Saturday, February 28, 2009

We're Baaaaaaaaahck

Yes, the herd of sheep that always seems to make an appearance by the U.S. training fields during the Algarve Cup showed up again today. They didn't stay for the scrimmage match though, getting herded over the hill by a shepherd and several very conscientious sheep dogs. Which is a good thing, as their sheep noises sounded a bit like boos...and no one wants to get booed at a game where there are no fans.

Chups' Choices

If you have ever followed the Algarve Cup, you know there is a bit of downtime that the U.S. players have to fill. Since the Nintendo Wii just got set up, that will fill a few hours, but defender Lori Chalupny has been watching some movies and TV shows. Her eclectic list includes:

The Changeling
Nights in Rodanthe
The Unit (Season I)

Meanwhile, U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who as studio art and pyschology major at Stanford, is designing a Dora the Explorer map of the hotel to help Christie Rampone's three-year-old daughter Rylie learn her colors. She's calling it Rylie the Explorer. Yes, things do get a bit slow in the Algarve.

Boxx from the Back

Not many players can muscle Shannon Boxx off the ball, not even the FIFA World Player of the Year

U.S. midfielder/defender Shannon Boxx scored a great goal in today's scrimmage against Swedish club side Djurgården, running onto a cross on the ground from Lindsay Tarpley and hitting a first-time inside-out blast with her right foot that screamed into the right side netting from about the middle of the penalty box. Sure it was just a scrimmage, but scoring any goal is fun. Boxx, whose fantastic play in the center midfield was a key to the USA's gold medal triumph in Beijing, was slightly surprised herself, considering she hasn't scored since January of 2008 with a looping header against China at the Four Nations Tournament. That goal, like her one in the scrimmage today, was a game-winner. "I play the whole year last year in midfield and score one goal and I play one game at center back and I score!" said the amused Boxx, who has 18 career goals for the USA from the midfield.

Wozzy, Kobe and King James

Angie Woznuk was talking about her sports role models today, and not surpisingly the names Zinedine Zidane, Kaka and Diego Maradona came up. But it was suprising to hear that while her two current role models play with a round ball, they don't kick it. She's really enjoying watching LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We asked her why:

"Those are two players that inspire me. I've watched Kobe for many years and he's just unbelievable not only on the offensive end, but also defensively. It's the same for LeBron. It's really cool to be so good on both sides of the ball and it's something I hope to bring to my game. I want to make an equal impact on offense and defense. Kobe has certainly had some adversity in his life, but I think he's matured and he's more able to cope with being a superstar. LeBron has also always been very mature as he's had the spotlight on him from a very young age. The way he's handled it all has been really impressive. They are also both so consistent, and that is something all athletes should strive for. Watching Kobe and Lebron get me excited to play soccer."

Keep a lookout for Wozzy in the front row at the Staples Center or the Quicken Loans Arena (if, ummmm, somebody will give her a ticket).

USA vs. Djurgården

U.S. players watch from the bench during the first period against Swedish club Djurgården

The U.S. team got in a great pre-Algarve Cup scrimmage today defeating Djurgården, one of the top teams in the Swedish First Division, by a 5-1 score. We'll try to get some highlights up of the match soon. The Swedes are in the Algarve for some pre-season training (it's a bit chilly right now in Stockholm) and the match was also the first of the year for the USA against a women's team. The teams played three 30-minute periods with U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage (who played more than a few games in the Swedish First Division herself) making several changes to the U.S. team during each period. Tina DiMartino, who played as a withdrawn forward under Amy Rodriguez, opened the scoring in the first period with a left footed shot that she cut into the lower right corner from just inside the box. Shannon Boxx, who in a position shift has been playing center back, came up from the back line to score the USA's second goal in the second period off a great assist from Lindsay Tarpley. Forward Natasha Kai tripled the U.S. lead in the third period with powerful header off a perfect Heather O'Reilly cross. U.S. captain Christie Rampone created the fourth goal with another dynamic run from a center back and her bouncing cross through the goal mouth was inadverntly knocked into the Swedish net by a Djurgården player. Midfielder Kacey White finished the scoring against the tiring European side with a spectacular upper left corner blast from 25-yards out. The U.S. team will train tomorrow (Sunday) and then have Monday off before training on Tuesday in its final practice before opening the Algarve Cup against Denmark on Wednesday.

U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage gives some tatical advice between periods of today's scrimmage

Friday, February 27, 2009

Yes, Crepes

It took less than two days for the first trip to the "crepe place" for the U.S., which gorged itself on the famous crepes and ice cream that are a staple of the USA's annual pilgramage to the Algarve Cup. The Italian restaurant and ice cream palor is a short walk from the team hotel, and no doubt gets a spike in business when the U.S. team comes to town. Midfielder Tina DiMartino, who had heard all about the desserts, got her fill (below) while Kacey White and Heather O'Reilly shared the classic and most popular crepe, with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, strawberries and bananas, real whipped cream, chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. Fortunately, these women burn thousands of calories in a day.

Games before The Games

Brain power in action as U.S. players try to memorize items on the table

The U.S. team has been undertaking a series of team competitions, both on the field and off, with points being earned individually and with teams, with the highest point-earner at the end of the tournament being declared the grand champion. Today after training it was time for the crossbar game, with teams of two trying to hit the bar from the top of the penalty area. In somewhat of an upset, the defender trio of Heather Mitts and Rachel Buehler came out on top. Tonight's game was a mental test, with 43 items being placed under a towel (paper clip, spoon, hair clip, just to name a few). The towel was removed and the two-player teams had 30 seconds to memorize as many as possible before the items went back under cover, then the four minutes to write down as many as they could remember. This time, the duo of Mitts and Natasha Kai proved victorious, recalling 25 items. Yesterday, the East Coast players took on the West Coast in a game called Fact or Fiction! In this game, each player wrote down four things about herself, three of which were true and one of which was false. The game was trying to guess which one was false. An example (Note: These are culled from a number of players).

1. I have broken eight bones in my body.
2. I sang the National Anthem in front of my entire school in 6th grade.
3. I have been arrested.
4. Both my in-laws are identical twins.

The game was hard, the competition was fierce, but in the end, the East came out on top.

Lori Chalupny and Hope Solo search the mind's eye to remember items. Chalupny joked that after getting accidently punched in the head by Solo against Norway during the Olympics, her memory might be lacking.

Gearing Up in the Algarve

Hope Solo makes a stop in front of Megan Rapinoe during the USA's first training in Portugal

The U.S. Women's National Team has arrived in Portugal, but due to a seriously shaky Internet connection at the team hotel, the WNT Blog has been adversly affected. In fact, unless there is some technical wizardy accomplished, this may be be the first and last post of the trip! Suffice it to say, it's very possible the blog may be spotty and intermitent, but we shall do our best. All you really need to know is that the U.S. team arrived in Lisbon on the morning of Feb. 26 and took its usual three-hour bus ride down to the Algarve region. For the veterans who have been to this tournament many times, it's like the family vaction to the same spot year after year. For the rookies here for the first time, they are ready to experience all the good things the Algarve Cup has to offer (quality Internet not being one of them). Said once-capped midfielder Tina DiMartino, who is at her first Algarve Cup, "I heard the crepes and ice cream were great." Oh, they are, Tina, they are. The U.S. team had its first training on Thursday afternoon and while there were some wobbly legs, the 6 v 6 games were of suprising quality for players who just stepped off a transcontinental flight a few hours before. The U.S. team will train almost every day leading up to its March 4 opener against Denmark, a match pitting the particpants of the last two Algarve Cup Finals.

Tina D is looking forward to the crepes and ice cream