Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Out from the Algarve

Well, that's it from the beautiful coast of Portugal. Thanks very much for reading the WNT Blog over the past few weeks as well as following the tournament on The WNT Blog is going to take a long hiatus and we hope you won't miss us too much, but you'll have the chance to follow your favorite players with their WPS clubs as this historic inaugural season for the new women's pro league kicks off in a few weeks. As always, we've enjoyed our stay in the Algarve and the tournament featured fantastic competition, but it's time to head back to the USA as the players will be reporting almost directly to their WPS clubs. We'll be announcing the next set of WNT matches soon so keep checking and hopefully the team will be coming to a city near you. So for now, Obrigado Portugal. We are out.

Drama in the Algarve

Wow. Pretty dramatic stuff in today's Algarve Cup Final, but unfortunately the USA came out on the painful end of the risky business known as the Penalty Kick Shootout. Huge credit goes to the U.S. for battling back from a poor first half to pound away at Sweden in the second 45 and finally get a 90th minute equalizer, which was the USA's second last minute goal of the tournament. (Who does that?). But missing four of seven penalty kicks was not going to get it done, with two agonizingly hitting the left post. Love'em or hate'em, penalties are pretty exciting and today was no exception as the teams went seven shooters deep before this one was over. Keep in mind, the U.S. team allowed just one goal in this year's Algarve Cup -- and that was a gift to Sweden today on a poor back pass. However, if Hope Solo hadn't have been HUGE in the U.S. goal during the match, it would have never gotten to penalty kicks, but that's what a great goalkeeper can do for you. All-in-all, a good tournament for the U.S. as a bunch of young players got to play some quality minutes, players played some different positions and the team is starting to set a good base for its run to qualifying for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. After getting a close-up look at the 2009 versions of the top European squads, the U.S. team can sit back and watch what should be a fantastic European Women's Championships this fall in Finland. Who is the favorite? Germany? Sweden? Denmark? England? A dark horse perhaps? After watching the Swedes today, the WNT Blog likes their chances.

Get Pumped Up: Algarve Final

The Algarve Cup Final vs. Sweden kicks off at 12 p.m. ET today, so don't forget to follow along via's MatchTracker. Here's a look at the highlights of the last game vs. Norway as we all get psyched up for today's match. And Mirela, as requested, Hope Solo's sick save in the first half is at the 1:05 mark.

Mitts 100

We can't release the USA's starting lineup for the Algarve Cup championship match just yet, but we can confirm that defender Heather Mitts will be in it. That means that Mitts will become the 25th female player in U.S. history to earn her 100th cap. It's been a long road for Mitts to the century mark as she earned her first cap in 1999, but didn't break into the National Teal full time until 2004. Through a broken leg and an ACL injury, she has persevered to earn two Olympic gold medals and leave her mark as one of the top outside backs in U.S. history. So, congrats to Mitzy on cap 100!

You can read about Heather's thoughts on her 100th cap in this Q&A on

Venue for The Final

Here are a couple of good looks at the Stadium Algarve, which was built in 2003 for just $34 million. We think Jerry Jones spent that on just the owner's suit at the new Dallas Cowboy Stadium. The 30,000-seat venue is absolutely perfect to watch a soccer match and hosted three games of the 2004 European Championships. One of those was a 0-0 draw between Sweden and the Netherlands in the quarterfinals that Sweden eventually lost in penalty kicks. The Sweden women have had a bit better fortune at Stadium Algarve, taking third place in the Algarve Cup there in 2006 with a 1-0 victory over France on a goal by Lotta Schelin, but finished fourth there in 2005 with a 3-2 loss to France.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Last Practice (Swim?) in the Algarve

Today was the USA's last training in Portugal and it only featured six players who went to the field while the remainder of the squad did a pool workout to rest and regenerate the legs in advance of the Sweden match. The U.S. team will have played four tough games in eight days by the end of this tournament and winning the Algarve Cup is often a battle of team depth and attrition. Above are the six players who had a fun, albeit short training. We have to give the GKs props for winning two of the end of training finishing competitions while the field players won one. Below are the other players heading to the pool. It seems you have to wear swimming caps at this pool, so the U.S. players did. Michael Phelps, look out.

