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U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team Kicks Off Against Greece Tomorrow

U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team
Notes from Heraklion, Greece
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team held its final training before the start of the 2004 Olympics on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the match venue of Pankritio Stadium, hustling through the team’s 45 minutes of allotted time on the stadium pitch.  The USA vs. Greece match, which kicks off at the same time as three other women’s soccer matches across Greece, will be the first events of the Olympics and the eyes of the Olympic world will be on the game.  The Opening Ceremonies take place in Athens on Friday (August 13), but the USA-Greece match will be preceded by an Opening Gala followed by the kickoff at 6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET live on MSNBC.  Play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera will call the action while Lori Walker will provide color commentary.  The U.S. team started their Olympic preparations on January 12 of this year and tomorrow culminates seven months of hard work toward the Olympics.

SEVEN MONTHS TO GREECE: The U.S. team started Olympic Residency Camp on April 5 and trained for almost 60 total days (with numerous “double-day” training session mixed in) in that time at The Home Depot Center, in Carson, Calif., ending on July 18 when the team broke camp.  That training period followed a highly successful first three months of the year in which the USA won three major tournaments while spending 58 out of 68 days on the road from January 12 through March 20.  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. The USA is 15-1-2 in 2004 heading into the Olympics, with that lone loss coming to Sweden (3-1) at the Algarve Cup, but the USA still won the group and advanced to the title game.  Following are the groups and the entire opening round schedule for Olympic women’s soccer.  All the matches kick off at 6 p.m. local time / 11 a.m. ET.
Group E           Group F            Group G
Sweden             Germany            Greece
Japan                China                 USA
Nigeria              Mexico              Brazil
Opening Round Schedule
Date       No.  Group    Match-up                        Venue
Aug. 11    1        G       Greece vs. USA              Heraklio    
                2        F        Germany vs. China          Patra    
                3        G        Brazil vs. Australia          Thessaloniki    
                4        E        Sweden vs. Japan           Volos
Aug. 13   OPENING CEREMONIES                Athens
Aug. 14    5        E        Japan vs. Nigeria            Athens    
                6        G       Greece vs. Australia        Heraklio    
                7        F        China vs. Mexico            Patra    
                8        G       USA vs. Brazil                Thessaloniki    
Aug. 17    9        F       Germany vs. Mexico       Athens    
               10       G       Greece vs. Brazil             Patra    
               11       G       USA vs. Australia           Thessaloniki    
               12       E        Sweden vs. Nigeria        Volos    

“LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!”: Proclaimed U.S. captain Julie Foudy in the team huddle to end the USA’s second to last training on Monday before facing Greece tomorrow, echoing the sentiments of the U.S. team, which is chomping at the bit to hit the field after months of anticipation.  The U.S. Women’s National Team enters its third Olympics with a record of seven wins, one loss and two ties all-time in Olympic competition.  If the USA can advance to the gold medal game in Athens, Greece, it will be closing a circle of sorts, as the USA won the first-ever gold medal for women’s soccer in another Athens, this one in Georgia, in 1996.  Following is a look at all 10 matches played in the Olympics by the U.S. women:
U.S. Women’s National Team Olympic History
Date                    Opponent    Result           City                         The Skinny
July 21, 1996      Denmark      3-0 W          Orlando, Fla.           Venturini, Hamm and Milbrett Score at Citrus Bowl
July 23, 1996      Sweden        2-1 W          Orlando, Fla.           MacMillan, Venturini lead U.S. to big win
July 25, 1996      China           0-0 T            Miami, Fla.              Preview of gold medal game goes goalless
July 28, 1996      Norway     2-1 W (OT)    Athens, Ga.             Akers ties game, MacMillan scores golden goal
Aug. 1, 1996      China           2-1 W           Athens, Ga.             MacMillan and Milbrett Score in front of 76,489
Sept. 14, 2000   Norway       2-0 W           Melbourne, Aus.      USA opens “Group of Death” with big win
Sept. 17, 2000   China           1-1 T            Melbourne, Aus.      Late Sun Wen goal negates Julie Foudy Header
Sept. 20, 2000   Nigeria         3-1 W          Melbourne, Aus.      Chastain, MacMillan, Lilly score to win group
Sept. 24, 2000   Brazil           1-0 W          Canberra, Aus.         Hamm scores big goal in super tight match
Sept. 28, 2000   Norway      2-3 L (OT)    Sydney, Aus.            Norway wins on controversial “golden goal”

GREEK RECIPE FOR SUCCESS FEATURES A LITTLE AMERICAN FLAVOR: The USA vs. Greece match is the first meeting between the two countries in women’s soccer, but it also carries a little bit more intrigue as eight players on the 18-player roster are Greek-Americans who grew up in the U.S. system and played college soccer in the USA.  Two other players are Dutch-born and play for clubs in Holland.  Most of the U.S.-bred players have been traveling between the United States and Greece for more than two years to prepare for the Olympics, but all have been based in Athens since May training in preparation for Greece’s first showing on the world’s stage in women’s soccer.  The USA and Greek players have been housed in the same hotel, which serves as the “Olympic Village” in Heraklion, along with the men’s soccer teams of Australia, Costa Rica, Tunisia and Morocco.  There has been little banter between the two teams, although several U.S. players know some of the Greek players in passing. The Greek players are excited, some are a bit nervous, but most consider it a great challenge and honor to face the United States in the first match of the Olympics, and the U.S. team knows it will be up against an inspired squad playing in front of home fans.  The Greeks do have several veterans who, like several of the USA’s players, have been with the team since it’s inception.  Maria Lazarou has played 110 times for Greece, while midfielder Efitchia Michailidou has played 80 times and midfielder Natalia Chatzigiannidou (fitting her name on the back of a jersey may be one of the great accomplishments of the Greek organizers) has played 77 times for her country.

