Saturday, July 5, 2008

Great Trip, Great Games, Great Cities

Any way you slice it, two wins in Scandinavia, the first ever wins in Norway and Sweden in fact, are excellent results. Throw-in two shutouts and the team is rounding its way into peak form for the Olympics. Of course, two games against Brazil still remain, but those should be excellent preparation for the Olympics as well. The U.S. team headed straight to the Skelleftea airport after the match (small, small airport, but luckily big runways) and caught a small charter to Stockholm where they will spend the night before boarding a flight to New York in the early A.M. From there, it's domestic flights home for a few days of R&R before regrouping in Denver for the first match against Brazil on July 13. Looking back, it was a wonderful trip to Scandinavia in every rway. There is not more beautiful countyside in the world and the U.S. team was treated exceptionally well in both Norway and Sweden. So thanks to our Nordic hosts and hopefully the WNT will be back here soon. For now, Tak.

Game Day

Pia is interviewed by Swedish television after the team arrived at Norrvalla Stadium.

It's a bit chilly here in Skelleftea, but perfect weather for soccer. There were some light showers at the team arrived, but the blue sky is peeking through the clouds here in northern Sweden and the locals seem to think we are done with rain for the day. This is a big day for the U.S. team and Pia Sundhage as the USA will face Sweden for the first time ever in Sweden, while Pia will coach against her country for the first time. The stands are filling up and the atmosphere is very festive. Definitely a small community feel to the game, and the environment should play a part in what should be an excellent match. Sundhage is sending out the same starters as she did against Norway three days ago.

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

Pia and Sweden head coach Thomas Dennerby before the match.

Pia shares a laugh with former teammate Malin Swedberg before the match. Swedberg will be doing color commentary on the game. Pia and Malin played together in the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Rachel Buehler signs a USA-Sweden poster in the locker room before the match.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4th in Skelleftea

In Sweden, July 4th is, well, the day before July 5. So, needless to say the U.S. team had to create its own celebration of our nation's independence day. After dinner (remember, it's pretty much sunny here until midnight) the team went down to the lake and had it's own party. The team played games, including a Swedish game named, we think, Kubb, that involved knocking sticks down with other sticks. (Yes, the competitive juices were's the U.S. Women's National Team after all). The team also roasted marshmallows and made smores, sang patriotic songs (America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner among others), and a local man came out and lit off some small fireworks. (They are illegal so permission was sought from the local police to light them the park). There was also some hacky-sack being played, some rocks being skipped in the lake and plenty of chips and salsa. Sounds like many a July Fourth celebreation back home, and fun was had by all! Really, you couldn't have a much better Fourth of July in Skelleftea, Sweden, as you can tell from Rachel Buehler above.

Norrvalla is Ready

The U.S. team had training this morning at Norrvalla Stadium, the venue for the match tomorrow evening. The field is a bit soft, but in excellent shape, and the atmosphere should be electric as the front page of the local newspaper today shouted out: ONE DAY TO GO. Needless to say, the locals are excited to get an international match in this northern Swedish town of 79,000. The game will be broadast nationally in Sweden, which like the USA, is preparing for the 2008 Olympics. It could be a little chilly for the match tomorrow, and a little windy, but otherwise the conditions should be perfect for the USA's first-ever match against Sweden in Sweden.

A-Rod: Trendsetter

If you watched the NCAA Final Four last fall, you heard what seemed to be an unusual amount of analysis of Amy Rodriguez' lucky green headband. Well, she's back at it. Rodriguez thinks she lost the green one, but she did bring a few different colors on this trip and sported the blue with white stars for the Norway match. She did extremely well coming off the bench against Norway, getting an assist on Abby Wambach's goal, so perhaps she'll bust out the stars again tomorrow. It surely would be appropriate for the July 4 weekend.

