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


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


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 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.

No Panda Sightings Yet

Did we mention that Chengdu is the Panda Capital of China? The fabulously popular Giant Pandas are among the most endangered animals in the world. There are only about 1,600 left in the wild, but more than 160 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, and the Chengdu area has several of those breeding centers. A few of the U.S. players are hoping for a visit to see the Pandas, but a busy schedule before the first match may not allow it. Still, word from the Wolong Panda Reserve in the east of Mt. Qionglai is that the Pandas will be cheering for the U.S. team, unless the USA plays China of course.

Lost in Translation

Several players did brief interviews with members of the large media turnout on the way to the team bus at the Chengdu airport. Defender Marian Dalmy was extremely diplomatic when asked about the weather in Chendgu, which was much cooler than Shanghai, but still rainy. Here is an almost verbatim transcript.

Reporter (yelling): “What do you think of the weather in Chengdu?”
Dalmy: “It’s refreshing.”
Reporter: “Fresh?”
Dalmy: “Refreshing.”
Reporter: “Fresh?”
Dalmy, realizing she wasn’t going to be able to explain it: “Bye, thanks!”

Sticky Window

U.S. team videographer Noelle Jouglet was having trouble lowering her window shade as the USA’s plane was sitting at the gate in Shanghai, which was much needed, as the sun shining into the plane was making it even hotter. Team doctor Chris Amann, being a gallant gentleman, tried to force it down for her, but being a sort of large, muscled guy, he actually pulled the plastic window frame straight out of the moorings. But at least the window flap was now down. Jouglet sort of propped the plastic frame and shade perilously in the opening, which was fine until plane finally taxied out (with people still standing in the aisles by the way) and the flight attendant asked her to raise the shade for take-off. Jouglet pulled the entire contraption out of the window and handed it to the stunned flight attendant, who ran down the aisle to get help as the plane continued to head for the runway. A man quickly returned and had slotted the shade into the frame, enabling Jouglet to just pop it back in, avoiding perhaps one the most embarrassing pilot announcements ever heard. “Hi folks, we need to taxi back to the gate here…Apparently, one of the members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team staff ripped out a window. We apologize for the inconvenience. It will be another hour while get a replacement part.”

Lilly Frenzy

The U.S. team got its first real taste of World Cup atmosphere at the airport in Chengdu as they were met by a frenzied group of media, photographers, cameramen, and fans, as well as a phalanx of heavily armed SWAT team type guys. The U.S. team has likely not seen a media frenzy like this since the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and several times media members and fans had to be pushed back to allow the team to get to its bus. Captain Kristine Lilly, who played in the 1991 Women’s World Cup in China, accommodated the media hordes with a brief press conference outside the team bus before the squad got on the road to the hotel. Ladies and gentlemen, now it feels like a World Cup.

Travel Day

Today was the first travel day of the Women’s World cup for the U.S. team, as they departed their base of Shanghai for Chengdu, boarding a late afternoon flight for the city of 10 million in central China. The first part of the trip was smooth sailing for the team, as they were handed their passports and tickets, led briskly through the airport and then breezed through security and into the gate area. Then they got on the plane. Due to some air traffic issues, the fully packed plane sat on the tarmac for at least an hour, giving the U.S. players an idea of what it must be like for a sardine inside a tin on a hot summer day. Still, as always, the players made the best of it and once the plane got in the air (even though it was quite a bumpy flight), the AC kicked in, making the three hour trip semi-comfortable to what most Chinese call Western China, but it’s really closer to the geographic center of the country. The U.S. players were a bit disappointed when they landed to see rain and grey skies in Chengdu. When they left Shanghai, the sun was out after a week of on-and-off drizzling rain.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

On to Chengdu

After one last training in Shanghai (although the team will return here for its final Group B game), the U.S. team spent the evening packing up and getting ready to move to Chengdu, which will host the USA’s first two matches of the tournament. Almost all the players chose to go out to dinner tonight, in what will be one of the last nights of the tournament that won’t include team meetings or rest in preparation for matches. The team will definitely miss its hotel and hotel staff in Shanghai, one of the nicest hotels and some of nicest people the team has encountered in its travels, but hopefully will return with a nice helping of points from its first two matches. We’re not sure if the players will miss this, but the WNT Blog will also miss the largest crystal staircase in the world. It spirals up three floors from the lobby into the atrium, and changes colors every night starting at 5 p.m. It’s hard to describe, but it looks like something out of a Disney movie.

First Day of School

U.S. defender Tina Ellertson is getting a call tonight from her six-year-old daughter MacKenzie, who will be on her way to her first day of first grade. Does it get any cuter than that? While Ellertson is sad to miss such a momentous occasion, her husband Brad is making sure everything is being videotaped so she can watch it when she gets back home. Several of the U.S. players were giving advice to Ellertson on the advice she should give to MacKenzie. Among the better nuggets of wisdom:

  • “Sit in the front of class.”
  • “It’s okay to play sports with the boys at recess.”
  • “Use a pencil, not a pen.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to raise your hand.” (Knowing MacKenzie, this won’t be a problem).

