fit right into Las Vegas. While the singing certainly didn’t make the media interviews that were going on in the lobby too easy, the players playing Mahjongg did enjoy the rendition of Mariah Carey’s “A Hero Lies in You,” singing along during the chorus.

Back to Shanghai

The U.S. team returns to Shanghai tomorrow (today, actually). It’s sort of a home-away-from home now. The team will get a deserved day off on Monday before starting preparations for the semifinal on Thursday. No one is giving the plucky Australians much of a chance against Marta and the Brazilians, but we know Tom Sermmani’s ladies will leave it all on the field. After all, it’s Australia’s first trip to the knockout stage of a Women’s World Cup. They came into the tournament having never even won a Women’s World Cup match. A win over Brazil? It would be one of the great upsets in Women’s World Cup history, but if anyone has a “can-do” attitude, it’s the Matlidas.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lopez: Tougher Than Wambach?

Stephanie Lopez got a boot (or maybe an elbow?) to the head from England’s Jill Scott, but for all those friends and family back in Sacramento and Portland, she’s ok. The team’s crack medical staff stapled (yes, stapled) her up quickly on the bench and she wasn’t even out of the match for two minutes. Excellent work by team doctor Scott Powell and athletic trainers Gigi Garcia and Michele Gould. Just so you know, it was not a Red Swingline that they used to patch up Lopez, it was the medical sort used in emergency rooms. Lopez said she could feel the crunching of the staples going into her head. Ugh. Can you imagine that sound? We hope not. Abby Wambach, who got 11 stitches after the North Korea game for a much deeper gash, expressed admiration for the defender’s grit as they are now a part of the head wound club at the Women’s World Cup. Lopez, who was sent off the field by the referee momentarily later in the game to have blood wiped off her head, got the staples taken out after the game and had three stitches put in. Lopez was quick to give credit to Lindsay Tarpley for helping her endure the head stapling, holding Lopez’s hand on the bench and reassuring her through the…ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk.

Great Win

The team played its most complete game yet, Abby scored in her 100th cap, it was an absolutely gorgeous evening in Tianjin and the USA is through to the semifinals. Yes, tonight was a good night. When the team returned to the hotel, it got a standing ovation from friends and family in the lobby. You always love that moment. They are a rowdy bunch. England also got a loud ovation, complete with singing, from their fans in the lobby. And heck, they deserved it. A great effort from the English who enjoyed their best Women’s World Cup ever. You have to believe that the days of England advancing to the knock out stages of Women’s World Cups are just beginning. Did you know you could bet on this game in London? The bookmakers had odds for the USA at 4-7 and for England at 4-1. Seems like those guys know their women’s football.

Happy Birthday Tarp!

By the way, today was Lindsay Tarpley’s 24th birthday. Happy Birthday to the pride of Kalamazoo, Michigan!

Seriously, An Accident

Pretty amazing thing happened in the mixed zone after the game. Apparently a few English players accused Abby Wambach of intentionally elbowing Faye White in the nose. The English media picked up on it, especially the BBC, and grilled Wambach and other players about it. Anyone who saw the incident on replay saw that Wambach was in the process of spinning around White and caught her totally by accident. Wambach was not even looking at White when elbow met nose. The referee didn’t call a foul nor did she give a yellow card. Wambach tried to apologize when White returned to the match. Understandably, White was a bit miffed on the field, but did the English trainer have to swear at Abby as well? Wambach handled herself very well during the interviews, and truth be told, White is a classy player and person. But seriously folks, it was an accident. Abby apologized. Then the reporter said that several English players saw Abby “low-five” with Kristine Lilly after the incident, as if she was congratulating her for decking the England captain, which of course, did not happen. Now we know the true meaning of “tabloid journalism.”

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bingo Night: Part II

The U.S. team is loose and relaxed in advance of its quarterfinal against England tomorrow, and what better way to take your mind off things than a friendly game of Bingo? The team had played Bingo in Shanghai, but the stakes were upped this time as general manager Cheryl Bailey purchased some nifty prizes. Cat Whitehill took top honors, winning an iPod Shuffle as well as a t-shirt that read, “I love Football,” which of course fits her perfectly as she loves soccer and American football. In China, it means one thing, in Alabama it means another. Leslie Osborne also won a game, taking home a knock-off purse that looked like a big pearl. She called it “pretty cute.” Marian Dalmy and Christie Pearce also won a game each. They got t-shirts. The team had its usual pre-game meeting after dinner and then settled down for a quiet evening.

Brazil and Aussies Arrive

New Zealand and China left the hotel today, but in their place arrived Brazil and Australia, who will play a quarterfinal in Tianjin on Sept. 23. The Aussies were in high spirits after tying Canada on a last minute goal to earn a place in the quarters (the first time they have advance to the second round) and surely they will be up for the challenge of facing the powerful Brazilians. Heck, Australians are usually up for any challenge.

Perfect Weather

Finally, some weather like California…well, except a little smoggier. But after enduring almost daily rain, mist, and yes, a typhoon, the USA’s first full day in Tianjin saw gorgeous sunshine, a light breeze and relatively blue skies. Don’t get us wrong, it was hot. But it was a dry heat, not so muggy, and the players are looking forward to a perfect night for soccer tomorrow when it should be in the mid-60s for the 8 p.m. kickoff.

Punch Pals

If you saw the video earlier in the year on ussoccer.com’s all_access video, you know that Carli Lloyd and Marci Jobson are BFF. They have a funny way of showing it, though, as in China they have been hauling off and punching each other in the arm, pretty hard, too. Amazing thing, says Carli, is that she hasn’t bruised at all whereas Marci bruises really easily. “Her skin is just not that tough,” said Lloyd of her buddy. Of course, those who’ve seen Marci play know that her skin might be the only part of her that’s not tough.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Final Eight Set

After returning back from training, the U.S. players saw the end of a heartbreaking tie for the Canadians that knocked them out of the tournament. The players were a few minutes late for dinner as they watched Christine Sinclair score an apparent winning goal in the 85th minute, only to be negated by a Cheryl Salisbury strike two minutes into stoppage time. Australia needed just a tie to advance, while Canada needed to win, and for team captain Salisbury, perhaps the greatest player in Australian history, the goal was a fitting capper to her international career. Oh yeah, as a reward for its dramatics, Australia gets Brazil in the quarters. Brazil managed just a 1-0 win over Denmark, but peppered the Danish goal throughout the match. Most of the U.S. players also got a chance to watch the China game, which was kept close by some great work from NZ goalkeeper Jenny Bindon, but you had to admire the pluck of the Kiwis. They battled to the end against China despite being eliminated from advancement after the second game.

Four Teams, One Hotel

The USA, England, China and New Zealand are all staying at the same hotel in Tianjin, which you think would make for some lobby stare downs, but not really. The USA and England are very cordial as many of the players know each other, or of each other, as several England players have played in the USA, including star Kelly Smith. The Chinese were basically incognito today preparing for their match tonight and well, how can you not like the Kiwis? Speaking of New Zealand, they put on an absolutely inspiring performance against China in front of almost 60,000 fans and lost just 2-0. Although they lost all three games, they should return to New Zealand with heads held high. After returning from the game, China got a standing ovation from the hotel staff, and everyone in the lobby, including some New Zealand fans. Amazingly (or maybe not so much), the small contingent of New Zealand fans made even more noise when their team arrived back. Next stop for NZ, Auckland. Next stop for China, Wuhan, and a quarterfinal match-up with Group C champion Norway, which trounced hapless Ghana 7-2 tonight.