72 and 71

Two Swedish Greats
Hanna Ljungberg and Pia Sundhage at a press conference today to publicize the match
For years, Pia Sundhage was the all-time leading scorer in Swedish National Team history (well, actually tied with Lena Videkull). Pia's record of 71 goals was broken by sparkplug striker Hanna Ljungberg this past March at the Algarve Cup in Portugal. Hanna currently has 72 goals, and at age 28, will surely get a few more, rending moot the rumors that Sundhage might be coming out of retirement and try for a few more goals. (Ok, there are no rumors. We just made them up. Pia is 48 and has as a bad knee, but her services in training are still spot on and do not mess with her in soccer tennis). The humble Ljungberg, who plays for Swedish power Umea, has been one of the world's top strikers for quite a few years now. She and running mate Victoria Svensson form one of the best striker tandems in the women's international soccer. Better than Sundhage and Videkull? Well, we'll let the old-timers debate that one.

Oh Say Can You See...

In a rarity, the National Anthems for both teams will be sung live at the match tomorrow. The singer is none other than a member of the local women's club, Sunnanå's star midfielder Kicki Wiklund. The USA's team liasion, former Duke star Rebecca Smith, who is Sunnanå's lone American (well, she plays for New Zealand, but that's a whole other story), has been working with Kicki on the words. We expect her to rock both anthems. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage, an excellent singer and guitar player, will surely appreciate the dual athems.

Welcome Home

The U.S. team will only be in Sweden for about three days, but it has been a very nice visit for U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage and U.S. fitness coach Helena Andersson, who grew up in Skelleftea. (Her parents are coming to the match!). Sundhage is from outside of Stockholm, but it seems that everyone knows Pia here in Sweden. Maybe its the postage stamp. The what? Perhaps the most famous female soccer ever in Swedish history, Pia was featured on a postage stamp in the mid-1980s. How good are the WNT Blog researchers? See below.

Travel Day

The USA's travel day yesterday was a mixture of stops and starts. The team boarded a bus for Oslo at 5:30 a.m. the morning after beating Norway, 4-0, in Fredrikstad. The team got to the airport in plenty of time for the 10 a.m. flight to Stockholm, but due to some snafus, about a quater of the team had to wait until 3 p.m., when they could hop a direct flight from Oslo to Skelleftea, Sweden. They turned out to be the lucky ones. The rest of the team got on the flight, only to sit there for a long time as all of the team luggage was loaded (sorry other passengers) and then the flight was cancelled (mechanical issues). Everyone de-boarded the plane and had to wait until 2 p.m. to catch the flight to Stockholm. (But everyone did get a 150 Kroner food voucher! We won't say who used it all on gummi candy). The USA's connecting flight from Stockholm to Lulea in the north of Sweden was so tight that the team literally had to speed-walk/jog to baggage claim, collect all the team gear and then speed-walk/jog to the gate. The airline personnel were excellent in helping and giving information and they actually held the plane as the U.S. team all got on the flight (sorry other passengers). Then, the flight was delayed ever more as all the bags were loaded (sorry other passengers). Finally, it lifted off and the flight to Lulea was short. Still, that's about an hour and a half north of Skelleftea, so the team packed the bus and drove down on a beautiful afternoon. For the record, there was a reindeer sighting during the drive. The hungry players finally got the hotel, hit dinner and a few minutes later, the other group walked in. The highlight of the long day? Well, it could have been Shannon Boxx and Natasha Kai seeing a replica of largest salmon ever caught in Norway (above) at the Oslo airport, and the delay did give Lindsay Tarpley time to buy some candy, but the highlight was probably the nice walk the team took in the evening in a local park. (Christie Rampone and Heather Mitts relax below).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Long Day, Nice Ending

The U.S. team left Fredrikstad, Norway at 5:30 a.m. this morning and didn't get to Skelleftea, Sweden until 13 and a half hours later. No, it's not that far. Only about 500 miles, a little more than from San Diego to San Francisco, but there were some travel issues that made it a very long day. The team finally got to this beautiful town of 79,000 here in northern Sweden, had a nice dinner and went on a walk by the Skelleftea River. U.S. sports science and fitness coach Helena Andersson is from Skelleftea, and she served as an excellent tour guide. The U.S. players got to stretch their legs and see some beautiful scenery (see Ali, Abby and Rachel above), and since sunset isn't until past 11 p.m. here, it was certainly light out for the stroll. (By the way, Sunrise is at 2:06 a.m. That's less than three hours of "night" for those keeping score at home). Tomorrow, the team will hold its only training here before facing Sweden on July 5, and there will also be a press conference featuring both teams as of course the return of Pia Sundhage to her home country is a big, and interesting story. More tomorrow when the WNT Blog is not so travel fatigued.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four in Fredrikstad

