Saturday, March 8, 2008

IWD


March 8, as you may or may not know, was International Women's Day. Falls at a perfect time when many of the world's top female footballers are playing in the Algarve Cup, wouldn't you say? From the official IWD website: "Celebrated on 8 March, International Women's Day (IWD) is the global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential." A great message and one that the U.S. WNT surely has been contributing to for years. The hotel staff was kind enough to give flowers to all the female players and staff from all four teams staying here. Happy IWD from the WNT Blog!

Dylan, Bob and Plane White Ts?

Abby Wambach and Angie Woznuk are roommates on this trip (and the team Crossbar game champs you might recall). The duo has been using the down time during the trip to get betting on the guitar. (A guitar team equipment manager Andrew Dessert bought for 30 Euros). They downloaded a guitar instruction program on their iTunes, which is pretty cool, and Wambach has been strumming away, doing some credible Bob Dylan and not a bad intro to a Bob Marley song. Meanwhile, Woznuk has been toying with "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's. We've been trying to get her to play it on camera for the WNT Blog, but she says she's not quite ready for her debut performance. Stay tuned.

Pool and Field

Morning training was split today, with seven players going to a local indoor swimming pool for a water workout while the rest hit the field for a relatively light training. The swimmers had to wear bathing caps due to pool rules, which we hear was pretty funny, although unfortunately we don't have any pics. The players that did train on the field (the ones that didn't play major minutes against Italy) got in a good workout. Tomorrow morning, the players will do some team building exercises at the beach and then hit the field at 4 p.m. for a final run-through before the Norway game. With an afternoon off, the players did what they always do in the Algarve. Enjoyed some sun, did some shopping, watched some soccer (how did Man U lose that game?) and of course, napped. Life is good as a WNT player in the Algarve.

Friday, March 7, 2008

She Doesn't Walk Alone




Heather O'Reilly scored a big goal today and the Heather O'Reilly Fan Club - Algarve Chapter was there to see it. The president of the HAOFC is Dave Werry, who just happens to be Heather's boyfriend. Dave's buddies Dan and Tom make up the rest of the club. All three work in finance in New York City. (We hope they got permission from their bosses to come to the Algarve..."Hey, we're going to a hedge fund seminar in Albany. Be back in a week." After the first match, the trio went to a local soccer shop and got U.S. jerseys printed with the name and number of their favorite player. The HAOFC should be out in force against Norway. Well done, lads!






All Good in Alvor











We'll say this for the USA's match venue today in Alvor...it isn't much of a stadium and the pitch is bumpy, but man, what a view. The field is about 300 yards from the ocean and is almost right up against a marina. The sun was out, the ocean breezes were blowing and you couldn't ask for a nicer afternoon in the Algarve. As the team walked to the bus after a wonderful meal at a local restaurant, the sunset was also stunning. All that combined with a solid 2-0 win over Italy and you've got to say it was a pretty good day. (Note: The dirt field in the above pic is not the game field. It's not that bad. That field is outside the stadium)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's...

SUPER RYLIE! U.S. captain Christie Rampone's two-and-half-year-old daughter Rylie, who travels with the team almost everywhere, is a non-stop source of laughter, amusement and entertainment for the U.S. players. She is just learning to put together short sentences, which only adds to the hilarity, and suffice it to say she doesn't carry any of the "quiet" or "reserved" genes of her mom. Rather, she seems to have inherited some "big personality" genes of her dad, Chris. See below for just one classic Rylie moment.

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This just in...


If you read a few posts ago, you learned about Abby Wambach's celebration after she won the "Crossbar Game" with monster clutch shot. Well, we just got a pic of it, courtesy of photographer Patricia Giobetti, who is in the Algarve shooting for the WPSL. We all know that Abby is an intensely competitive player and loves to win (and really hates to lose), so thanks to Patricia and enjoy the moment! (In an ode to A.I., yes, we're talking about practice!)