To Tianjin

The U.S. team traveled from Shanghai north to Tianjin this morning, an easy two-hour flight from a city of 14 million to a city of just 10 million. The team arrived in mid-day, had lunch and went to training, which was fairly light, but sharp. The team’s travel to this venue that will host its quarterfinal against England was delayed a day due to Typhoon Wipha, but today there was no inclement weather at all and the flight to sunny Tianjin went smoothly. Tianjin seems especially stoked for the Women’s World Cup, with tournament signage everywhere, and prior to tonight, the venue had hosted just one match so far, meaning the fans are thirsting for some more games. Tianjin played host to a sell-out crowd of 55,832 tonight that watched China advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over New Zealand.

Adora the Great!


It’s amazing we’ve gotten this far in the Women’s World Cup without thanking our wonderful team liaison / interpreter Adora Wong, WNT Blog style. Seriously, she is awesome. Not only does she speak almost perfect English (with a tint of a British accent), but the English major (who will soon enter grad school) has been a massive help to team general manager Cheryl Bailey and the entire squad in too many ways to count. She’s extremely organized, conscientious, diligent, diplomatic, humorous, and has a firm grasp on the intricacies of the Chinese culture as compared to Americans…and she’s never even been to the United States! In short, we wish she could be our liaison every time we come to China. Thanks Adora!

Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium

With no teams allowed to train on the game pitch once again, the U.S. team had a brief walk-through of the stadium today before practice, and if we thought the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium was nice, this one is absolutely spectacular. Built for the 2008 Olympics, the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium is practically brand new, having hosted just two competitive matches so far, both in the Women’s Word Cup. Holding almost 60,000, the state-of-the-art stadium is truly fantastic and something the people of Tianjin can be very proud of. It will certainly be a fitting venue for the USA-England clash.

Canine Teammate

While leaving the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium, the U.S. players befriend one of the German shepherds being used for security. If we understood the name of the dog from his handler (which we probably didn’t), his name was “Barker” which seems appropriate. Although he was thirsty, and Abby Wambach, being the animal lover that she is, indulged the dog with some refreshing water.

That's Just My Boot Bag

The USA’s training site at Tianjin Sports School is excellent. Great field, close to the hotel, and easy to control access. And before we go any further, we must say that the security around the U.S. team has been phenomenal from the moment the USA arrived in China, but today’s training was a bit overboard. Each player and staff had to walk through a metal detector (a la airport security) before entering the pitch. There were armed SWAT team guys surrounded the field looking out, away from the field, at the surrounding buildings the whole time. No doubt the local organizing committee is training for the 2008 Olympics, as Tianjin will host soccer matches for both men and women, but as far as we know, cherubic Lori Chalupny (or any of her teammates) are not a threat to the security of their own team, and probably should be let on the field without passing their a metal detector.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It’s a “Barnie”

Many of the players have hidden talents (although we’re not quite sure what they are, ‘cause they’re hidden), but goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart apparently has some artistic talent. The studio art (and psychology) major at Stanford has been spending some time sketching to pass the time in China and agreed to share one of her works with us. It’s not currently for sale, but any offers will be closely considered by Nicole. It’s a sketch of Jinli Street in Chengdu, an ancient Chinese street that was re-gentrified in 2004 and featured on the Sept. 13 of "Studio 90: China '07".

Typhoon Watch

Fortunately, the "super typhoon" that was forecasted to hit Shanghai never really did. Oh, there was rain and high winds, but the brunt of the storm hit about 240 miles to the south and wreaked havoc to the tune of $400 million in damage and major flooding. Typhoon Wipha was the most devastating typhoon to hit China in a decade and 40,000 fishing boats were forced into the harbour or out to sea. There were two million people evacuated from coastal areas, the biggest evacuation since the Communist Revolution in 1949. As of this posting, it was still raining a bit in Shanghai, but the typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm and the USA should have no problems (knock on wood) with travel tomorrow to Tianjin, which is just a two-hour flight north.

Reserves go to Gym

The players who didn't play against Nigeria (or who just played a few minutes) went to the gym in the late morning, getting in a great hour workout that included some cardio and some ball work inside a small racquetball court. The gym was in a high end mall and you would be hard-pressed to find a nicer one in Shanghai. After finishing the work out, the players did what most people do after leaving the gym following a sweaty workout - they went to Haagen-Dazs (which was also in the mall),courtesy of assistant coach Bret Hall. We heard the sorbets and the butter pecan were quite tasty.

Sparkling Stadium

We have to say, despite the rainy conditions last night against Nigeria, the Shanghai Hongkou Stadium is awesome. Did we mention that the entire outside of the stadium lights up at night? Pretty cool. Once they get the field back in shape, it will be a stadium definitely worth of a Women's World Cup final, due to its sight lines, infrastructure and amenities. Kudos to the grounds crew as they really did a great job of getting the field in playable shape despite the rain. The pitch had little impact on the match, although the rain certainly did.

One More Day in Shanghai

Due to the inclement weather brought by Typhoon Wipha, the U.S. team stayed in Shanghai and extra day and will travel to Tianjin tomorrow to prepare for the quarterfinal match against England. The day of rest may turn out tobe a boon for the USA, who got to sleep in after the 8 p.m. match the night before, and enjoy a relaxing day in Shanghai before hopping the short flight north tomorrow. Almost the entire team went out to dinner with friends and family tonight, most at a local American pub. We heard the food is pretty good.

Day Off for WNT Blog

The WNT Blog sort of took the day off yesterday. Not too much goes on during a game day anyway, and after getting back from the game late, and getting all the quotes and game story up on ussoccer.com, it was just to late for any posts. The WNT Blog will do its best to keep up in the future.

Game Changes

After moving games yesterday due to weather, FIFA moved more games today, which means all the remaining group matches will be played tomorrow, Sept. 20. Australia-Canada now will be played at 5 p.m. inChengdu and China-New Zealand will be played at 8 p.m. in Tianjin. Asannounced yesterday, Norway-Ghana will be played at 5 p.m. in Hangzhou,followed by Brazil-Denmark at 8 p.m. The best thing about the changes,it means all the matches within the particular groups will be playedsimultaneously, which is only fair.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stormy Schedule

It’s official: Typhoon Wipha is messing with the WWC schedule. FIFA has amended the match schedule due to weather (we’re pretty sure that’s unprecedented), moving two matches that were to take place on Sept. 19 (Australia-Canada and Norway-Ghana) to Sept. 20. The USA’s Group B match tonight at 8 p.m. local in Shanghai and the Sweden-North Korea 8 p.m. match in Tianjin were not changed, but the amendments to the schedule means two matches will be played on Thursday, Sept. 20 instead of Wednesday., giving one less rest day to some of the teams in Groups C and D before their quarterfinal matches on Sept. 23.

More details are on ussoccer.com's news release on this subject.

Typhoon Time

So ... it’s raining in Shanghai. Hard. The beginning of Typhoon Wipha has hit and it’s been rainy steadily since the U.S. players got up this morning. It’s dark, dank and wet outside for sure. The rain has been hard at times, lighter at others, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon, meaning the USA Nigeria game will be played in conditions never seen before in a U.S. Women’s World Cup match, and probably in any match. For a report on the weather, and other WNT news, check out Studio 90 News on ussoccer.com, but before you do that, grab a raincoat, as it could be a wet one.

