Saturday, June 14, 2008

Peaceful Day

It's an absolutely fantastic day in Suwon, South Korea, as the USA is warming up for it's opening match against Australia. It's 78 degrees, a few wisps of clouds in the sky and a light breeze. It's a bit humid, but otherwise the Peace Cup organizers couldn't have ordered a better day for soccer. The field is wide, but a bit short, meaning U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo's prodigious punts could become an offensive weapon today. The field is in good shape overall, but it's a bit bumpy in spots. Should be a great game between two teams who combined for 14 goals in two games earlier this Spring. Here is the U.S. starting lineup:

USA: 18-Hope Solo; 17-Lori Chalupny, 3-Christie Rampone – Capt., 15-Kate Markgraf, 2-Heather Mitts; 9-Heather O’Reilly, 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Carli Lloyd, 5-Lindsay Tarpley; 6-Natasha Kai, 20-Abby Wambach.

These Kids Are Alright

The U.S. team is certainly used to kids coming to watch training sessions in the United States, but it was nice to see some American kids at training today, all the sons and daughters of U.S. military personnel or government workers. The players were more than happy to oblige with some pics, autographs and conversation. Hopefully it was a nice treat for the youngsters who live so far from their home country...and now the U.S. players know they can count on some vocal support during the Peace Queen Cup matches in Suwon.

Peace Cup Pub


"What's up with all those American girls on that big bus?" it seems people are wondering as they stare at the U.S. team while the team bus weaves through the heavy traffic of Seoul. To get the answer, all they have to do is look at the side of the bus. Usually, Hope Solo and Heather O'Reilly are actually inside of the bus, though.

Thanks Anyang

The USA trained during the end of the week at the beautiful Anyang Sports Complex. The folks there rolled out the red carpet (or the green carpet as the case may be) and even whipped up a special message for the U.S. team during training. It's a bit tough to see in the background, but it basically is Welcoming the U.S. Women's National Team. So, thanks to folks at Anyang and let the games begin.

Take That, Tyra












Angela Hucles is America's Top Model...As in America's Women's Soccer Team. Hucles and players from four other teams strutted their stuff on the runway last night during the Peace Queen Cup Welcome Reception last night in Suwon that was capped by a high fashion show from famed Korean designer Andre Kim. The show, which took place at the picturesque Suwon Castle, featured several slickly produced videos and kicked off with several speeches, including one from the president of the Asian Football Association, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. She show also featured performances by Korean pop star Tim (he's actually from Philly and went to Temple, and truth be told, the dude can really sing) and the Spice Girl-esque quartet called Brown Eyed Girls. Both acts drew quite a few screams from the younger set in what was a very large crowd. It was so large in fact that it momentarily stunned Hucles, who admitted that during her her walk "the runway seemed a A LOT longer that it did during rehearsal." All-in-all, a fantastic and well-produced show put on by the Peace Cup organizers, and yet another sign that this tournament is a cut above.

Peace Cup Prep

The U.S. team has been treated extremely well so far here in South Korea. The hotel is one of the best ever, the food is fantastic, the people bend over backwards to help you, the interest in the tournament has been high and the organization is superb. But outside of training, the team really hasn't been doing that much except going to the coffee shop in the hotel to get the wireless Internet. So a night out at the Hard Rock Cafe was a big deal. Check out this short video as the USA's winds down toward its Peace Queen Cup opener.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Midfielder to Model

If you followed the Peace Queen Cup in 2006, you know Leslie Osborne participated in a runway fashion show by famed Korean designer André Kim. Well, the Peace Cup is back and so is André Kim (See right). Once again a player from each team participating in the tournament will grace the runway wearing dresses designed by Mr. Kim, a 73-year-old fashion icon in Asia who is predominently known for his evening gown and wedding gown collections. Kim's designs are said to "combine classical designs with futuristic elements," often resulting in distinctive designs with bold, rich colors and motifs of Asiatic patterns, often of large roses, birds, or tree branches. The USA's model this year? Angela Hucles. You see, in addition to looking great in an evening gown, Angela is what you would call "funny" which means we are in store for some great all_access video. (Don't mean to put any pressure on our videographer). At some point during the trip we'll have a video from tonight's fashion show. An added benefit this year is that the entire team will attend the show, meaning we'll get some feedback on Hucles' moves on the runway.

