U.S. WOMEN BEGIN FINAL RUN TO ATHENS OLYMPICS: The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team plays the first of six domestic internationals before the Olympics tomorrow against Brazil at Legion Field (12 Noon CT on ESPN2). This match will be the sixth of 2004 against teams that are already in, or are likely to qualify for the Olympics. Brazil got a free pass to Athens as South America did not hold a qualification tournament, instead sending Brazil as the reigning South American and Pan Am Games champion. U.S. head coach April Heinrichs currently has 29 players in the Olympic Residency Camp at the U.S. Soccer National Team Training Center in Carson, Calif., and will choose 18 of those players for the rosters for the six matches. The 18-player 2004 U.S. Women's Soccer Olympic Team will not be named until mid-to-late July and the U.S. team will depart for Greece in early August. The U.S. team has been in residency since April 5 and is coming off three hard weeks of practice, which followed a highly successful first three months of the year in which the USA won three major tournaments. The USA won the Four Nations Tournament in China in January, won the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February/March in Costa Rica, and rolled over Norway in the title game of the Algarve Cup on March 20, winning 4-1 behind three goals from Abby Wambach, which was the most recent match for the U.S. women. The USA is 10-1-1 so far in 2004, with the lone loss coming to Sweden at the Algarve Cup, but the USA still won the group and advanced to the title game. Four of the USA's six pre-Olympic matches have been confirmed, with the schedule to be completed in the coming days.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM PRE-OLYMPIC GAME SCHEDULE
Date Opponent City/Venue Kickoff TV
April 24 Brazil Birmingham, Ala./Legion Field Noon CT ESPN2
May 9 Mexico Albuquerque, N.M./University Stadium 1 p.m. MT ESPN2
June 6 Japan Louisville, Ky./Papa John's Cardinal Stadium 4 p.m. ET ESPN2
July 21 Australia Blaine, Minn./National Sports Center 6 p.m. CT ESPN2
WELCOME BACK CAT: Birmingham native Cat Reddick returns to her hometown with the U.S. National Team for the second time, first playing for the USA in front of her home fans on May 17, 2003, in a 6-0 win over England at the hot and steamy Legion Field. Reddick played 90 minutes in that match in her first appearance for the national team in the city where she was a high-school All-American at Briarwood Christian School and two-time Alabama Girl's Soccer Player of the Year. Reddick was one of the revelations of the 2003 Women's World Cup, coming off the bench in the first match of the tournament to replace the injured Brandi Chastain and ended up playing every minute the rest of the way. She set a record by becoming the only defender in U.S. history to score twice in a Women's World Cup match, cementing her status as one of the top young players in the world. Reddick won the MAC Hermann Award for 2003, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for college soccer, as a senior last fall at University of North Carolina, where she returned after the Women's World Cup to lead the Tar Heels to a 27-0-0 record and the NCAA title. If all goes well for Reddick over the next four months, she will represent the USA, and Alabama, at the 2004 Olympics.
BORN IN SELMA, EDUCATED AROUND THE WORLD: Mia Hamm was born in Selma, Ala., where her father was stationed in the Air Force, before moving on to various stops in her youth career that led to her being the youngest player ever to appear for the U.S. women at the age of 15. She has scored a world record 147 career international goals since debuting for the USA in 1987, but still has an affinity for Selma, where her family still has friends.
VETERANS STILL LEADING THE WAY: This year marks the third cycle of an Olympics after a Women's World Cup. In 1995, the USA finished third at the WWC and then won the Olympics. In 1999, the USA won the WWC, then finished second at the Olympics. In 2003, the USA finished third at the WWC, perhaps positive foreshadowing for a successful Olympic campaign, which will be led once again by the U.S. veterans. To say 2004 is the end of an "era" for the U.S. women is almost a misnomer, as the five veterans of the inaugural Women's World Cup Team in 1991 - Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm - have essentially been a part of the entire "era" of the U.S. Women's National Team, all debuting for the USA in the late 1980s. The USA boasts both the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken of women's soccer in the world's all-time leading scorer Mia Hamm (147 goals) and the world's all-time appearance leader Kristine Lilly (270 caps). Lilly and Foudy have played in all 24 of the USA's Women's World Cup games and all 10 of the USA's Olympic matches. The 2004 Olympics could be the last world championship event for the five remaining active players from the 1991 Women's World Cup team and they are poised to make another run at gold. Brandi Chastain (36), Joy Fawcett (36), Julie Foudy (33), Mia Hamm (32) and Kristine Lilly (32) should form the core of the team that will attempt to win a second Olympic gold medal in Greece.