P.S.: The TV signal keeps going out in the hotel rooms. This is a bad storm.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Typhoon Wipha, Uh-Oh

Checking the weather report, there is a 100% chance of rain in the afternoon tomorrow in Shangahi. The evening? Yeah, 100% chance of rain. The 13th typhoon of the season – Typhoon Wipha -- is set to hit Shanghai tomorrow at some point. We’re talking massive rain, high winds, drops in temperature and all sorts of Mother Nature’s mischief that is sure to impact the USA’s match against Nigeria in any number of ways. The field is already pretty chopped up at the Shanghai Hongkou Stadium and the work that those poor fans were doing, drying out the field when the USA did its walkthrough the other day, may have been moot. Note to the USA Equipment Managers: get out the rain gear.

Kudos to Japan

Hats off to Japan. While they are going home after a 2-0 loss to Germany in their final Group A match, they pulled off two dramatic ties with stoppage time goals and then held the powerful Germans to two goals off set plays, including a late penalty kick. Meanwhile, England was stomping on the poor Argentines, 6-1, as star Kelly Smith scored twice and England got two penalty kicks. Germany wins Group A and will play the second place team in Group B. England finishes second in Group A and will play the Group B winner. If the USA goes through to the quarterfinals after tomorrow’s game vs. Nigeria, either one of the opponents will make for one of the best second round matches of the tournament.

Italian Food

The U.S. team went “out” tonight for a special Italian dinner. Ok, they actually walked about 40 yards from their regular meal room to the Italian restaurant in the team hotel, but at least it was a bit of a change of venue and menu and its nice to be able to hop in the elevator and be in your room in 60 seconds when the food comma hits from too much pasta. The WNT Blog says the fished looked pretty good as well.

Studio 90: Cat Time

The Studio 90: China ’07 crew also filed a segment with Cat Whitehill that featured the show’s first-ever studio audience. It wasn’t large, but it was vocal. Keep checking back for the Cat’s interview and her pursuit of perfection on the always popular Back Four Quiz.

Studio 90: Wisconsin ‘07

Did you know that U.S. midfielder Leslie Osborne is from Wisconsin, Studio 90 host Neil Buethe is from Wisconsin, team general manager Cheryl Bailey worked at the University of Wisconsin for years as an associate A.D., U.S. head coach Greg Ryan coached the Badgers women’s soccer team for years, U.S. defender Kate Markgraf currently lives in Wisconsin and forward Lindsay Tarpley was born in Wisconsin? Well, Neil Buethe certainly knew that (we sort of couldn’t get him to shut up about it) and it was one of the points he touched on while talking to Leslie in the latest edition of Studio 90: China ’07. Go to ussoccer.com to also hear the U.S. players talk about the Nigeria game as well as see a special feature on the USA’s Hawaiian striker Natasha Kai.

Talking Nigeria

You could tell by listening to the player interviews in the last few days that there is great respect for Nigeria. It is certainly warranted. Even though they have not won a game, the Super Falcons are having arguably their best-ever Women’s World Cup run besides 1999 when they won two group games and made the quarterfinals, only to fall to Brazil 4-3 in overtime. You have to understand, they didn’t score a goal in 1991, scored five in 1995, but could only get one point from a tie with Canada, and then in 2003, crashed out without scoring a goal again. In 2007, they have competed pretty well with two of the best teams in world and you know they are relishing another shot at the USA. The media following the U.S. team got the chance to speak with defender Tina Ellertson today. Tina hasn’t played in the tournament yet, but she’s got a very unique story in that her mom was born in Nigeria, her dad was born in Ghana, and the African culture is still very much entrenched in her family. Please note that Tina grew up in Washington state and bleeds red, white and blue (not Nigerian’s color of green, which would be weird anyway, she’s not a Vulcan), but the match will hold a special place in her heart, something she knew the day the draw was announced and the Super Falcons were paired with the USA.

Rylie Hamm

Apparently, Rylie Rampone, the two-year-old daughter of Christie Rampone is causing quite a stir in China. In fact, the attention she gets when she goes out for walks with her mom and dad, or at the stadiums to “watch” the games, has been so intense that her dad Chris has said she’s not only more popular than her mom, but “more popular than Mia Hamm.” The frenzy has been remarkable. I mean, we are talking a super cute kid here, but we think it’s just that the Chinese don’t see many adorable little blond baby girls with curly hair, chubby cheeks and a penchant for posing for pictures. We are not kidding you when we say she gets mobbed for pictures on the streets at the level that the Chinese media has been following Kristine Lilly. It’s getting so bad that Rylie, who was oft-photographed at the Sweden game to the point it was interrupting her dad watching the match, might need her own security detail. Either that, or a modeling contract for Chinese baby products.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Friends and Family Reception

The U.S. Friends and Family who are in China had a reception tonight at the U.S. team hotel, and while not all the parents are here yet, it was an enjoyable affair as the players and their loves ones spent about two hours hanging out in a beautifully decorated ballroom. Highlights of the evening included a few songs from Natasha Kai’s father Benny, a professional singer back in Hawaii who certainly has some golden pipes, as well as dance routine from the group of players who have been taking Hip-Hop 101 from Natasha herself. (If you saw the all_access video from the shopping excursion to Jinli Road, you got a sneak peak). Both performances finished to loud applause and it was a nice break for the players before they buckle down to focus on the Nigeria match.

Walk-through at Hongkou

While not allowed to train on the field, the U.S. got a brief walkthrough today on the game field, taking a boisterous 20 minute bus ride to the Shanghai Hongkong Football Stadium. Most of the time on the field was spent taking pictures, as they players didn’t seem too concerned with the choppy pitch that got pretty torn up during the first four matches. During the USA’s walk-through, there were about 30 fans circling the field in an attempt to dry it out. But besides the field, the stadium is spectacular. It is the smallest of the five venues, holding just 34,000, but unlike all the other stadiums, this one doesn’t have a track around it, meaning the fans are right on top of the action. The aesthetics and set-up of the stadium are also fantastic and the atmosphere should be rocking for the Nigeria game. Against North Korea, most of the fans were rooting for the Koreans. Against Sweden, the crowd seemed to be pretty split down the middle, but against Nigeria, with so many Americans living in Shanghai, hopefully the crowd will be pro-USA for this critical Group B match-up.

It’s Bumpy

Due to the condition of the field at the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium, the U.S. team (like all the countries that have played there) were not allowed a pre-game practice on the game pitch. Shanghai was just hit with too much rain at the wrong times and the field endured four matches in five days. As a result, it’s just not in very good shape. It’s bumpy, choppy and sandy, so much so that after the final two Group B matches on Tuesday, Women’s World Cup organizers will replace the entire playing surface in preparation for the 3rd Place Match and Final on Sept. 30. But hey, both teams have to play on it and hopefully with another’s day of work, it will be in more playable shape for the USA-Nigeria game.