Carli the Camel



It's been hot in the Algarve, really hot, so the U.S. players have been making sure to stay very hydrated, especially with four games in eight days. But Carli Lloyd may have taken it to the extreme. This morning, the U.S. team polished off their massive stock of bottled water (replenished soon after by team General Manager and water girl Cheryl Bailey), but Carli was thirsty. So she decided that she would start on a 5-liter jug (1.3 gallons) and wants to finish it by tonight. With some dedication and focus, we think she can do it.

So Long, Brett...


The shock waves of the news of the retirement of Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre have made it across the Atlantic and hit two members of the U.S. Women's National Team. Wisconsin native Leslie Osborne, and Milwaukee resident Kate Markgraf (married to a Wisconsin-born and HUGE Packers fans Chris) are likely feeling just a little emptiness. The duo definitely is down with the sadness of the Packer Nation, but both are glad to see Brett go out after such a great season. Osborne reports that all her friends back in Wisconsin are very sad and says, "It's amazing to see how influential one person can be on a community. I'm happy for him, though, and I am glad he's walking away and feels good about it. He's done more than enough."

Call Her Clutch


Today was a light training for the U.S. team on the one day between the China and Italy games, but that didn't mean that the competitive juices weren't flowing. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage ended training with a game of "Crossbar" where the team split into pairs (based on similar music tastes of all things) and each partner had one chance to chip a ball from the edge of the penalty box in an attempt to hit the crossbar. If either partner hit the bar, they moved on to the next round. By the third round, just three teams remained, and all six missed, meaning everyone got a chance to go again. Once again, the first five missed, then up stepped Abby Wambach, who had clanged her shot off crossbar in the second round. (Woznuk got them through the first round). With the entire team on its toes, and one shot to win it all, Wambach's shot struck the underside of the crossbar, sparking a joyous celebration rivaled only perhaps by a goal she has scored in a World Cup or Olympics. We kid you not. She ran, fell to her knees, then rolled on her back, arms upraised. Wambach called it "one of the best days of my year" and she was only partly joking.

Tobin's Orange

One of our most dedicated WNT Blog readers in Southern California has informed us why the orange that Tobin Heath worked so hard to pick in Seville, Spain, was so bitter, causing the midfielder to pucker seriously and then immediately dispose of said orange. Read on:

"The Sevilla orange, also known as bitter or sour orange, has a diverging taste that is more acidic and also slightly bitter, comparable to grapefruits."

So, it in fact wasn't a bad orange, it was just a different kind of orange. However, we are sure that it's truly a shock to the taste buds when you are expecting orange and instead get grapefruit.

Speaking of Tobin, a fantastic first WNT goal, but what was the deal with that celebration? It can be described as sort of a running, hopping chicken furiously flapping its wings in hopes of flying, but of course, chickens can't fly. Still, the huge smile and hugs from all her teammates definitely over-shadowed the flightless chicken celebration.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Cap, First Goal


Congrats to Rachel Buehler on her first-ever cap! It's great to see one of the everyone's favorite U.S. Youth National Team veteran (she's been playing for our youth teams since around 2000!) finally getting a full WNT cap after coming back from two ACL surgeries during her youth and college career. Also kudos to Tobin Heath for her first goal. The kid is a quick starter. First, she gets a nutmeg on the first touches of her first cap last January in China, then comes off the bench today to score on her first touches of the second half.