LEGION FIELD DEVELOPING SOCCER TRADITION: While the ghost of Bear Bryant may roam the sidelines of Legion Field, one day he'll have quite a few talented place-kickers to choose from. Legion Field, one of the most famous college football stadiums of the South, has a short, but sterling soccer tradition, having hosted soccer games at the 1996 Olympics as well as two U.S. Men's National Team games that drew over 21,000 fans to each match. This will be the second match played by the U.S. women after the highly successful event in 6-0 victory over England last year in which Cindy Parlow pounded in four goals.
FAWCETT ALMOST BACK FROM BACK SURGERY: U.S. co-captain Joy Fawcett had back surgery to alleviate the pressure of a herniated disk about a month ago, but is far along on the comeback trail. The world's most-capped defender is jogging and kicking, and should be back training with her teammates soon. Fawcett aggravated the injury in February in Costa Rica at the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament and has not played for the USA since the title game of that tournament on March 5, but has a history of quick healing, coming back from ankle surgery in just 11 days at the beginning of the 2003 WUSA season, and coming back from the birth of a daughter three times to play at the top level in the world.
STATS OF NOTE: The USA has scored 40 goals in its 12 matches so far this year, while allowing just seven. Abby Wambach leads the team in scoring with nine goals and five assists, while young Lindsay Tarpley has pounded in seven goals with two assists. Mia Hamm has three goals and six assists, while Shannon Boxx has found the net five times from her defensive midfielder position. The U.S. defense has been stellar so far this year, allowing just over half a goal a game on average. Boxx and Kate Markgraf have started 11 of the 12 games so far, the only players to start that many. Julie Foudy and Cat Reddick have started 10 games apiece.
LILLY CLOSES IN ON 100 CAREER GOALS: Kristine Lilly currently has 95 career goals and has a shot at hitting the magical 100-goal mark before the Olympics, a plateau achieved by just four other women's players in history. At 32, and still in her prime, Lilly has a good chance to not only reach 100 career goals, but perhaps even catch Elisabetta Vignotto of Italy (107) to become the second greatest international scorer in history behind Mia Hamm. Currently at 254 caps, Hamm is the second most-capped player in the history of soccer, men or women. She is U.S. Soccer's all-time leading scorer with 147 goals and 129 career assists (by far a team record) for 423 points. The only player in WUSA history to earn first-team all-league honors for all three years of the WUSA, midfielder Kristine Lilly continues to leave an indelible mark on the international game as well. By far the most capped player, man or woman, in the history of the world, Lilly debuted for the USA in 1987 and has played in 270 of the 316 games ever played by the USA, or 85% of the games. Even more amazing, she has started 259 of those games.
U-19 WORLD CHAMPS MAKING THEIR MARK IN "THE SHOW": Several players from the USA's 2002 U-19 World Championship Team are starting to make their marks at the senior level. Forward Heather O'Reilly, 19, was on track to make the 2002 Women's World Cup Team, but broke her leg in an exhibition match in June before the tournament and could not make it back in time to be selected. She is the most experienced of the four college players currently participating in Olympic Residency Camp with 21 caps and three goals. As a freshman at UNC last Fall, O'Reilly scored in all of the Tar Heels playoff matches (tallying 16 goals with 11 assists total) and was named Offensive MVP of the Final Four as UNC won the NCAA title with a 27-0-0 record. Lindsay Tarpley, a forward with UNC, but playing in the midfield for the USA, was also a key member of UNC's NCAA championship team, leading the country in scoring with 23 goals and 27 assists. Tarpley was the captain of the 2002 U-19 world champs, leading the team to first-ever FIFA world championship for youth women, combining with O'Reilly and Texas junior Kelly Wilson for 19 goals with 13 assists in the six matches. Tarpley, who won the Bronze Boot as the third leading scorer in the tournament, scored the "golden goal" in overtime that gave the USA the 1-0 victory over host Canada while O'Reilly led the team in assists with seven, but also added four goals. O'Reilly was by far the youngest player named to the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup roster that qualified for the 2003 Women's World Cup. She has scored 18 goals in 18 U-19 internationals, and has scored three at the senior level, tallying her first full international goal against Italy in the clinching match of the 2002 Nike U.S. Women's Cup, running onto a pass from Julie Foudy to half-volley her shot from close range and open her account on the senior level. Tarpley scored an amazing 24 goals in 26 full U-19 internationals and is off to a great start in her full National Team career, finding the net seven times in her first 20 games. Also named to the Birmingham roster was the unsung hero of the U-19 world champs, midfielder Lori Chalupny, whose gritty work in midfield and world-class balls skills allowed the USA to win the midfield battles in Canada. She was also a big part of UNC's title run, scoring 11 goals with 12 assists.