Excellent win for the USA today. It's never easy to win in Europe and the team put together a pretty comprehensive peformance. Kudos to Abby Wambach for her 99th career goal! One more to the century mark. She's got five career goals against Sweden, but those Swedes are tough. If she doesn't get it on July 5, she'll have to more chances before the Olympics, against Brazil on July 13 and 16. Unlike the 4-0 win at the Algarve Cup, the USA scored four very nice goals, including Angela Hucles' strike from distance! An early candidate for goal of the year? We'll try to get those highlights up ASAP, but it will be a long travel day for the U.S. team The squad leaves at 5:30 a.m. (gulp!) for Oslo, will then fly to Stockholm, then take a flight to northern Sweden before hopping a bus for 1.5 hours up to Skelleftea, which is about 100 miles below the Arctic Circle. You thought it stayed light late in Fredrikstad...

Christie Rampone and Lindsay Tarpley chat in the locker room before the Norway match.
"Hey Tarp, how about you score in the fourth minute today?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fantastic Fredrikstad

The U.S. match against Norway on Wednesday night ( MatchTracker at Noon ET) will be played at the 13,000 seat Fredrikstad Stadium, a fantastic little venue that opened just last year, replacing an ancient stadium on the same site that was apparently ready for the wrecking ball. The stadium is set right on the Glomma River, and fans for the Premier League matches often sail their boats right up to the stadium, dock for a little pre-game tailgating (or is it stern-gaiting?), then enter the stadium for the match. We hear there is also some post-game stern-gaiting so we hope the Vålerenga fans from Monday night were able to make it back to Oslo and didn't end up in Denmark. The stadium has excellent modern amenities and is just a fun place to watch a game, as the U.S. team found out on Monday when saw the local side come away with a 2-1 win. The bench areas are unique as well. They feature cushy leather seats. This is probably the best game ever not to see your name on the start sheet, 'cause it's sure to be a luxurious sitting experience. The U.S. team trained for about an hour on the stadium pitch today and everyone is excited to play tomorrow night. Check out some blog video from today's practice.

Krieger Does the Treble

Krieger (back row, far left) and her Frankfurt teammates before the second leg of the UEFA Women's Cup Final.

She's only got two caps for the USA, but Ali Krieger has something no other U.S. Women's National Team player has: a treble of championships in Europe.

In the fall of 2007, there was no pro league in the United States. Krieger was finished with college, but still had aspirations to play at the highest levels.

She’d represented the USA on the U-21 level, but had thus far failed to break into the senior side. When the opportunity came about to play in Germany for one of the world’s top clubs, she packed her bags and headed over the pond for a grand adventure that would include a new country, a new language, new teammates and, yes, new opportunity. That journey would lead her to three championships – including the European title -- and to the brink of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Krieger went to Germany in September of 2007, right before FIFA Women's World Cup. Many of her teammates on Frankfurt were on the German National Team and were there for just a week before heading off to China. Slowly, she started to acclimate, but of course it wasn’t easy for a soft-spoken girl from Dumfries, Va.

“I had to adapt and learn the language and culture on my own,” said Krieger, whose great, great grandfather emigrated to the USA from Berlin. “I was thrown into a situation where I had to stay above the water or I would have drowned and come home. Sometimes, that’s the best way to do it. I've become very independent.”

Krieger quickly earned a starting spot in the midfield and after her Women’s World Cup champion teammates returned, the squad started to gel.

Krieger celebrates a goal with Conny Pohlers.