We might add: “Make sure you tell your teacher to check or she might not believe you are going to China in a few weeks.”

Tina and Chalups

Tina Ellertson and Lori Chalupny have been rooming together the whole time in Shanghai, and as the players will change roommates for the Chengdu leg of this tournament, they both admit they will shed a few tears to be parting. The two have been doing a lot of hanging out in their room, averaging three hours of “24” a night. They both decided they must put at least an hour of relaxation time after watching an episode “24” and before going to bed because they are too pumped up from watching Jack Bauer to get to sleep. They have vowed that no matter who they room with in Chengdu that they’ll get together for some quality time to watch “24” in the evenings.

The USA’s Super Falcon

Tina Ellertson did an interview with today and the main topic was her Nigerian heritage. The daughter of a Ghanaian father and Nigerian mother, both of whom immigrated to the USA to attend college, Ellertson (maiden name: Frimpong) is a combination of Africa’s two best women’s soccer nations. Should she get to play against Nigeria (nickname: The Super Falcons) in the USA’s third Group B match, it will be a very special game for her, as her mother Eka made sure she was exposed to Nigerian customs, culture and food when she was growing up.

Gear Up

When you roll out of bed early to catch the USA’s Women’s World Cup matches live, wouldn’t it be cool to pull on an authentic U.S. WNT jersey and stand with hand over heart (and U.S. Soccer crest) along with the U.S. players when the National Anthem is played all the way in China? Now, if you are doing this by yourself in your living room in the wee morning hours when other are sleeping, well…then YOU ARE AWESOME! But to do that, you’ll need the jersey. Get yours, and lots of other cool U.S. Soccer gear, at…then start singing. “O say, can you see…!”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hip-Hop 101

Natasha Kai continued her Hip-Hip 101 dance lessons in the players’ lounge today after dinner. Needless to say, the forward from the North Shore of Hawaii can bring it on the dance floor. She has been working on several routines with the U.S. players this year, which are usually busted out in the locker room before games. Some of her best students are Christie Rampone and Shannon Boxx, but suffice it to say, if this team wasn’t playing soccer all the time…well, can you say “Nelly video?”

Pearls, Pearls, Pearls

After lunch, it was time for the first real team shopping outing of the trip. On the agenda: pearls. Carli Lloyd spoke so highly of her pearl quest a few days ago that the rest of the team had to partake…and partake they did. Note to shoppers in Shanghai: There are still pearls left here, but it would be wise to go shopping before the U.S. team hits the mall again. Lloyd brought back an even bigger haul than the last time and the dozen or so players sort of overwhelmed the sales ladies in the small shop, but we are sure it was worth it as they had a very good day of business. People in China have been collecting, growing, and harvesting pearls for over two thousand years, meaning these pearls have some history and quality to them for sure.

One Week to Go

Guess What? The USA kicks off the FIFA Women’s World Cup in one week, that’s seven days, 168 hours. And it can’t come too soon. The team is fit, the players are sharp and finely tuned, the jet lag is almost gone and for gosh sakes let’s get this thing going! The USA will travel to Chengdu, site of its first two WWC games, on Thursday, Sept. 6, and that will be a sign that the start of the tournament is very near. Did we mention that every match of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be shown live on ESPN or ESPN2? Check for the complete TV schedule.

Rainy Tuesday

It rained today at training, again. And again, no one seemed to mind. In fact, it was one of sharpest practices the U.S. team has had so far in China. The forwards and attacking midfielders did a lot of finishing and there was a bushel of crackerjack goals. The defenders and defensive midfielders did a lot of…well…defending. The team came together for a 20-minute scrimmage at the end of training and once again, Heather O’Reilly scored the lone goal, showing her opportunistic side by running under a loose ball in the penalty area and finishing from close range. A group of 15-year-old boys from the Shenhua FC club where the USA is training came out to play-in with the squad and did a fine job. U.S. asst. coach Bret Hall used the team’s liaison and translator to give instructions to the boys, who proved very good at following them. The poor lads were a bit knackered at the end of training after getting run around by the U.S. women, but they proved perfect opponents…fast, skillful and in no way looking to lay down any dangerous tackles on the U.S. players so close to the start of the Women’s World Cup.

Shanghai to Scranton

The USA has about a 20-30 minute drive to training every day, depending on traffic (and in Shanghai, “depending on traffic” is a major variable). Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and forward Heather O’Reilly used the ride today to watch an episode of the “The Office,” which synched almost perfectly with the drive. (O’Reilly has been powering through Season 2 this whole week on the drive to training). Barnhart is from Gilbertsville, Pa., only 75 miles from Dunder-Mifflin’s office in Scranton meaning she may stop by and visit Jim, Dwight, Pam and Michael when she gets home after the Women’s World Cup. Wait a minute…ok, someone just told us that Dunder-Miffling is not a real business, but just a TV show and those are just “characters.” Too bad…we were looking forward to hanging with Dwight at the beet farm.