That's a Good Start

A pretty dominating effort by the USA today against China. Whether it was the USA's aggression, the USA's possession, the wind or the fact that China just doesn't play so well in Europe, something took the stuffing out of the Chinese today. Of course, giving up early goals in both halves is never a confidence builder, but all-in-all, a great way to start the tournament for the USA. The USA got four very nice goals: a sublime finish from Lindsay Tarpley (how does she always find a gap to sneak into?), a first-ever goal from Tobin Heath whose youth belies the sophistication of the finish, a fantastic endline dribble from Shannon Boxx leading to a goal by Abby Wambach (and when Abby starts scoring, they come in bushels), then a dribble-shot combo by Carli Lloyd that defines what an attacking midfielder should be. Tomorrow, the team will have training in the morning and then get ready to face Italy on Friday. The Italians lost 4-2 to Norway today, but are a team with great passion and commitment, and feature one of Europe's craftiest strikers in captain Patrizia "The Scorpion" Panico. Let's hope the U.S. backline can make like Meerkats. Because if you've ever watched Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet, you know that Meerkats love to eat scorpions and for some reason, are immune to their sting.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ronaldo, Fabregas and Xavi

One of the many great things about the Algarve Cup is that it always falls at the same time as crucial rounds of Champions League games...and for a soccer fan, there's not much better than prime-time Champions League matches when you can go to a pub and watch three games live at the same time, all on big screens. Tonight was pretty much heaven: Man U vs. Lyon, Arsenal vs. AC Milan and Barcelona vs. Celtic, a virtual soccer smorgasbord of world class games and players. If you didn't see the Barcelona goal, it was as much a goal as a work of art. Three words: Ronaldino, You and Tube. And Arsenal getting not just one, but two goals at San Siro? That's about as easy as squeezing Abby Wambach into an extra small game jersey. As a matter of fact, we just saw a few of the Italian Women's National Team staff heading back out to the pub, mostly likely to mourn a bit. Anyway, a bunch of the U.S. players watched one or more games, mostly at the team hotel, but what could be better motivation for the first game of the tournament tomorrow?

Mr. Ed


Conspicuous in their presence at almost all the U.S. trainings have been two mounted police atop two large white horses. The men and their steeds make daily appearances at practice, watch for a while, then gallop on their way. (We had mentioned previously that the Algarve was still pretty rural. There are also quite a few cows, roosters, stray cats and dogs, a donkeys or two and of course, sheep). The horses seemed only mildly interested in training, but today a soccer ball rolled off the field and right under one of the horses, which kind of freaked him out, but it looked for a moment like he was going to hoof it back on the field before it nutmegged him, twice. Once through the front legs and then again through the back legs. Contrary to rumor, it was not Tobin Heath that did the nut-megging. Anyway, after training, animal lovers Heather O'Reilly and Leslie Osborne made friends with the horse. We think he's now a U.S. fan.

Ready to Rumble


The final pre-Algarve Cup training is in the books and the U.S. players are just relaxing this afternoon in preparation for the China match tomorrow. A few players did go pottery shopping, but otherwise, it's just relaxing and focusing for the rest of the day, plus the usual pre-game meeting tonight. The USA has opened the Algarve Cup against China the last two years, and won both matches. As we know, every game is critical in group play as only the group winner makes the championship game. Therefore, points and goals are at a premium and tomorrow the Americans will be looking for three of the former and more than a few of the latter.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Simon I Love You

We are trying something new on the WNT Blog. Yeah, the MNT Blog has been posting videos for a while now, but those guys are more technically savvy than us. And with the inconsistent Internet connection here in Portugal, this is a risk. But to achieve greatness, you have to be bold...and Natasha Kai is bold...bold enough to belt out a song under the watchful eyes of Randy, Paula and Simon...So we'd thought we start it out with a doozy as the U.S. team's resident goofball plays the American Idol video game with her teammates...and just about channels Celine Dion. We're calling it: American Kaidol...Bring it, dawg!


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Men Working (on website)

You may have noticed that ussoccer.com is a little bit off-kilter. Trust us when we say we got our best people on it, but there are some technical issues that do take a while to sort out. It's difficult to load videos with our current situation, but we are producing vids from the Algarve Cup and you can check them out on our youtube site at: www.youtube.com/ussoccerdotcom. Keep checking back as we hope these problems will be clear up soon. In the meantime, check out a video from the USA's first few days in the Algarve and one on debutante U.S. defender Rachel Buehler, who is umm...really, really smart and knows, you know, about that medical school stuff and stuff.