First, they won the German Cup, downing Saarbrucken, 5-1. Frankfurt was down 1-0 at half and then stormed back to score five second goals. Then, they won the UEFA Women’s Championship with a two-leg victory over Swedish power Umea, which featured Brazilian dribbling wizard Marta. Finally, the league title was locked up and the space in the Frankfurt trophy case suddenly became much tighter.

While Krieger cherishes the success on the field, it’s her experience off that field that has had the most impact on her young life.

"Being in Germany not only changed me as a player, but also as a person,” said the 23-year-old. “Being immersed in a different culture has given me a different perspective. I've met so many interesting people in Germany from all over the world. It’s just really made me excited to experience new things. Playing the sport that's number one in the country, you are just treated really well and everyone just has such a passion for the game.”

Krieger’s German has gotten to the point where she can get by with all the daily tasks. Some of her teammates choose not to speak English, so she has to try. “It's cool, it makes me learn it,” said Krieger “They help me a lot with my German. At first, they taught me bad words and I would say them and they all would laugh, but now I understand so they’re not able to pull that one on me.”

She has taken German classes and even did an interview in German after the European title, much to the amusement of the reporter and herself.

In the midfield for Frankfurt against Crailsheim.

However, playing in Germany created a Catch-22 of sorts for Krieger. Because of her club commitments, she couldn’t come into enough training camps for the U.S. team to legitimately compete for a spot on the Olympic roster. But if it weren’t for her experience playing for Frankfurt, she feels she wouldn’t have been prepared for that challenge anyway.

"It’s a tough situation, and being in Europe, you get a different feel for the difficulties of club vs. country,” she said. “But I'm so thankful for my club team and for what they've done for me. I love playing there and I don't regret going one bit. If I never went to Germany I don't think I'd be sitting here and on the roster of 22. I've grown so much as a player.”

The final whistle blows and Frankfurt are European champions.

On June 23, Krieger was named as an alternate to the U.S. Olympic Team, but is in Norway to train with the team for a week. After that, it’s up to her to stay fit and ready if needed.

"It was unbelievable to win three titles,” said Krieger, who shares the treble honors with fellow American Gina Lewandowski, who played center back for Frankfurt. “It was such a cool experience, one that I don't think I will ever forget. It’s something that can't be replicated in America, which is part of the reason that it is unique. To be a European champion as an American and being a part of the Frankfurt team that won the treble for the first time in history was even more rewarding. You work so hard during the year and some people don't get as fortunate to win one trophy, never mind three. So playing my first year over there and winning three medals was pretty exciting."

Ali with the UEFA Women's Cup trophy.

Her contract runs until June of 2009, so she is not sure of her status for the start of the WPS. For the immediate future, she is happy to stay in Europe and live that lifestyle. She has the possibility of extending her contract with Frankfurt for another year, but for now, Krieger is simply soaking up a once in a lifetime experience.

“I am going to look back one day and be so thankful and honored that I was able to play for Frankfurt,” she said. “I’m just glad I could play a part in bringing joy to the club and the fans because everyone there has been so great to me and I see how much this means to them.”

And that’s Wunderbar for Krieger.

Soccer Moms Score

No, Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone didn't get a goal. As we know, it's tough for center backs to score unless your name is John Terry. But what they did get was a rare treat at a team hotel...a room set up just for kids. The playroom is just off the lobby and when you need to entertain your two and three year-old youngins, a room filled with toys and other play things is like finding $500 on the ground (or in Norway that would be 2,500 kroner). There are only so many toys you can bring on the road and you definitely can't bring the big plastic play house. Of course, Lori Chalupny and Nicole Barnhart have been spending a few hours a day in there as well...mostly of the time with the kids. Just kidding, all of the time. They are great playmates for the team babies. Norway's captain Solveig Gulbrandsen has a baby boy as well, so at times it's been a cross-cultural Romper Room in there. Note to future hotels that want the USA's business: put in a play room!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fredrikstad 2, Vålerenga 1

