Friday, April 11, 2008

Pounding the Pins

After lunch today, the U.S. players took a few hours to relax at a local bowling alley, breaking up into teams (you just can't get away from competition with these ladies) for a WNT Bowling Tournament. While the U.S. players may not be the most talented bowlers in the world (except apparently for Kacey White), the effort and enthusiasm was certainly there. It was good for the squad to get out of the hotel for a little bit of fun before the big game against Canada tomorrow when it will be all business. (While there were more than a few strikes, it's fortunate that the team is not bowling for the CONCACAF title). See below for some WNT Blog video on the outing.

video

Team Annoying

Today's pre-game practice was extremely light, consisting only a soccer tennis tournament this morning with five teams made up of four players each and one team of support staff (that, ummm...didn't win a game). The winners were the quartet of Abby Wambach, Heather O'Reilly, Amy Rodriguez and Rachel Buehler, who dubbed themselves "Team Annoying" for their proclivity to cheer wildly, high-five and chest bump after every point, whether it went their way or not. While some of the other teams did in fact find them annoying, other teammates admired their enthusiasm and ability to stay positive no matter the circumstances. It's a good lesson that positivity can reap rewards, like the team soccer tennis title! The training was good for the U.S. to re-charge their legs and minds for the championship game against Canada as both teams have played three matches in the last eight days. The mood is very positive in the U.S. camp after qualifying for the Olympics, but the team is also very excited to be playing in the tournament Final, because, well, what soccer player doesn't love a Final?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dinner and A Show


Tonight, the team got out of the hotel for a wonderful dinner at a local steakhouse called La Cabana. (If you are ever in Juarez, we highly recommend). The players were in fine spirits as the dinner served as sort of a celebration for qualifying for the Olympics and the team had a great time. The evening was certainly complemented by a two-man band (guitar and drums, and they also had a song machine that played melodies) at the restaurant that played some excellent renditions of some American classics, including Hotel California, I Just Called to Say I Love You and La Bamba. The players sang along loudly and enthusiastically (which is pretty much how they do most things when the team is out together). U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage, who is talented on the guitar and as a singer, was called up to the front of the room and brought down the house with rockin' rendition of Chuck Barry's Johnny B. Goode. She was then joined on "stage" for a second number by team doctor Scott Powell who (and we CAN'T BELIEVE we have haven't mentioned this in the WNT Blog yet) was a member of the "1970s rock and roll revivalist /comedy group Sha Na Na" before he went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. "Originally from New York City, Sha Na Na performed covers of doo wop hits from the 1950s , simultaneously reviving and sending up the music, as well as 1950s New York street culture, in their performances." (We love Wikepedia). Known as Santini during his Rock n' Roll days, needless to say, Doc Powell can still carry quite a tune and they combined for a touching duet of Bye, Bye Love, originally by the Everly Brothers. Among other amazing experiences in his "former life" Doc Powell played at Woodstock and had a small role in the cult classic "Caddyshack" as Gatsby, one of Rodney Dangerfield's buddies. Doc has so many great stories, he could have his own blog, but he's too busy taking care of the U.S. team these days.

Recovery Day

Today was a recovery day for the U.S. WNT. No training on the field, no soccer balls, just a trip to a very nice local gym for some light running on treadmills, some time on the stationary bike, perhaps a few minutes on the elliptical machines and some core work. It was a much needed low-key training after playing three matches in six days, the last of which qualified the USA for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After the gym workout, a few players showed why the just might be the GOAT at el boxeo (Ok, so none of our players are going to challenge Laila Ali, but they did show some decent pugilistic skills). See the video below to glimpse Heather "The Irish Annihilator" O'Reilly and a few other purveyors of the sweet science.

video

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

11 Down, One to Go

Just FYI...with the USA and Canada qualifying for the 2008 Olympics this evening, there is just one spot left in the 12-team tournament. All that is left to decide is the Brazil vs. Ghana playoff on April 19 in Beijing prior to the Olympic Final Draw. Brazil finished second in the South American Women's World Cup Qualifying in 2007, which also served as 2008 Olympic qualifying, and Ghana finished second in African qualifying, meaning the two countries will square off for the final berth. Kudos to Canada for pulling out a hard-fought 1-0 win over Mexico in front of a sold-out crowd tonight to earn its first berth to the Olympics for women's soccer. As the USA found out a few days ago, it is not easy to play in a stadium like that. A sad day for Mexico women's soccer for sure as the people of Juarez created an fantastic environment for their team, but in the end, the Mexicans could not manufacture a goal despite playing an excellent soccer match.

2008 Beijing Olympics Berths by Confederation
Host: China
Africa: Nigeria
Asia: Japan, North Korea
Europe: Germany, Norway, Sweden
CONCACAF: USA, Canada
Oceania: New Zealand
South America: Argentina
Playoff: Brazil vs. Ghana

Beijing...and IN!