Cat on ESPN

Cat Whitehill chatted twice with ESPN announcers Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge during Arkansas-Alabama football game this morning as she watched the game on her Slingbox from China. Whitehill, as most who follow this team know, is a monster college football fan (especially the SEC). She was also filmed watching the game on her lap top for an upcoming ESPN feature as Alabama scored a last second winning touchdown. One of Cat’s other favorite teams, the Florida Gators, won handily, making for a happy morning for the Alabama native who is managing to keep up with the season through her Slingbox, where she can see games and also highlights on SportsCenter and College Game Day. (Her other favorite team, Georgia, won later in the day). Alas, Auburn lost, and her sister Jenny, a War Eagle alum, had to get the bad news after arriving in China this afternoon.

Postcard from China: Lindsay Tarpley

Every so often during the Women’s World Cup, a U.S. Women’s National Team player will write an e-postcard, filling in the fans back home on the happenings of the team, off the field activities, and anything else on their mind. Today, soon-to-be 24-year-old Lindsay Tarpley checks in from Shanghai, China, after playing in her first-ever Women’s World Cup match against Sweden, and shares her thoughts on getting around one of the biggest cities in the world, her first Women’s World Cup and her memorable restaurant faux pau.

Click here to view today's postcard.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Deep Breath

Today was a great day of rest for the U.S. team after the big win over Sweden The departure from Chengdu wasn’t too early, there was no training, it was an easy travel day, and the team got into Shanghai in the afternoon, giving the players plenty of time to relax. With lots friends and family in town, many players chose to go out to dinner in Shanghai, before hitting the sack early as the team returns to training on Sunday. There are also some Studio 90 interviews planned for tomorrow, so keep a lookout for the new shows on ussoccer.com.

Oh Marta

Brazil pulled off a truly impressive win over China tonight, not in that they won, as the Brazilians were certainly favored, but that they scored four goals in front of 50,000 Chinese fans in Wuhan. Not an easy task. Marta continued her dazzling ways with two goals and set up another, but the Chinese goalkeeper made a huge gaff when she threw a ball right to…you guessed it…Marta! All of people! Marta took a few dribbles and passed to Cristiane for a tap-in. China is now in a bit of a predicament. Brazil is basically through with six points from two games. The Danes beat New Zealand 2-0, and like China, have three points. If Denmark (plus-one goal difference) somehow manages to upset Brazil, China (minus-three goal difference) is going to need a big win over Zealand in its last game or they are out, which would be a huge disappointment for the Chinese fans and the tournament.

Clash of the Commonwealth

Australia pulled off a great tie with Norway tonight, and both now have four points, but Norway faces the already eliminated Ghana next, meaning Canada and Australia (a 4-0 winner of the Ghana) will square off during the last Group C games for what will likely be second place in the group. Bodies are going to be flying in that one as two big, strong physical teams clash with advancement on the line.

Going Home

Argentina (Group A) and Ghana (Group C) have both been eliminated from advancement to the quarterfinals with one game left. New Zealand is basically done in Group D as well. They would have to pull a Brazil-like victory over China and hope for a Denmark upset of Brazil to advance. The real drama is in the USA’s Group B, where all four teams are still alive, although North Korea and the USA have the leg up due to goal difference.

Back to Shanghai

The U.S. team left the hotel in Chengdu at around 9:15 a.m. and was bid farewell by the great hotel staff, venue staff and security that worked with the USA during its stay. As is often the case during FIFA tournaments when changing venues, the U.S. team flew with an opponent, in this case, its next opponent in Nigeria. The interaction between the two teams was minimal, but cordial, although one player did ask Tina Ellertson (whose mother is from Nigeria) where her family hailed from. Sweden was also at the airport, but on a different flight as they are going to Tianjin to play North Korea. It’s always a bit awkward when you see the team you just beat at the airport, but the Swedes are a classy bunch (although they looked pretty tired). The travel day was a cinch compared to when the USA traveled last time from Shanghai to Chengdu (and had flight delays galore), although (shocker) the team bus did hit traffic from the Shanghai airport to its hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel, where the USA spent eight days at the beginning of the trip, the team cheered. (It is a really nice hotel).

Officer Kai

Before leaving the hotel in Chengdu, Natasha Kai got a special tour of the SWAT-team looking police vehicle that has trailed the U.S. bus everywhere it went. She got to stick her head out of the turret on top and posed for pictures with the police. We’re going to miss those SWAT guys. You definitely go the feeling that in the highly unlikely prospect anything bad went down, these dudes would have had it covered.

Battle Panda

As both the USA and Nigeria played its first two games in Chengdu, A.K.A. the Panda Capital of China, it seemed like almost every player on both teams had a stuffed animal panda of some sort when boarding the plane to Shanghai. The overhead compartments were full of pandas and there were panda heads sticking out of backpacks. One Nigerian player definitely won the panda contest when she boarded with a HUGE stuffed panda that looked to be the size of an eight-month old panda (based on knowledge gathered at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center). That panda could have had a seat of his own on the plane. We’re not sure where she put it, but that will be a fun item to bring back to Nigeria (where they have a lot of wild animals, but no pandas).

Friday, September 14, 2007

Legendary Strike

Last words on Abby Wambach’s second goal against Sweden: That was one of the best goals in U.S. Women’s World Cup history. Wow. A truly magnificent control of the flighted ball, dropped perfectly off her chest to her lethal left foot and BOOOOOOOOOM!!! One for the ages. That’s got to make SportsCenter’s Top-10 Plays of the Day, and we’re thinking #1.

Off to Shanghai

The USA heads back to Shanghai tomorrow morning, so the players were putting the finishing touches on their packing while unwinding after the great victory over Sweden. The USA will not train tomorrow – it’s just a travel day – and then will have two more days to rest and recover before facing the always tough Nigerians on Tuesday, Sept. 18 to finish Group B play. With the clutch win over Sweden, the USA is in great position to advance, but all the players know there is still much work to be done against Nigeria, which tied Sweden and lost just 2-0 to the powerful North Koreans. We are sure the players are looking forward to going back to the fantastic hotel in Shanghai for a few days, but everyone – coaches, players, staff – has thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Chengdu. The people of Chengdu, at the hotel and around the city, have been wonderful to the U.S. delegation and the team heads on in the tournament with what surely will be fond memories of the Panda Capital of China.

Cardiac Kids

How about those Japanese? First they tie England 2-2 on a 95th minute bomb of a free-kick in their first game, then they somehow manage to go 0-0 with Argentina (an 11-0 loser to Germany) for 90 minutes before scoring in stoppage time (again!) to win 1-0. The bad news for Japan: Even through they have four points, they have to play Germany now. England has just two points from two ties, but gets Argentina in the final group game. The plucky Japanese would have to pull off an epic result against the Germans, and would have to hope for a unlikely draw or win for Argentina against England, to make it through. Hey, if Argentina is still steamed enough about the 1982 Falklands Islands War, anything could happen.

Super Falcons Hang

Truth be told, the Super Falcons of Nigeria hung in there with North Korea, despite losing 2-0. Both goals came off corner kicks in the first half, the first directly off a corner kick that struck the far post and bounced in, and crafty Koreans out-shot the Nigerians by just five shots. The result means several things. First, in order to win Group B, the USA will have to beat Nigeria by more goals than North Korea beats Sweden, or just win if North Korea and Sweden tie, or tie or win if Sweden defeats North Korea. The USA would be through to the quarterfinals with a tie against Nigeria, but of course, winning the group is the goal. Second, the USA’s game against Nigeria is going to be a battle on par with the first two matches. U.S. head coach Greg Ryan has said that playing North Korea and Sweden in the first two matches was like playing a semifinal and final in the first two games of the tournament. Facing Nigeria might be like a quarterfinal. Group of Death? This could be the toughest group in the history of the Women’s World Cup.