Dinner Out!


The entire team went to a fantastic Italian restaurant for dinner this evening. It's always nice to get out of the hotel, especially when going down to the Marina in Vilamoura and eating right on the water as huge million-dollar yachts bob up and down in their berths. By the time the team got through a slew of appetizers, including seafood cocktails, scrumptious chicken caesar salads with apples, garlic fried prawns, margarita and white mozzarella pizzas and some sort of bruschetta with melted cheese and ham, it's a wonder they could finish their main dishes...which, of course, they did. If there is one thing you can count on from the WNT players, besides winning lots of soccer games, is they can polish off some good food. We did see a lot of steak on the table as athletes need their protein. The desserts were equally as fantastic, including the one above, although we won't identify it's owner for fear of accusing someone of overindulgence (it was GK coach Phil Wheddon). And kudos to the wait staff at the restaurant, a group of strapping guys who ran the food in, filled water glasses, cleared tables, and brought dessert menus like is was some sort of Olympic event. Culinary gold medal for sure.

Must Have Orange


The players that went to Seville yesterday had a great time tooling around the city and seeing the sights. At one point young Tobin Heath happened upon an orange tree full of big, fat, juicy oranges and decided she had to have one. Problem was, the oranges were out of reach. Actually, not a problem, Heath quickly scaled the tree like some sort of a monkey and grabbed herself an orange. Despite the acrobatics, the story has a sad ending. No, she didn't fall. The orange just wasn't that good. In fact, according to Heath, "it was sort of disgusting." She took one bite before discovering the you can't judge a fruit by its skin, and tossed it in the garbage.

International Soccer Moms

This morning at breakfast at the team hotel, where several of the teams stay every year for the Algarve Cup, U.S. Soccer Moms Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf, kids in tow, ran into Norwegian Soccer Mom Solveig Gulbrandsen, one of the Norway's top players for quite a while now. Solveig has a baby boy, who was a bit shy meeting Rylie Rampone and Keegan Markgraf. Rylie tried to introduce herself, but since she speaks no Norwegian and Keegan still just speaks baby, the meeting was brief. It's good to see players from other teams having babies and still continuing their international careers, which was virtually unheard of before the U.S. players started having kids in the mid-1990s.

Another Day in the Algarve


After a day off yesterday, the U.S. players hit the weight room this morning and will relax this afternoon before hitting the field at 4 p.m. With the opening match against China just three days away, the team will begin tapering into the game. Good news is that the travel time to the stadium for the first match is only about five minutes by bus. To get to Alvor for the second and third matches will take about 40 minutes. It is another stunning day in the Algarve, with bright sun and just wispy clouds. It's been in the mid-70s all week (but a hot mid-70s). It's no wonder that this area is a popular Spring and Summer destination for older Northern Europeans, who you see walking the streets, sitting at the pubs having a cold one and dining at the many restaurants. Fun thing is, all of the lobster-ish tourists don't seem to mind that they are badly sunburned. Do they sell sunscreen in England?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Takin' a Breather

Today was an almost complete day off for the U.S. (except for a meeting at 9 p.m.), which meant different things to different players. More than half the team took a day trip to Seville, Spain, spending part of the day in the beautiful city. The players that stayed behind at the hotel caught up on sleep, sat by the pool, walked around the city of Albufeira or went sight-seeing a bit closer than Spain. The team's Soccer Moms went to the local mall with their kids. The day trippers were back by dinner time and everyone went out to local eateries for a nice meal. All-in-all, a great day to recharge the batteries after an intense week of training. Tomorrow, it's back to work on the field (morning weights, afternoon soccer) and final preparations before facing China on March 5 to open the 2008 Algarve Cup. The USA was by far the first team to arrive in the Algarve, but now the others are starting to stream in. We saw a few Norwegian players in the lobby, meaning the USA's third group game opponent is in the house as well. Must be almost time to kickoff this tournament!