Sort of a strange game tonight in that as far as we remember, the U.S. WNT has never played a match in a dust storm before, nor against a team that sat so far back on defense that their sweeper was at the top of her own penalty area. Still, give full credit to Costa Rica for having a game plan and sticking to it...and holding the USA scoreless for a half was certainly a moral victory for Central America's top team. But at the end of the day, the USA got it done and is headed to BEIJING for the 2008 OLYMPICS! An oddity is that as many times as the USA has been to China (nine times since 1998), the team has never played in Beijing. Of course, with four venues for Olympic women's soccer in other cities than Beijing, depending on the draw, the USA may have to make it to the medal round just to get to China's capital city. For the record, Beijing, Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai and Shenyang will host matches in the Olympic women's soccer tournament. The draw is April 20 where the USA will find out which countries are in their group and where the matches will be played. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Priorities


The "Dedicated Fans of the Day" award goes to Stephanie and Kassie, who read on the WNT Blog that the USA would be training in El Paso this morning and set out on an adventure to find them. They knew there were only a few options as far as fields for practice and kudos to the amateur sleuths for tracking down the team. As a reward, they got autographs from and pictures with a bunch of the players. We won't mention what high school they go to, as well, umm...they didn't this morning, and while the WNT Blog certainly is an advocate of pristine academic attendance, if there is one reason to play hookey on one day of the year, it's if the U.S. WNT is in your hometown. Heck, the U.S. team doesn't come to El Paso very often. In fact, this was the first time ever. So thanks for the support ladies and Go Mustangs! (Whoops).

Welcome to the United States

This morning, the U.S. team crossed the border back into Texas for training in El Paso, which meant everyone had to get off the team bus and show their passports to get into the USA. It had to be amusing to see 20 identically dressed athletic women in soccer gear walking through passport control, yes? On the other side, the players met some of the U.S. border guards and took some pictures. The guys told the team that they love when the USA beats Mexico in soccer, because if they don't, they hear about it all day from the Mexican citizens at the border crossing. Fortunately, the WNT gave them some bragging rights for a few days. If both the USA and Mexico win their semifinals, the teams would meet again on April 12 in the championship game of the tournament, but Costa Rica and Canada will have something to say about that tomorrow.

Kansas and Mexican Food


Last night, the U.S. team went out to wonderful dinner at a local restaurant (although, if it's Mexican food in Mexico, do you just call it food?). The location was chosen not only for its great authentic cuisine and enthusiastic wait staff (or perhaps for the Mariachis who dedicated a few songs to the U.S. team?) but because it was the night of the NCAA Men's Basketball championship game and the place had plenty of TVs including one big screen! Although the U.S. team was by far the most interested customers, the dramatic comeback by Kansas was thoroughly enjoyed by most U.S. players and we happened to snap a picture seconds after Mario Chalmers nailed his shot for the ages. We won't say who or how much, but U.S. equipment manager and Kansas City native Andrew Dessert picked up a few extra pesos in wagers with staff and players.

Day in El Paso


The U.S. team got an early start on today, hitting the road at 9:30 a.m. for the short drive over the border to El Paso, Texas. The kind folks at the USL's El Paso Patriots were nice enough to let the team train on their field. It was a beautiful, if very dry (in case you didn't know, this part of the country is quite dry) morning in El Paso and the team had an excellent day-before-game training. Then it was off to State Line BBQ for a scrumptious lunch (they know their BBQ in Texas, and special thanks for the folks at State Line), where the U.S. team got to watch the end of the amazing Arsenal-Liverpool Champions League match. They also signed some autographs for more than a few fans and bought some State Line t-shirts (a few of which had the slogan: "Eat Here, Diet at Home.") The team then boarded the bus (with very full stomachs) and headed back on the short drive to Mexico. Also, this just in: Abby likes ribs.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Day After




The USA's big win over Mexico yesterday is front (sports) page news today in Juarez. Not only was the game a sell-out, but it was carried on a Mexican cable station and it seems U.S. forward Natasha Kai has gained some notoriety. After scoring two goals yesterday and celebrating them to the max, Kai got quite a few friendly jabs from the locals today when she went snack shopping with team GM Cheryl Bailey and team captain Christie Rampone. The gist of most jabs was, "We don't like you, you scored two goals on us! But you are a good player." The U.S. had today off from training, with some players going for a jog in the morning and the rest for a brisk walk. The team will train on the field tomorrow, going over the border to practice in El Paso, followed by a BBQ lunch! Tonight, the team is going out for, you guessed it, Mexican food. We hear the steaks are scrumptious at the restaurant.

Pinata Party!

If you haven't checked out the latest all_access video on ussoccer.com about Stephanie (Lopez) Cox's birthday party, it's worth the four or so minutes. As the team is here in Juarez, Mexico, and Lopez, ummm...Cox, is of Mexican descent, the team decided to celebrate in a more "traditional" manner. Let's just say that a pinata paid the ultimate price....and there was candy for all. Check out the link below.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Big Win


Truly one of the most unique games in U.S. WNT history today. Yes, there were some fans cheering for the USA today, but they had no chance to be heard against the 22,000 festive Mexican who knew their team was a big underdog, but were going to do whatever they could do spur their team to victory. The U.S. players were booed when they came out on the field before the game, booed when they scored, booed when they went into the locker room at halftime, but showing that it was a good-natured and savvy crowd, cheered at the final whistle. Of course, the fans were mostly cheering for a great effort from Mexico, but after the game the amount of Mexican fans yelling for the U.S. players and wanting autographs and pictures near the bus showed that while the Mexicans love their team, but they also love good soccer. In the end, an excellent result for the U.S. team under some adverse conditions (big crowd, loud fans, heat, qualifying match), in one of the biggest games in Mexican women's soccer history. Although, it won't be as big as Mexico's clash with Canada next Wednesday for a berth in the Olympics. We thought the crowd was loud today? Mexico's Wednesday game kicks off under the lights at 7:30 p.m. MT. Most importantly on the day, the USA moved one game closer to qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. All that stands in the way is Costa Rica, who played well in today's 1-0 loss to Canada. Right now, the players are resting and re-hydrating after an exhausting match, but they have almost three days until the next game.