Loose Turf

Did you watch the Germany-England game? Great result for the England women, but how about that field? There were chunks of turf flying everywhere. We hope the grounds crew at the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium can get the field in better shape over the next three days or the USA-Nigeria match could be a mud-fest.

F&F Reception

Last night, the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chengdu hosted U.S. Soccer's Friends and Family Program, Members of the Sichuan American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S Consulate in Chengdu for a spectacular evening complete with dinner, drinks and traditional Chinese entertainment. The evening kicked off with a reception and concluded with a specially prepared dinner for 50 or so guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Crowne Plaza. The Grand Ballroom was festively decorated with Chinese decor that included stuffed pandas, Chinese lamps, and a magnificent ice sculpture of the Women's World Cup trophy. Guests were served a traditional Sichuan five course meal which included such dishes as Sichuan BBQ Pork, Steamed Cod Fish fillet with Soya Sauce, Dan Dan Noodles, Iced Green Bean Paste and a selection of seasonal fresh fruits. Throughout the exceptional meal, guests were entertained by a traditional Sichuan dance show, relaxing instrumental performances and a mask changing show called bianlian. Presents of gratitude were exchanged as former U.S. Soccer President Dr. Bob Contiguglia presented Mr. Ted Durham, General Manager of The Crowne Plaza Hotel, with a special edition U.S. Women's National Team crystal, while Mr. Durham distributed stuffed pandas to all those in attendance. Food, entertainment, drinks and pandas? It doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Focoose

On the eve of a massive game against Sweden, the U.S. players are relaxed and loose, but you can certainly tell that the focus is there, perhaps a good combination to produce a positive result tomorrow. The team had its usual pre-game meeting after dinner and then the players settled down for a quiet evening, which for some players included popcorn and movies. The dominate emotion may be excitement as the team is eager to get back on the field after the draw with North Korea. Both teams know each other extremely well, having played four times since meeting in the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, so tomorrow’s match probably won’t be one of surprises, bur rather hard work and effort.

Woof

Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart has a stuffed animal dog named Woof that she brings with her on road trips. Apparently, her teammates are rejoicing in doing mean things to Woof. Tonight, they strapped him into Barnhart’s “extensionator” (a tortuous looking device that she used to help straighten her leg after knee surgery a while back) and left him in the hallway. The other day they hung him from a sprinkler head and gagged him with tape. We’re lucky Woof has a good sense of humor, as does Barnhart.

U.S. Soccer Supports Pandas

The U.S. team got a special thank you today from the Women’s World Cup local organizing committee for its visit to the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center and for U.S. Soccer’s $3,000 donation to the center. The team received a letter from Gu Jianming, the Chengdu Venue General Manager, that read in part…

“As entrusted by the Chengdu Municipal Government, the Chengdu Organizing Committee would like to express our gratitude and heartfelt wishes, and we appreciate your kind support to the giant panda protection cause. Meanwhile, we also see the great friendship between our two peoples, and will convey your donation regarding the caring and protecting of giant pandas to the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center….we hope you can send our gratefulness to all the American people who are supporting and concerned with the giant pandas. We believe that with the care and support of all the peoples in the world including our fiends in the USA, giant pandas will surely be well protected…Wish you a joyful experience in Chengdu, and the best performance in this Women’s World Cup!”

As a thank you, each U.S. player also got a stuffed animal panda (mom and baby) as well as books on giant pandas.

Forecast: Rain, Few Pandas

The U.S. Friends and Family contingent went to the Panda Reserve yesterday and unfortunately they weren’t as panda lucky as the U.S. players and staff. It was a rainy day the pandas weren’t in the mood to frolic. They were put inside by the staff at the reserve, and there was just one single solitary panda hanging out at the top of a tree. Apparently, he refused to come down out of his tree, or he would have been put inside as well. They did get to see the adorable tiny baby pandas through the glass in the panda nursery. And you know what they say…one panda is better than no pandas.

Last Training in Chengdu

The U.S. team held its final training in Chengdu, and amazingly, it didn’t rain. As usual for a practice the day before a game, it was light, with the players getting time to do whatever they needed to do to get the legs ready for Sweden. After training, the U.S. team took a picture with the SWAT team guys assigned to the team who have been following them everywhere, to and from training, on shopping trips and to the panda reserve. The first few days, the police, none of whom speak English, were stoic. At the end, they were all smiles, and each wanted a picture with Kristine Lilly. Needless to say, along with these guys being just plain intimidating to look at, they knew how to do their job and the team felt very safe everywhere they went.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WWC Heats Up

We know all the great volunteers, organizers, hotel staff and security will have an extra pep in their step tomorrow after a remarkable 3-2 victory for host China over Denmark in the opening game for both teams. China ran up a 2-0 lead, but gave up an equalizer just three minutes from time before a wonder-strike just seconds later by Song Xiaoli sent the Chinese fans into absolute delirium. Great for China, great for the tournament, but bad for Denmark, a talented team that battled gamely to tie the match only to give up a winning goal within moments.

Newsflash: Marta Scores Two

To no one’s surprise, two minnows of the WWC felt the wrath of stronger sides as Australia downed Ghana, 4-1, and Brazil rolled past New Zealand, 5-0, but had to tally in the 86th and 93rd minute for the final score line. To no one’s surprise, Brazilian star Marta, the 2006 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, scored twice. The Kiwis did well to hold the score at 1-0 at halftime, but the Brazilians were just too strong, out-shooting the islanders by 25 shots. Canada almost got an excellent result against Norway, going up 1-0 in 33rd minute, but gave up an equalizer in the 62nd and the game-winner in the 81st.

New York Noggin’

We knew Abby Wambach was tough, damn tough, but the legend grows. After getting her scalp cracked open in a collision with a North Korea defender about 10 minutes into the second half of the USA’s first Women’s World Cup match, Wambach’s head wound was gushing blood, covering her hair and her jersey. The team’s medical staff rushed her to the locker room and the team doctor put in two stitches to stop the bleeding…without any numbing medication. Wambach, who said she could hear the needle going through her skin, just wanted to get back on the field and didn’t have time for a shot. The medical staff did an excellent job of stemming the blood flow and she did a 150-yard sprint to get back to midfield before being waved back on by the referee. Wambach was forced to put back on the sweaty, wet jersey she had worn in the first half. On a rainy night, the blood in Wambach’s hair soaked down into her jersey, creating a crimson hue when the game was over. The National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., sent an email requesting the bloody garment, but alas, it had already been put in the wash. The U.S. equipment manager reports that all the blood came out as well.

Here Comes the Sun (Not)

We’ve been hoping and hoping for the sun to come out in Chengdu, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. The skies have been at times rainy, often gray and always hazy since the team touched down on Sept. 6. But hey, the players are not here on a vacation, and actually the weather for training has been quite good. Not too hot, never cold, and sometimes just a bit humid, but not nearly as oppressive as a few days in Shanghai after the team arrived. Plus, aside from a few shopping trips, some ventures out to Starbucks and visits with friends and family, the U.S. players have been quite content to relax in their rooms, conserve energy and watch a lot of DVDs. It is quite possible that Lori Chalupny will have watched every single episode of “24” ever produced before she departs China.