Abby Action

During the USA’s last training camp at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., we decided to focus the camera on Abby Wambach for a whole training session. As anyone who has ever attended a U.S. practice knows, Abby trains like an animal, and we say that in the “Darwinism-survival of the fittest” sort of way. She works extremely hard, has a lot of fun and is always trying to improve her game as well as helping her teammates get better. Check out this the video on all_access in Abby’s Training Day.

Dinner at The Hard Rock


After training, the U.S. team went out to dinner at the Seoul Hard Rock Cafe, where the appetizers were tasty, the music was good (man, the 80s rocked) and the main courses were hearty. At dinner, the U.S. team greeted Stephanie Cox who had just flown in from California to replace Cat Whitehill on the roster. She caught up with her fellow youngsters (see above) as the U.S. team relaxed in the lounge type seating at the restaurant. Welcome back, Steph. We also found out what happens when you put a plate of Nachos down in front of a hungry group of WNT players.



Hangin' at Anyang

The U.S. team trained for the first few days in South Korea on a field that was a bit hard and bumpy, but today traveled 30 minutes to Anyang Sports Complex which features the kind of plush, green, flat field that just makes you want to play some soccer. Every bounce is true, every roll is smooth and the goal areas are (gasp) 100% grass. No dirt inside the six at Anyang. The temperatures were a bit cooler with a great cool breeze, and the team had an excellent training that featured speed, strength and agility exercises at the beginning and some 9 v. 9 play to finish. The team will train at Anyang for the next two days before opening the Peace Queen Cup against Australia on Sunday, June 15, at the Suwon Sports Complex.

Pre-Show Prep

If you saw the clip on ussoccer.com of the U.S. WNT players on the Price is Right, you know that the team's appearance went smoothly and professionally. But just like success on the soccer field, that stuff doesn't happen without practice and preparation. Check out some behind-the-scenes footage of the team practicing their line in the green room before the show.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cat Goes Down

Our hearts go out to defender Cat Whitehill, who is out of the Olympics after injuring her knee during training here in South Korea, just about three weeks after midfielder Leslie Osborne tore her ACL.



Anytime a team loses a player before a major competition it's heart-wrenching, but especially since Cat had worked so hard this year to come back from a bad ankle injury suffered last January and was almost surely going to be on the Olympic Team. Cat has played a major role for the USA in the past three world championships and her play on the back line and personality off the field will be sorely missed. She's headed back home now to figure out her plans for surgery, but we know she'll be back on the field sometime in 2009. Losing Osborne and Whitehill has definitely cut into the USA's depth, but if we know the U.S. team like we think we know the U.S. team, the players will rally together to make up for the loss of two great players.

The Price is Right

The Price is Right featuring the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team airs on Friday, June 13 (11:00 AM-12:00 Noon ET; 10:00-11:00 AM PT) on the CBS. For a clip of the team's appearance you can go to all_access video player on ussoccer.com, or you can watch the show (or DVR it) and see if someone won the Showcase. The U.S. team taped the show during its most recent training camp in Los Angeles and the all folks at the show couldn't have been nicer, including host Drew Carey (who knew a few of the players from the charity event last year at The Home Depot Center in which he smoked'em on the video game FIFA 07). Above Drew greets U.S. team captain Christie Rampone.

Pranksters

Needless to say, there is quite a bit of downtime on the road with the WNT. On rare occasions, that downtime leads to the execution of a clever prank. Most we don't catch on video and some are not suitable for our viewing audience, but in early May when the USA played in Birmingham, Ala., Heather Mitts and Natasha Kai pulled off a good one on several teammates. We got it all on video.

WNT Blog Disclaimer: Please do not try this on your friends or family. These stunts were performed by trained professionals. (Just kidding. Actually, please DO try it on someone...but if you're under 18 don't tell mom where you saw it first. All you need is a funnel, a quarter and a bottle of water).

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Dance Party Seoul

There was a big stage outside the mall where the USA went today and there was music blaring from a sound system, so Christie Rampone and her daughter Rylie, along with Angela Hucles decided to perform a little dance routine, much to the amusement of hundreds of South Koreans walking by.