MRS. RONALDO, I PRESUME?: Brazil's roster features midfielder Milene, who is world famous not for her soccer skills (which are excellent), but as the wife of Real Madrid's Brazilian superstar and former FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo. Milene's inclusion on the 2003 Women's World Cup Team was a bit controversial as she had not played for the national team prior, but it did generate some massive and much-needed publicity for women's soccer in Brazil.
USA vs. BRAZIL PREVIEW: The match against Brazil will be the first against the perennial South American champions since a narrow 1-0 victory on July 13, 2003, in New Orleans, Louisiana. While Brazil has been one of the success stories of women's international soccer over the past decade, the USA has found great success against the "Samba Queens." The Americans are 15-1-2 against Brazil all-time, including two victories in Women's World Cup matches and one in the semifinal of the Olympics. Brazil has actually made eight trips to the United States over the years, including the 1999 Women's World Cup. Brazil has participated in two Nike U.S. Women's Cups, finishing second in 1998 and 1999, and played in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000, where the USA and Brazil played to a 0-0 tie in group play, then met again in the championship game, a 1-0 U.S. victory. In four of the last five matches between the two teams, with a 4-0 win before the 2000 Olympics the only aberration, the teams have played nail-bitingly close matches, including three 1-0 U.S. victories and one 0-0 tie. Without the dangerous Pretinha, who tore her ACL against the USA in the match in New Orleans last year, Brazil will rely on the brilliant Katia for its goals, but will need help from the rest of its creative players to puncture a tough and experienced U.S. defense. Every U.S.-Brazil match is always entertaining as both teams like to attack, making for a wide open game, and the possession of the Brazilians is especially difficult to deal with, as once they get the ball, it is difficult to get back.
EYE ON BRAZIL: Brazil had the youngest team at the 2003 Women's World Cup with an average age of 22. The team was made up primarily of the core of players who advanced to the semifinals of the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship, where they fell to host Canada, but easily could have made the championship game. Brazil put together an entertaining run at the 2003 Women's World Cup, falling in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Sweden, 2-1, but only due to a brilliant Swedish free kick and after failing to get what looked like a sure penalty kick called in the final minute of the game. Brazil has some of the best young players in the world, including 18-year-old forward Marta, who recently signed with Sweden's top club team, Umea, and 20-year-old Daniela, who played in the WUSA for the San Diego Spirit. Brazil's top player is former San Jose CyberRays star striker Katia, one of the most dangerous forwards in the world. In addition to Katia, a former top hurdler in South America, Brazil will also have among its group of wily veterans diminutive speedster Maycon, and dynamic midfielder Formiga. Brazil has participated in all four Women's World Cup, as well as the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and had advanced to the semifinals of three consecutive world championships, falling to the USA in the 1999 Women's World Cup and the 2000 Olympics, before being knocked out in the quarters at the 2003 Women's World Cup. The USA and Brazil played a historic encounter on July 4, 1999, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto in front of 73,123 fans with the Americans prevailing, 2-0. The two teams met again in the semifinals in Canberra, Australia, at the 2000 Olympics as the U.S. won, 1-0, on a goal from Mia Hamm.
OLYMPIC DRAW SET FOR JUNE 9: The U.S. will not find out its opponents and venues for the 2004 Olympics until June 9 when the Olympic Final Draw is held. Norway won't be at the Olympics, knocked out after losing to the USA in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals, but Women's World Cup champion Germany will be, as will Europe's most improved team, Sweden, a nation that has split games with the USA so far in 2004. Host Greece is the third European team in the field by virtue of its automatic berth. Australia has qualified from Oceania, Brazil will represent South America and the USA, and surprise qualifier Mexico, which defeated Canada at the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Costa Rica in February, will represent this region. Asia will have two teams (after qualifying currently being held in Japan) and Africa will be represented by perennial power Nigeria. The Olympics will feature a unique and somewhat odd tournament format with the 10-teams (up from eight in 1996 and 2000) split into two groups of three teams each and one group of four, meaning six teams will play one less game in the first round. Also, for the first time, there will be quarterfinal matches, as just two of the 10 teams will be eliminated after the first round. In the past Olympic women's soccer tournaments, the top two finishers in each four-team group advanced straight to the semifinals.
REGGAE BOYZ TO SOCCER WARRIORS TO SAMBA QUEENS: One of the more interesting stories of the 2004 Brazilian Women's National Team involves their coach, Rene Simoes, who coached Jamaica to the 1998 Men's World Cup, becoming a national hero on the island nation, and then coached the Trinidad & Tobago Men's National Team in 2001 and 2002. Come August in Greece, the Brazilian-born Simoes should become the first person to coach both a men's and women's national team in a FIFA world championship tournament.