Listen Up

U.S. head coach Greg Ryan, forwards Abby Wambach and Heather O’Reilly, and defender Christie Rampone met with a fairly large media contingent at the U.S. hotel today during the USA’s regular daily press briefing. There were quite a few Swedish reporters there, one of whom asked Abby about what she though the Swedish players saying that she “goes to the ground a bit too easily.” Perhaps the Swedes have never heard the saying, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” and with the beating Wambach takes during games, you’d spend some time on the turf as well. Note: Wambach answered the question with class and tact. To listen to the quotes from the press conference, check the podcast on ussoccer.com and on Thursday morning check out the next episode of Studio 90: China ’07.

That’s Cold

After training, about a dozen players, mostly the starters from last night’s match decided to soak their legs in a cold swimming pool at the hotel. They didn’t know it was suitable for polar bears and penguins. Still, the icy water was great for the recovery after such a tough game against the Koreans, and once the players got used to it, a game of inner tube dodge ball broke out. If inner tube dodge ball makes it to the Olympics, the U.S. WNT could win two medals.

Rain at Training

After playing last night in rain, the U.S. started training in a light rain this morning, before it dissipated. Still, the training field was wet and soggy as the starters from the North Korea game just jogged and stretched while the reserves played a spirited small-sided game on big goals. There were some good scores in the short scrimmage, but one that didn’t go in was perhaps most exciting, as Marci Jobson whipped off a flying side-volley scissors sort of deal that flew over the crossbar.

One Fan in Germany

There’s probably not many people in Germany rooting for the U.S. Women’s National Team, but we know of at least one. Leslie Osborne was asking the other day for a Women’s World Cup TV schedule for Eurosport, sort of the ESPN of Europe. A bit of a strange request? Not if you know that her boyfriend, Kyle Bailey, is playing professional basketball in the Bundesliga for Ulm in Southern Germany. You’d think Bailey would certainly be out-numbered in any Germany sports bar if the USA is playing a European nation, but with several Americans on his hoops team, and with his likely conversion of his German teammates into U.S. fans (as long as the USA is not playing Germany), we think the support for the U.S. women in Ulm will be the best of anywhere in Germany. (Note: Osborne got the TV schedule).

Really?

Quick observation: You’d think it would be socially unacceptable to smoke in elevators? Not so in China, where a 10 floor ride can leave you gasping for air when the doors finally open.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ad for the Women’s Game

After the embarrassing German thrashing of Argentina in the opening game, the three matches on Sept. 11 proved why this may indeed the best Women’s World Cup ever. The USA-North Korea clash was one of the most exciting Women’s World Cup matches in recent memory, with both teams attacking relentlessly and piling up almost 40 shots between them! The WNT Blog is going to give North Korea the edge in possession for sure, but give the Americans the slight nod in legitimately dangerous chances. North Korea has to be one of the best teams the USA has seen in years, certainly since the Sun Wen-led China teams of the late 1990s. For those who got up early to watch in the USA, the 2-2 draw had to be as good as a shot of espresso.

Svensson Is Good

How about the Sweden-Nigeria game? The favored Swedes got all they could handle from the Super Falcons, who dominated the last 20 minutes. But you know what they say about Swedish forward Victoria Svensson? You can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her. She got her country’s goal, and she tattooed the crossbar on another of her efforts. But give it up for Cynthia Uwak, whose well-taken equalizer gave Nigeria a deserved draw. Both teams had 14 shots. Sweden has yet to win an opening game in five Women’s World Cups, but this is the first time they didn’t lose, after dropping four straight openers.

Bend it Like Miyama?

Japanese forward Aya Miyama put on a free kick clinic against England, scoring first on a free kick off a deflection from the wall and then, amazingly, hitting an absolute last gasp thunder-strike five minutes into second-half stoppage time. Five minutes! In between, England star Kelly Smith scored on two solo efforts, showing why she is widely hailed as one of the top players in the world. After scoring her first goal with her left foot, she took off her left boot and held it aloft, kissing it a few times. After scoring her second with her right, she took off both shoes and teammate Karen Carney held her right cleat in the air. FIFA may not like her celebrations, but the WNT Blog certainly did.

Abby’s Hard Head

Yeah, there was a lot of blood, but that’s what happens with head wounds. Just so you know, Abby is fine, although her jersey probably won’t come clean after that plasma soaking. She got a few stitches during the game and may need more tonight, but as fans of the WNT know, a knock on the head and gushing blood isn’t going to stop this U.S. forward.

Group of Death

As the two games in Group B were both draws, the “Group of Death” just got very interesting as each team now has one point heading in the second day of matches on Sept. 14. The USA and North Korea each have two goals scored, giving them the slight edge, but the ties sure do make the next group of matches extremely exciting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Twas the Night

Twas the night before the Cup, and throughout the team floor,
Not a creature was stirring, not even number 4 (Cat Whitehill).
The cleats and the shin guards were laid out with care,
In hopes that soon the first WWC game would be there.

The players were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of goals danced in their heads,
Tomorrow, North Korea, and the start of the quest,
The U.S. team, and its goal, of being the best.

White, White, White

The USA will wear white jerseys, white shorts and white socks in its opening match of the Women’s World Cup against North Korea. The U.S. goalkeepers will wear green jerseys. North Korea will come decked out in all red, making for a nice contrast for the fans in the stands and the TV viewers at home. A crowd of about 30,000 is expected at the Chengdu Sports Center Stadium.

Game Nails

A Women’s World Cup (and Olympic) tradition resumed tonight as most of the players got together to paint their own (and each other’s) finger and toe nails in various combinations of red, white and blue. While you won’t see the toe nails as they will be tucked inside a pair of favorite boots, if ESPN shows some super slo-mo close ups, look for the colors of the flag on the players nails.

Braid Master

Christie Rampone also started braiding Angela Hucles’ hair, and it look to be a long process, but Hucles’ ‘do should be sharp and ready by game time.

Gifts from Friends

Leslie Osborne and Marci Miller went shopping during the afternoon at an arts and crafts store (yes, they have arts and craft stores in China) and returned with bracelets for each of their teammates, adorned with beads and their jersey number. Just one of the many ways the U.S. team has shown their chemistry and solidarity in the lead up to the tournament.

Friends and Family Arrive

Several U.S. players got a treat today as a few of the friends and family arrived in Chengdu and came over to the hotel to visit with their players. We saw the Wambachs, who as usual were dispensing big hugs. We also saw the Kai family, with two of Natasha’s younger brothers in tow. Kate Markgraf’s parents, the Sobreros, were also there and Shannon Boxx’ mom came a bit later as her flight to China was delayed. More and more friends and family will be arriving in the coming days with the total number soaring over 100 at some points during the tournament. They may not be the biggest group of fans, but we are sure they will be the loudest.