The entire U.S. team took in an entertaining match on Monday night at Fredrikstad Stadium, as the local side, which currently sits second in the Norwegian Premier League, defeated Valerenga (fifth in the table), which hails from from Osl0, by a 2-1 score. The Fredrikstaders came from behind to the win the game in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,000 that was in fine singing voice. The Norwegian and U.S. teams were presented at halftime to promote the match on Wednesday night at the stadium, which opened in 2007 and will serve as a fantastic venue for the USA's third-ever meeting with Norway in Norway. Several players from both teams were given socccer balls to kick into the crowd. If you caught a ball, you got a free ticket to the match. A soccer ball and a match ticket? That's a good promotion. These weren't mini-balls either. Size 5s were flying into the stands. Natasha Kai ran over to the front row and handed hers to a cute little blond boy. Yeah, she's got 19 tatoos, but she's a big softie at heart. Above Kate Markgraf lets loose her prize-winning punt.

Duck, Duck, Aly

How often do you see a sign for a duck crossing? Well, in Fredrikstad's Old Town of Gamlebyen, the ducks get VIP status. This guy below goes where he wants, when he wants.

Hangin' in Gamlebyen

Seven U.S. players and a smattering of staff took a short sightseeing trip this afternoon to the Old Town section of Fredrikstad, the village of Gamlebyen, which was originally constructed in 1663 as a military enclave which could be easily defended against the aggressive Swedes. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with picturesque 17th century buildings and the small town, which currently has about 350 residents, serves as an enclave for many artists and craftsmen who have established their studios and galleries there. We were told that it is one of the best preserved villages in all of Scandinavia and it was certainly beautiful. Behind the players is part of the huge moat/river that protects the village.

The bridge leading to Gamlebyen. It once protected the village. Now, seagulls and ducks hang out on, under and around it.

Fredrik II himself! The founder of Fredrikstad.

U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage helps the Norwegian guide show an aerial map of Gamlebyen. It's only appropriate diplomacy as the Swedes once stormed the town. Pia only stormed goalkeepers. She scored 71 goals in her international career, but probably more than a few against Norway.

Heather O'Reilly gets the rack! No, she is very well behaved. This device hasn't been used in years (we hope).

A typical building in Gamlebyen.

Final Training at Lisleby

The U.S. team had its final training today at the quaint Lisleby FK club, which has hosted the team for training during its brief stay in Norway. A special thanks for the hospitality to the kind folks over at the club, which apparently has some history, having hosted top Norwegian men's matches as long as 40 years ago. The U.S. team had about a 100-minute training which ended with some small-side games and will practice tomorrow evening at the Fredrikstad Stadium, which will host the match vs. Norway. The weather has been perfect, but according to the locals will get even better for the game. Probably not possible, but apparently there will be a little less wind and temps in the 60s.

Spanish Triumph

The U.S. staff and a few players went to one of the pubs on the Glomma River last night to watch the final of the European Championships. Perhaps not the best match of the tournament, but certainly exciting and tension-filled, and happily, the best team won. The place was packed with Norwegians, all of whom seemed to be rooting for Spain. Oddly, aside from the U.S. players and female staff, there were hardly any women watching the game, which is perhaps why this jolly Norwegian wanted his picture taken with Hope Solo and Kacey White after the match. It was taken around 10:45 p.m. and you can see it's still light enough out to play soccer. And no, Kacey hasn't shrunk. Like many of the Norwegian men, he was quite large. The players who didn't go to the pub watched in their rooms and it seems that all (except Germany women's Bundesliga player Ali Krieger, who plays her club ball for European champion FFC Frankfurt) were rooting for Spain as well. Long story short, it's fun watching a European Championship Final anywhere, but even more so in Europe.

