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The end of this month brings the tournament before the tournament before the tournament. Huh? Well, think about it. From Sept. 29-Oct. 9, the four-team 2002 Nike U.S. Women’s Cup will help the U.S. Women’s National Team prepare for the crucial 2002 CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, which will act as qualifying for THE tournament, the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Coming off a big 4-0 win over Norway on July 21 and a 8-2 pounding of Scotland on Sept. 8, the U.S. Women appear to be in good form. That said, having only played four games on their home soil this year (as opposed to 20 in 1999 and 19 in 2000), April and the girls could use a little more seasoning before they jump into the tournament that will determine if they even have the opportunity to defend their hard-earned WWC title in ’99.

Up first is Russia on Saturday, Sept. 29, when the U.S. rolls into Long Island for a match at Mitchel Athletic Complex, home of the WUSA’s New York Power. While the U.S. has a 4-0-1 record and a 22-2 goal advantage in the all-time series against the Russkies, the last time the two teams met resulted in a 1-1 tie just prior to the 2000 Olympics, so it’s no cake walk.

The U.S. has also had loads of success against its second opponent, Australia, who they will face on Wednesday, Oct. 2, when the tournament moves south to the Triangle and SAS Park, home of the 2002 WUSA champion Carolina Courage. The U.S. is 13-0-0 all-time versus the Matildas, but gone are the days of 6-0 blankings and lopsided 9-1 contests. In fact, the last time to two teams met, the U.S. needed a goal by Shannon MacMillan to sneak out of Newcastle, Australia with a 1-0 win on June 11, 2000. [Fans can watch the match live in ESPN2 at 7:30 p.m. ET.]

The U.S. finishes up against a talented Italy team on Sunday, Oct. 6, again at SAS Park, in a match broadcast on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. ET.  Italy has been one of the biggest tests for the U.S. team across its 18-year history, with the U.S. holding a slight 5-4-0 edge over the Europeans. After Italy took the first three matches back in the prehistoric years of women’s soccer (1985-88), the Americans rattled off five straight wins to end the century. But Italy is one up on the U.S. in the new millennium, having won the last contest, a 1-0 win in Reiti on March 7, 2001.

Keeping in mind that the U.S. has never lost a match in Nike U.S. Women’s Cup play and has won every title since the tournament’s inception in 1994, and they’ve got their work cut out for them. Below is the U.S. WNT’s 2002 Nike U.S. Women’s Cup schedule as they try to become eight-time champions of U.S. Soccer’s and one of the world’s most prestigious annual women’s soccer tournaments.

Table of Contents
Armchair Midfielder (The Triple-Edged Sword: Class of 1991 vs. Class of 2002)
2) Word Association (w/ MNT defender Eddie Pope)
3) At the Movies (w/ WNT midfielder Aly Wagner)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT defender Gregg Berhalter)
5) Big Woman on Campus (w/ U-19 WNT defender Keeley Dowling)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT forward Mia Hamm)
7) Mark That Calendar (2002 Nike U.S. Women’s Cup)
8) Point/Counterpoint (What Do YOU Know?!?)
9) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (U.S. Open Cup trivia) 

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