Let the Games Begin

The U.S. team held its final practice before the opening of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and it was a high-spirited if light affair, lasting just an hour and 15 minutes, counting warm-down. At the end of training, the U.S. team played a game where they form a big circle and toss a soccer ball in the air. Each player on the team has to touch it once with their feet or head, keeping it up in the air until all 21 players have touched the ball. A good omen? The team got it on the first try, with goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart getting the last touch to rousing applause.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Chengdu Hair and Nail Salon

The WNT Blog heard rumors that several of the U.S. players might be preparing some unique hairstyles for the first Women’s World Cup match. We’re not quite sure what they’ve got planned or when it will happen, but the word “braids” was being bandied about quite a bit. The players do plan on getting together the night before the game for a nail painting party. It sort of a tradition on the U.S. Women’s National Team for the players to paint their nails some combination of red, white and blue before a World Cup or Olympics. You probably won’t be able to see the colorful nails on TV, but it’s pretty patriotic for sure.

Scrabble Babble

Apparently, U.S. midfielder Marci Jobson and goalkeeper Nicole Banhart engaged in a mean game of Scrabble tonight. You’d think Jobson (SMU graduate) would be outgunned by Barnhart (Stanford graduate), but that was not the case. They split games. Still, Jobson was accused of perhaps “bending” the rules a bit. She tried to pass off Jettie as a word (correct spelling Jetty, as in a word applied to a variety of structures employed in river, dock and maritime works) but Barnhart wasn’t buying it. Barnhart nailed some good words, using “quod” (a quadrangle or court, as of a prison) and “dozer” (another word for bulldozer) to defeat Jobson by just three points.

Note: this picture doesn’t go with this posting, but we just can’t get enough pandas.

First Look at CSCS

The U.S. team held its official training today at the Chengdu Sports Center Stadium, where it will take on North Korea on Sept. 11 (live on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. ET), to open the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. (Each country is allowed one stadium training at each venue in which it will play). There is a different sort of feeling when a team first walks into a stadium that will host its World Cup match. The field is green and perfect, and the white lines are vibrant. The benches are set up, all the stadium signage is up, the media tribune and mixed zones are ready and there are hundreds of volunteers, police and FIFA officials buzzing around the stadium. In short, the venue is ready to host matches of the Women’s World Cup and the enormity and excitement of the games comes into full focus. The U.S. team warmed up for 15 minutes on the track, trained for 45 minutes on the pitch, then warmed down for another 15 minutes on the track, hit the mixed zone for some interviews, mostly with the American media contingent in China, boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel for a relaxing evening.

Official Press Conference

U.S. head coach Greg Ryan and forward Kristine Lilly attended a press conference in the official FIFA press conference room before the USA’s stadium training this afternoon, meeting with a large gathering of media to answer questions about the upcoming match against North Korea, the USA’s preparations for the Women’s World Cup and the team’s visit to the panda breeding center, among other topics. Ryan and Lilly got some of the usual questions they have heard over and over since touching down in China, but as always, handled the inquiries with insight and some humor. Suffice it to say, they are ready to stop talking about North Korea and actually play them.

SI on the Bus

On the bus ride back to the hotel after training, the U.S. players were handed a few issues of the Sept. 10 Sports Illustrated with Appalachian State on the cover (for those of us who can’t watch college football in China, how the heck did they beat Michigan?). They were brought to China by SI writer Mark Bechtel (which was very nice of him). On page 60 is an excellent three-page article by Bechtel on U.S. captain Kristine Lilly (with one page a big photo). The players thoroughly enjoyed reading the piece, titled In Full Bloom (Full Bloom as in Lilly, also a flower, 36-years-old, mature but at the peak of her powers, still going strong, get it?). In fact Abby Wambach read it out loud during the bus ride back for a group in the middle of the bus. The sub-headline reads “Long Overshadowed, 36-year-old Kristine Lilly is now the high-scoring captain of the U.S. team out to win its – and her – third World Cup title.” Pretty cool. The WNT Blog says: Grab a copy at the newsstand if you get the chance.

Back to Jinli Street

After Kristine Lilly had great things to say about Jinli Street, where she went with the ESPN crew last Friday to shoot her interview that will air during Monday Night Football on Sept. 10, about a dozen players went back to the bustling, but quaint and ancient street today for about an hour of shopping and sight-seeing. The U.S. players caused a bit of a stir when the bus pulled up to the entrance of the street. Maybe it was the police escort with lights flashing? Maybe it was SWAT team vehicle that pulled up behind the bus? Maybe it was the six heavily armed Chinese SWAT team guys in black body armor carrying automatic weapons that followed the team onto the street? Or maybe it was Natasha Kai’s hair? (Which can be loosely described as Richard Simmons meets Krusty the Clown). But what it probably was, was the gaggle of photographers and cameramen who were waiting to snap pictures and get video of the U.S. team strolling through one of Chengdu’s most popular and historic marketplaces. Needless to say, after seeing the pandas yesterday (stayed tuned to ussoccer.com for a video on the visit soon), the U.S. team has been an extremely popular photo op for the Chengdu media.

Shopping Success

The U.S. players definitely got the celebrity treatment from the media and Chinese onlookers as they shopped for souvenirs, watched a guy make artistic animals out of melted sugar, got coffee drinks at Starbucks (we’re pretty sure that wasn’t there during the Qin Dynasty when the street first became a center of commerce), fed the koi fish in the big pond and looked at, but did not sample, the large selection of food and snacks. (Turns out even Jinli Street has a Food Court). There was even a shop where women were spinning silk from live silk worms. You don’t get that at the Mall of Americas. Several players took a shot (literally) at a carnival-like game where they fired small wooden arrows with imitation ancient crossbows (mounted on a platform so they couldn’t swivel, thank goodness) at targets made of straw. It looked sort of dangerous to be honest. And you know what they say…it’s all fun and games until someone gets a small wooden arrow shot from an ancient crossbow stuck in their arm. Shannon Boxx proved quite the good shot. The players did purchase some pretty cool stuff. Aly Wagner got a bracelet of wooden beads that signifies security and good luck and numerous players bought jewelry, pendants with Chinese characters and other Chinese-themed knick-knacks.

Hip-Hop 101 Comes to Jingli

As the team was leaving, they decided to give one last show for the big crowd that had gathered in the main open area of Jinli Street, busting out with a hip-hop dance routine they have been working on with “instructor” Natasha Kai. With the crowd forming a circle, a la the street performers at 3rd Street in Santa Monica (apologies to those who haven’t been there), the team rocked its routine, made even more impressive by the fact that there was no music. After performing some moves which no doubt have never been seen before on Jinli Street, the players got a big round of applause, waved and bowed to acknowledge the crowd, and then headed to bus to go have lunch back at the hotel.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Presidential Plaudit

The members of the U.S. Women’s World Cup Team were each given a copy of a very special note today, on White House stationary. It said:

To the members of the U.S. Women’s National Team:

I send greetings as you prepare for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. America is proud of your commitment to excellence and your determination to give your best in representing your country. Your hard work has earned you a chance to compete against other nations’ best players, and your dedication and passion for your sport reflect the great spirit of our Nation.

Laura and I wish all the best in your efforts. Good luck on the field.

George Bush

Panda-rific!