24-Hour Mall

We Americans are used to 24-hour convenience stores, diners and even supermarkets, but malls? After a great training in the morning, a bunch of players took a short trip after lunch to a 24-hour mall (which as it turned out, and according to a sign on the door, is only open 22 hours a day, but we think that's quite enough), where the team did some light shopping. The mall as absolutely packed with clothes and accessories stacked nine floors high, which was a bit of a sensory overload, but it was good to get out of the hotel and keep moving around as the second day in Asia is often more difficult than the first as far as staying awake. Above Angela Hucles prepares for some serious shoe shopping.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hot and Hazy

The USA's trained today outside of Seoul Olympic Stadium, used for the 1988 Olympics. Seoul has been hot and hazy since the USA arrived and temps today were quite warm and sticky, sitting in the low 80s with nary a breeze. The forecast is for temperatures in the mid-to-low 80s for the entire Peace Cup, meaning the USA's hot weather training in Los Angeles may reap some benefits. Speaking of the 1988 Olympics, while women's soccer was not yet an Olympic sport, the U.S. men's team featured some names that would go on to do some great things for U.S. Soccer, including but not limited to...the late great David Vanole, current Washington Freedom head coach Jim Gabarra, former U.S. captain John Harkes, and Paul Caligiuri, who a year after the Olympics would score "the shot heard 'round the world" against Trinidad & Tobago to put the USA in the 1990 World Cup. The team also had three guys currently running MLS clubs from the technical side in John Doyle (San Jose), Peter Vermes (Kansas City) and Frank Klopas (Chicago). How did we get from the Peace Queen Cup to 1988 Men's Olympic Soccer? Answer: jet lag makes bloggers woozy and nostalgic.

Nice Touch

We've been espousing the professionalism in the organization of the Peace Queen Cup for quite a while now, and here's more proof. How many tournaments outside of a World Cup or Olympics actually put the tournament logo on the ball? A: Not many, if any. Pretty cool, we think.

Man (?) At Work

Odd sighting of the day came on the way to training when the team bus passed a guy at the entrance of a tunnel directing traffic. 'Cept it wasn't a guy. It was a manikin dressed as a road worker with a right arm that moved up and down with an orange baton in his hand, you know, the kind those guys on the tarmac use to direct planes into the gates. We think he was asking cars to slow down. Either way, we have to give the Seoul Dept. of Transporation props for the efficient use of creepy human looking automated traffic manikins. Saves manpower for sure.

Shortest Birthday, Ever

Yesterday U.S. defender Heather Mitts celebrated her 30th birthday. Well, not really. You see, the U.S. team left Los Angeles on June 8 and arrived in the late afternoon on June 9, which is Mitts' Birthday. (Just FYI: In a frustratingly tragic case of "cut and paste" Mitts B-day has been listed on ussoccer.com and in various publications as June 6, but it's really June 9). Anyway, Mitts arrived at the hotel at 7 p.m. and was fast asleep by 10 p.m., giving her just a three-hour birthday extravaganza. Mitts certainly looks younger than her three decades, and in fact was extremely appreciative earlier this year when 20-year-old teammate Lauren Cheney told her that she thought she was 25. Mitts, who is a certainly a popular player in the USA, has somehow become a fan favorite in South Korea as well. In 2006, she did interviews after almost every training and the Mitts media circus is off and running again. She was one of the players requested at the airport yesterday when the team arrived (see above).

Monday, June 9, 2008

We Come in Peace

Did you know you can watch at least five full-length Hollywood feature films during the flight from Los Angeles to South Korea? That's if you don't sleep at all, but do eat the airline meals, snack frequently and you even have some time left over to play some video games or read a newspaper or magazine. Why someone would want to watch 27 Dresses, Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story, Vantage Point, I Am Legend and 10,000 B.C. consecutively, we don't know...but it can and was done as the U.S. team lifted off from LAX midday on June 8 and landed around 5 p.m. on June 9 in Seoul, South Korea. By the way, could the Inchon Airport be any further from Seoul? And you thought the Denver airport was a hike? After the long flight there was a nice contingent of friendly and helpful tournament organizers as well as media to great the team. When the USA attended the Peace Queen Cup in 2006, it was one of the best run tournaments the team has ever played in. Count on the Koreans to throw another great competition this year. The players had a great dinner, then hit their rooms for showers and sleep, but they will have to be up fairly early tomorrow as the process of getting acclimated to the time change begins.