New Roommates for Marci

Luckily Marci Jobson is one of the most easy-going, fun-loving players on the Women’s World Cup Team, because the pranks that were pulled on her this week didn’t faze her. Culprits that will go unnamed put the giant, yellow plastic free-kick wall men in her bed one day and covered them in blankets. The day before, they put about 50 empty water bottles under her sheets and in her pillow case. (At least the players are staying hydrated). If Marci is plotting her revenge, she’s not saying, but for those guilty, and you know who you are, it would be wise to check under the covers before plopping down after a hard training.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Studio 90 is Coming

U.S. Soccer’s video crew is getting ramped up in China and that could only mean one thing…Studio 90: China ’07 is almost ready to roll. U.S. Soccer videographers have been shooting footage and interviews since the team arrived, and shot the heck out of the squad prior to leaving the USA, which means fans will be treated to some entertaining video when extended coverage kicks off next week. For several warm up videos before Studio 90: China ’07 gets going, log onto all_access video on

Bingo Night!

Did we mention that there is a lot of downtime to kill in China? To pass some of that time, general manger Cheryl Bailey and assistant coach Billy McNicol organized a game of bingo…with big stakes on the line. The total pot for three rounds contributed by the players? $80. The creative bingo cards featured spaces filled in with the players hotel aliases, their first names, their jersey numbers, the teams in the Women’s World Cup and the players’ hometowns. McNicol was stellar in his role as Bingo master, calling out the numbers, although some players asked for translation on several calls due to his thick Scottish accent. Nicole Barnhart won the first Bingo, followed by Marci Jobson. Each collected $20. Then Hope Solo cashed in the biggest prize of the night, winning the third Bingo and the $40 cash money that went along with it. Jobson actually didn’t win the entire $20. Sitting next to Marian Dalmy, she noticed that the young defender almost had several Bingos, and decided to form an alliance, shaking on a deal that if either won, they would split the prize. Two calls later, Jobson had Bingo, and was forced to fork over $10 to Dalmy.


First there was a field full of frogs, then air filled with dragon flies, and now it seems that a new plague has fallen upon the USA’s training facility in Shanghai. Well, Cat Whitehill saw one praying mantis. Okay, so it’s not on the same level as the other creatures that invaded and inundated the USA’s practices, but it is a pretty cool bug to look at. Whitehill made sure not to harm it (Said Cat: “First I thought it was just an extra-large grasshopper.”) and apparently it hopped on its way out of danger of stomping cleats and flying soccer balls. Speaking of training today, it was one of the coolest days (temperature-cool, not Fonzie-cool) since the USA arrived, perhaps the reason that nary a frog or fly was to be seen. Well, the goalkeepers did spot one very sorry looking frog, but they could not determine if it was dead or alive. The team scrimmaged again today and it was pretty intense. No doubt the players are hankering to kick someone else besides each other. Once again, Heather O’Reilly scored the lone goal in the 20-plus minute game. That kid is just plain fast.

Banner Day

On the way to training, the U.S. players noticed that banners advertising the FIFA Women’s World Cup have been put up on the light posts, and there are also several billboards around the city. The buzz for the tournament is beginning to pick up here in Shanghai, although the U.S. team will be leaving in three days for Chengdu, where it will open the tournament on Sept. 11 vs. North Korea. Many of the teams have arrived or are arriving very soon and the start of the competition is now less than 10 days away. This will be an important tournament for China, which lost the Women’s World Cup four years ago due to the SARS epidemic. China is no doubt motivated to stage a fantastic tournament, especially with the Beijing Olympics next year, and all indications are that they will.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rest and Relaxation

The U.S. players took full advantage of their first day off from training, relaxing around the hotel, taking short excursions around Shanghai and doing some shopping. Heather O’Reilly and Leslie Osborne visited the tallest operational building in Shanghai, which is right next to what will be the tallest building in Shanghai (currently under construction). They also went to the driving range and hit golf balls for an hour. Several players went to coffee shops and made the USA’s first trip to McDonalds. You know the food is good at the team hotel if the first trip to McDonald’s doesn’t come until five days into the trip. Several players did some light shopping (usually shopping is of the heavy variety for WNT players) and the team capped if off with a meal at an Italian restaurant at night. It’s back to training tomorrow.

I’ll Have the Noodles

Shanghai is dotted with street vendors selling food, some recognizable, some not. In all honestly, some of it looks pretty tasty, although only the bravest soul would sample it. That brings us to the team hotel. Did we mention how awesome this place is? It’s beautifully decorated and modern, and the chefs are very talented. The staff has gone out of its way to meet every need of the U.S. team and it’s by far the best food the team has had on its many trips to China. Other highlights of the hotel: slow moving escalators which speed up when you step on the first step, a glimmering staircase in the main atrium that lights up in different colors after 5 p.m. and super fast elevators. It takes just 12 seconds to get from the 10th floor to the lobby.

Postcard from China: Cat Whitehill

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, Cat Whitehill checks in from Shanghai on her coping with college football withdrawal, her intense Connect Four game with Hope Solo and Team Cat that will be arriving soon.

Click here to view today's postcard.