As promised in yesterday’s Blog, there was “Pandamonium” in the U.S. camp today. After training in the late morning, the U.S. team returned to the hotel, had lunch, and then boarded the bus for Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center, located not far from downtown where the team is based. Rarely has a team excursion generated as much excitement among the players, especially Leslie Osborne, as saying she loves pandas is a bit of an understatement. She LOVES pandas. (Perhaps, even more so than cheese, which is saying a lot about the Wisconsin native). And what’s not to love? They are adorable, ancient, mythical, cuddly, furry, playful and very, very rare. The U.S. team stopped first at Panda Kindergarten enclosure, where eight one-year-old pandas wrestled, climbed and generally made like kindergarteners, just yards from the players. The U.S. players then got to actually pet a live panda! There are few places in the world where you can do that, but every one of the players came out feeling thrilled to have had the experience. Then it was onto the panda nursery where some of the most precious little pandas you could possibly imagine were sleeping. We don’t have any pics as photography was not allowed, but trust us when we say, “isn’t that the cutest whittle panda wanda in the world!” They had a one-month old panda and few that were even younger. In the wild, Pandas can often have twins, but a mom can only take care of one, so the other often dies. Not at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center. They take the twin and raise it to adulthood. There are 68 pandas at the Center and only about 1,600 left in the wild. Pandas weigh just a few ounces at birth, but males reach 250 pounds and females 220. Those are big bears. As much as Osborne wanted to take one home, she’ll have to be satisfied with the stuffed animal baby panda that she bought and hugged for most of the bus ride back. I think we’ve answered the question posed by Jim Halpert (while imitating Dwight Schrute) on NBC’s “The Office” when he asked, “Which bears are best?” Well, panda bears of course.

Singing the “Chups” Songs

One of the favorite bus ride pastimes of the U.S. Women’s National Team is singing popular songs, but somehow inserting Lori Chalupny’s nickname, “Chups” (pronounced Choops) into the song. It’s sort of difficult to describe (you really do gotta be there), but it’s becoming a tradition, and trust us, it’s pretty funny. Well, maybe not to Lori, but to everyone else.

Some examples:
Salt N Peppa’s “Shoop” is “Chup, Chup-a loop, Chup-a-loop.”
Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is “Big Chups Don’t Cry”
Kelis’s “Milkshake” is “My Chupshake brings all the boys to the yard”
Coolio’s Gangster Paradise is “Been spending most our lives living in a Chupa paradise.”
Destiny’s Child’s “Bootilicious” is “My body’s too chupalicious for you babe.”

This could possibly start a new karaoke craze. When asked by her teammates to demonstrate her “Chupshake” on the bus, Chalupny replied that she would have, but she didn’t have enough room in aisle.

72 Hours to Kick

The U.S. team will hold its one allowed stadium training tomorrow, Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Chengdu Sports Center Stadium, site of the USA’s first two games. You know that the beginning of the Women’s World Cup is close when the team steps onto the game pitch. The U.S. team usually holds its stadium training the day before the match, but will get one last run in at the Chengdu Institute of Information Technology on Monday, Sept. 10, before opening the tournament the next day against North Korea. U.S. head coach Greg Ryan and Kristine Lilly will attend a press conference at the stadium before training tomorrow. The stadium holds just under 39,000 fans and refurbishments were completed in November of 2005.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Pandamonium!

We should have saved this headline until after the U.S. team visited with the pandas, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Tomorrow the U.S. team is scheduled to go and see the giant pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center. The very rare and globally adored animals are a Chinese national treasure and are only found in the Sichuan (where Chengdu is located), Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Although it is a bit expensive, apparently, you can pet a giant panda, one of the few places in the world where a someone who is not a panda researcher can do so. U.S. midfielder Leslie Osborne has her heart set on holding a baby panda. If you too are a panda-lover, make sure to check ussoccer.com in the coming days for what is sure to be plenty of panda pics and panda videos.

Happy Birthday to Briana

September 7 marked the 36th birthday of U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry. While Bri was getting warm birthday wishes from her teammates throughout the day, it seemed to catch her a bit by surprise when the lights suddenly snapped off in the meal room during dinner and the hotel staff wheeled in a big cake with chocolate writing that said: “Happy Birthday Briana Collette Scurry!” The U.S. legend, who is at her fourth Women’s World Cup, second most on the team behind Kristine Lilly, was then serenaded with a particularly rousing rendition of the Happy Birthday song, blew out the few candles (definitely not 36 on there) and proceeded to cut cake for her teammates. Best of Birthdays to Bri from the Blog!

Lilly on MNF

U.S. captain Kristine Lilly took a short excursion to the historic Jinli Street in Chengdu today to shoot an interview for ESPN. It is scheduled to air at halftime of the second of two Monday Night Football games on Sept. 10, featuring Arizona at San Francisco, about nine hours before the USA kicks off its Women’s World Cup against North Korea in Chengdu. Dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC), in ancient times Jinli Street was one of the busiest commercial boulevards in the Kingdom of Shu. Renovations on the street were completed in 2004 and it has managed to retain iconic old China mixed with vibrant new shops, restaurants and vendor kiosks.

Koi Love Lilly

One of the most popular features of Jinli Street is a large pond filled with massive and colorful koi fish. For two yuan (about a quarter) you can buy a small bag of fish food and feed the koi, who aggressively swarm to the edge of the pond and wiggle over each other in their attempts to gulp a tasty fish pellet. Lilly had the rapt attention of a huge gathering of koi fish, until she ran out of food.

Laws of the Game

The U.S. team had an hour meeting with FIFA referee instructor Sandra Hunt, an American who was in the middle for many domestic U.S. Women’s National Team matches over the years. The always entertaining Hunt showed a detailed power point presentation on what to expect from the applications of the Laws of the Game in this tournament, as well as showing video clips of various scenarios in matches. The presentation was interesting, educational and certainly pertinent, as refereeing always plays a big role in FIFA tournaments. The all female FIFA referees for this tournament have undergone a rigorous three-year process to make it to China and the quality should be good. Here’s hoping that opposing teams are not allowed to chop at Abby Wambach like a lumberjack taking down an oak tree.

Swiss Whistle

The referee assignments have been made for the first eight matches of the tournament and Australian Tammy Ogston will officiate the opening game of the tournament on September 10 featuring Germany and Argentina. It will be the third Women’s World Cup for Ogston. Nicole Petignat of Switzerland will handle the U.S. game vs. North Korea in Chengdu. Astute women’s soccer fans will know her name. She officiated the historic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final and is widely considered one of the top few female referees in the world.

New Training Site

The U.S. team trained for the first time in Chengdu today, at the Chengdu Institute of Information Technology. The training facility, which is a small stadium on the modern and new campus, was outstanding. There is an excellent pitch, entrances for media and players, 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup banners hung about, and the some scenic view of trees and well manicured gardens. The only problem was the goals. Seriously, these things must have weighed 700 pounds each. That U.S. team has seen some solid steel goal posts in its time, but these things must have been cut from girders used to build the massive skyscrapers in Shanghai. These goals gave “portable” a whole new meaning. It took the entire U.S. support staff…coaches, equipment managers, athletic trainers, doctors and press officers to move those behemoths safely on and off the field. If King Kong needs some push-up bars, we know were he can find them.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chocolate Thieves

The only real casualty of the flight delay at the Shanghai airport was a gourmet chocolate bar belonging to Aly Wagner. With her hungry teammates trolling for snacks, Wagner offered up a morsel of her organic Endangered Specials dark chocolate bar, only to see it quickly commandeered and then devoured. It was the only one she’d brought to China and she’d been allowing herself one small pieces a day. Disappointed to lose her scrumptious snack, Wagner rallied with a bag of chocolate covered Himalayan Goji Berries. While she understandably wasn’t as forthcoming with her Goji Berries, she did share a few, and we must say they were delicious.