Cool Spring Break

The U.S. team is sharing this hotel with three USYSA ODP Regional Teams who are here in Portugal to train, play some matches, and of course take in some Algarve Cup matches. The Region I (East), Region II (North) and Region III (South) teams are here featuring a mixture of U-17, U-16 and U-15 players. (We guess the Region IV west coast girls didn't need to come to the ocean and beach as they see it all the time). Still, it's got to be pretty cool to be so close to your heroes, as well as get to watch the National Team trainings and games from so close. It also means that the USA will have a cheering section at the Algarve Cup Final! Hopefully, these youngsters, who by virture of making their regional pools are on track to be selected to various U.S. youth national teams, can get a feel for the speed of play, athleticism and physicality of the highest levels of women's international soccer, not to mention the technical ability needed to excel this level. For now, the players are just happy to get some pics with the U.S. players. Above the Region I girls score a team photo.

I'll Have the Prawns

Seeing as the Algarve region is flush on the southern coast of Portugal, the sea food is of course excellent. For those U.S. players who like sea food, they have certainly been partaking here in the Algarve. Last night, the monster prawns were a popular appetizer and a good example of the Portuguese cuisine. The pesto, mozzarella and tomato salads were also good, as were the cheese plates. Luckily, the U.S. players run a lot and needed to replenish the calories after the Norway match.

Down Goes Boxx

The U.S. team had a wonderful dinner last night after the victory over Norway, eating at a restaurant overlooking the sea in Old Town Albufeira. Amid the celebration of a good win, the excellent appetizers and great food, there was an "incident." At the end of dinner, Rylie Rampone, the three-year-old daughter of team captain Christie Rampone, climbed onto the lap of Shannon Boxx and moments later, with a loud crack, Boxx' chair gave way. We're not sure how much pasta Boxx ate or if the addition of Rylie's 40-pounds (or the 15 chicken nuggets she consumed) made a difference, or if the chair was just old, but it crumpled as if some furniture demolition experts had caused it to implode. Now, while this surely is a "you had to be there" moment, the U.S. team, and Boxx, rolled with laughter as the U.S. midfielder tried to extricate herself from the wood splinters. Rylie then went over to her mom and said, "Mom, Boxxy broke the chair!" Of course, Rylie was back again a few minutes wanting Boxx to "do it again." Above you can seem the remnants of the chair, but sorry for the bad quality pic. We had to take it with a camera phone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

It Was That Kind of Game

The tackles were flying in the 45th meeting between the USA and Norway, and as usual when the two teams meet, there were aerial battles galore. Rachel Buehler laid down her fair share of tackles and won almost every header, but she also got some whiplash when she was blasted from behind on a header and (above) shows the effect of accidently heading Norwegian captain Ingvild Stensland in the back of the head.

Debutant Kendall Fletcher wins this duel

That's Good Form

Megan Rapinoe lets loose with her goal scoring shot in the 21st minute against Norway. The goal is just another step, albeit an exciting one, on her long way back from two ACL surgeries. You can read about her road to recovery on

The USA has scored just four goals in three games, but it hasn't allowed one either and that's how a soccer team wins games and qualifies for finals of major tournaments. While a few of the U.S. most dangerous attacking players have yet to find the net this tournament (perhaps that means they are "due" in the final vs. Sweden?), the mark of a good team is getting goals from all over. With Angie Wozunk (second career goal), Tina DiMartino (first career goal), Natasha Kai (24th career goal) and Megan Rapinoe (third career goal) getting on the board, the USA has made the final with its second least amount of goals ever in Algarve group play. In 2003, the USA made the final while scoring three first round goals, with a 1-1 tie with Canada, a 1-0 win over Norway and a 1-1 tie with Sweden, then won the final 2-0 over China.