Flying the Colors

Check out this boat we saw on the Glomma River here in Fredrikstad. Yes, we'd like to think this person sailed around the world to catch the USA-Norway game and Seattle resident Hope Solo, but even for the most avid fan, that would be a long trip. Could this hearty sailor have sailed around South America (but that's an really small boat to have navigated the perilous waters of Cape Horn), then up the east coast of Brazil, maybe a few weeks in the Carribean, then across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, past England through the Channel, and up to Fredrikstad? Nah. They probably bought the boat in Norway and just really likes the coffee in Seattle. At least we know there is one American here. Hopefully, they'll come to the match...and bring the flag.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ali Arrives

Defender Ali Krieger and asst. coach Erica Walsh arrived this morning after some serious travel snafus. Both were flying out of Washington, D.C. and boarded their domestic flight on June 27 to Newark International to catch the USA's team flight to Oslo, but it never left the ground. They had to sit on the airplane on the tarmac for four and half hours (ouch!), only to eventually have the flight cancelled. They returned to the airport the next day, but that flight got cancelled as well. They decided enough was enough got to the Newark Airport the old-fashioned train. Tthe duo hopped on the choo-choo from D.C. to Newark and were almost there when -- you guessed it -- the train broke down in Trenton, N.J. They had to get off and wait for another train, but finally got to the Newark airport and made the flight to Oslo, then bussed down to Fredrikstad to join the U.S. team. Anyway, they are here and that gives the USA it's full compliment of 22 players, 18 Olympians and the four alternates. Once Krieger recovers a bit, we'll try to catch up with her on the WNT Blog and chat about her German club team FFC Frankfurt winning "the treble" this year.

Rip Hamilton or Carli Lloyd?

You may recall that U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd broke her nose at the Peace Queen Cup. She played in the two games following the injury, but she had to wear an "off the rack" protective mask. We are not sure how she played in that thing as it severly limited her peripheral vision as well her ability to see the ball at her feet (whatever that kind of vision is called). This just in: It helps to be able to see the ball when you are shooting or hitting a long ball, which as we know, Carli does as well as anyone in the world. When she went home after the Peace Cup, she got a custom mask made that fits much better to her face and she'll be ready to rock against Norway on Wednesday night. Needless to say, Carli is relieved to be able to get rid of the old mask as it was quite frustrating to play with. We're thinking that she may even be able to head the ball further as it bounces off that plastic forehead.

Welcome to Fredrikstad

The USA has settled into Fredikstad, which we see as a beautiful little town, but with its neighboring city of Sarpsborg is actually the fifth largest city in Norway! This is a very old town, originally founded in 1567 by King Frederik II (man, we would love to have a city named after us...WNT Blogsburg, maybe?) and got some sort of cityhood in 1838. The city straddles the river Glomma where it meets the North Sea and it's extremely picturesque, with old boats mixed with small yachts sitting at the docks, green parks and rolling, tree covered hills. The team will go on a short sightseeing trip tomorrow to see the oldest part of town, which should make for some nice pics, but here are a few of the area around the team hotel. The Glomma River is above.

Not sure what this sculpture is, but it's in a local park. We'll call it art.

The local church. The weather has been fantastic. The sun is out, but it's been fairly cool.

An old boat. In the mid 1900s, Fredrikstad was a main harbor for timber export and shipbuilding.

Birthday Boxx

Happy Birthday to U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx! The Torrance, Calif., native turns 31 today, and like many a WNT player, is celebrating her B-day on the road. She did get an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday on the bus ride from training today, but no word if she's gotten any cool Norwegian-themed gifts from her teammates yet. (We hear they've got some great smoked herring here in Norway, though). Boxx broke into the National Team in 2003, so she's only been playing for her country for five and half years, but in that time she's piled up 92 caps and will likely get her 100th sometime during the 2008 Olympics. How many of those 92 games has she started? 87. Pretty impressive for a player who didn't break into the WNT until she was 25. Primarily a defensive midfielder, Boxx impressively finished third in the voting for FIFA Women's Player of the Year a few years back. Above Angela Hucles and Natasha Kai helped her celebrate during team lunch... and there was cake for all. (Well, not a birthday cake but a delicious chocolate thing with some sort of cream filling. Not like the WNT Blog had a big piece or anything... we HEARD it was good). The real birthday cake will probably come out tonight. That necklace Shannon is wearing was given to her as a B-day present by Rylie Rampone. We're thinking her mom Christie probably helped make it.