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

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

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.