On to Estadio Algarve

The 18 group matches are over and the placement matches have been set. While the USA will face Sweden in the championship game at Estadio Algarve, there will be some other interesting matches as well. The Germans and the Danes will play for third before the USA takes the pitch in Faro, while China and Iceland will play for fifth. Portugal gets a nice match for them against Finland, host of the 2008 UEFA Women's Championships, while Norway will have to play for ninth against Austria. Wales hammered Poland today, 5-1, but the Poles will get a chance at redemption in the match for 11th. You can follow the USA-Sweden clash on's MatchTracker.

Placement Matches
March 11
Teams Match Venue Kickoff Local / ET
Wales vs. Poland 11th Place Match Albufeira 11:30 a.m. / 7:30 a.m.
Austria vs. Norway 9th Place Match Loulé 11:30 a.m. / 7:30 a.m.
Portugal vs. Finland 7th Place Match Lagos 11:30 a.m. / 7:30 a.m.
China vs. Iceland 5thPlace Match Olhão 11:30 a.m. / 7:30 a.m.
Germany vs. Denmark 3rd Place Match Faro 1:15 a.m. / 9:15 a.m.
USA vs. Sweden Championship Faro 4:00 p.m. / Noon

Hello, Norge

Well, it's USA vs. Norway, again. But this one has a little edge to it as it will be the first meeting between the teams since Norway downed the USA, 2-0, to open the 2008 Olympics. Sure, the USA went on to win the Olympic gold medal. And sure, Norway went on to draw New Zealand and get blown out by Japan, earning a quarterfinal match with Brazil, where they crashed out of the Olympics to the talented South Americans. And sure, the USA is already in the Algarve Cup championship game. But few teams know each other as well as it's the 45th meeting between the two countries and every match has been a knock-down, drag-out battle. The U.S. players are expecting nothing different today. With a berth in the final secured, U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage may be resting some players, but you can find out today's starters by logging onto's MatchTracker at 11 a.m. ET today.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Defenders Triumph Again

Lindsay Tarpley lets fly with a CK

After only half the team trained yesterday (the starters vs. Iceland did a pool workout), the whole team trained today, working on some shooting, some offensive and defensive tactics and some set plays. At the end of training, there was yet another competition, this one challenging the players (in teams of two) to shoot at the goal, which had been divided into upper and lower corners with athletic tape. Players got five points for hitting into the upper corner square and three points for lower. One point for hitting the middle of the goal. After three rounds, the team of Christie Rampone, who jacked two shots into the upper left corner, and Hope Solo, who placed two of hers into the lower right, took home the title.

(Above) The Champs rejoice

Megan Rapinoe celebrates a 5-pointer


In the navy blue trunks, weighing in at 143 pounds, fighting out of the North Shore Gym in Kahuku, Hawaii, the reigning welterweight champion of the world, please welcome the Hittin' Hawaiian!!! Natasha "The Krusher" Kai!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually, TK is a big softie off the field. She just had a towel so she could go to the very cold pool here at the hotel right after practice and soak her legs in the chilly water.

It was also very sunny out so she was cooling her head.

International Women's Day

Annually on March 8, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate women's achievements on International Women's Day. The women of the U.S. National Team certainly have achieved much and made major strides for women's sports, so it's only fitting that each player would be presented a rose by the hotel staff today. Actually, every woman at the hotel got a rose, including every player from the other three teams based here: Sweden, Norway and Portugal. We're not sure how Hope Solo got three roses, but she's just nine short of a dozen.

Kendall at the Cape

Defender Kendall Fletcher's parents are here at the Algarve Cup to watch the tournament and take in some sights, and yesterday they decided on an afternoon excursion to Cape St. Vincent, the most southwestern point of Portugal. Like most of the Portuguese coast, it is beautiful and features some magnificent rock formations, one of which Kendall decided to climb on. From that perch, she is sure to see any advancing marauders who might want to invade Portugal. Wait, that was in the 16th Century. No need for Kendall to fight them off with canons and broad swords.