“PLAY WITH YOUR AMERICAN HEADS, AND GREEK HEARTS”: That is what Greece head coach Xanthi Konstandinidou has told her American-born players, asking them to use their training in America, but the passion of their Greek heritage, to find success in the Olympics.  Both Greek goalkeepers are Americans in Maria Giatrakis, who played for Greek coach Lenny Tsantiris at the University of Connecticut and Ileana Moschos, who played at Wofford College, with the Sacramento Storm women’s club in the WPSL.  Moschos will return to the USA following the Olympics to be an assistant coach at Iowa State this fall.  Sofia Smith, out of Houston, Texas, is in her third year of law school.  She put that on hold and will return to finish after the Olympics.  Midfielder Amalia Loseno currently attends Gonzaga in Washington state where she is a rising senior, while defender Eleni Benson is a rising junior at Yale. Tanya Kalyvas played at Princeton. While the focus of the Greek team is to try to advance to the quarterfinals, there is a feeling amongst the team that they are pioneers of sorts, and perhaps could accomplish in their country, on a much smaller level, what the current group of U.S. players started 15 years ago in the USA as they work to popularize the women’s game in a country where women’s soccer has much room for growth, both in the number of female players and social acceptance.

SAME PLAYERS, DIFFERENT NUMBERS: Because Olympic rosters must be numbered 1-18, six U.S. players had to change the jersey numbers they have worn consistently in 2004.  So that U.S. fans can immediately spot some of their favorite players on MSNBC, here is a quick rundown of the switches.  Defender Heather Mits will wear #2, midfielder Lindsay Tarpley will wear #5, midfielder Angela Hucles will wear #8, forward Abby Wambach will wear #16, forward Heather O’reilly moves to #17 and goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill will wear #18.  Following are the U.S. and Greek rosters for the match:
Goalkeepers (2): 18-Kristin LUCKENBILL, 1-Briana SCURRY; Defenders (6): 6-Brandi CHASTAIN, 14-Joy FAWCETT, 15-Kate MARKGRAF, 2-Heather MITTS, 3-Christie RAMPONE, 4-Cat REDDICK; Midfielders (6): 7-Shannon BOXX, 11-Julie FOUDY, 8-Angela HUCLES, 13-Kristine LILLY, 5-Lindsay TARPLEY, 10-Aly WAGNER; Forwards (4): 9-Mia HAMM, 17-Heather O’REILLY, 12-Cindy PARLOW, 16-Abby WAMBACH.
Goalkeepers (2): 1-Maria GIATRAKIS, 18-Ileana MOSCHOS; Defenders (5): 4- Kalliopi STRATAKIS, 5- Athanasia POURIDOU, 8- Konstantina KATSAITI, 13- Alexandra KAVVADA, 16- Eleni BENSON; Midfielders (7): 2- Angeliki LAGOUMTZI, 3- Sophia SMITH, 6-Eftichia MICHAILIDOU, 10-Natalia CHATZIGIANNIDOU, 12-Amalia LOSENO, 15-Tanya KALYVAS, 17-Maria LAZAROU; Forwards (4): 7- Vasiliki SOUPIADOU, 9-Angeliki TEFANI, 11-Dimitra PANTELEIADOU, 14-Anastasia PAPADOPOULOU.


Midfielder Lindsay Tarpley (20 years old) and forward Heather O’Reilly (19) were teammates on the USA’s 2002 U-19 World Championship Team, slicing through the competition as two-thirds of the America’s “new Triple-Edged Sword.”  They combined for 10 goals (and O’Reilly had seven assists) during the tournament and both played a part in the “golden goal” in sudden death overtime to defeat Canada, 1-0, in the championship game in front of almost 50,000 fans, with O’Reilly keeping the cross alive and Tarpley finishing it to end the game.  They are teammates at the University of North Carolina, helping the Tarheels to a 27-0-0 record and the NCAA title last year and this year both have been named to the 25-player preseason watch list for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, which honors the top male and female Division 1 college soccer players in the U.S. Now they are teammates on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, having survived and excelled during the USA’s three-month Olympic Residency Camp in Los Angeles following almost two months on the road during the first part of the year.   On the eve of the 2004 Olympic Games, the USA’s two youngest players sat down with and shared some thoughts on their experience, their journey to the brink of the Olympics and what they’ve learned along the way.

Midfielder Kristine Lilly, on the eve of her third Olympics, about her world record in caps (276 games):
“I never thought when I started that I would play this long or play so many games.  Two-hundred-seventy-something games later, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  That’s when I start to appreciate it.  But I love doing what I do, so why change?”

U.S. captain Julie Foudy, on the USA’s match being among the first events of the Olympics:
“We are focused on the game, but it is a good thing (that a lot of people might be watching).  If we can get as much exposure as we can, it’s good for both Greece and the USA.  We’ve been together for seven months and we’ve been working hard, so we feel like we have been watching the countdown to Athens for a long time.  We’re at one day away now so it’s exciting.”

Foudy on the nerves of the first game:
“We have to try to stay steady more than anything else.  The first game (of a world championship) is very exciting and you are playing against Greece in Greece.  It’s an incredible opportunity and experience for both teams.”

Foudy on feeling the Olympic spirit:
“For our team, there are some of us at our third Olympics and some of us at our first, but I think it is the same feeling for everyone.  The opportunity to play in the birthplace of the Olympics and democracy is awesome.  There is so much history and tradition here that you feel like you are a part of something bigger.  Of course, we don’t have the opportunity to do a lot of sight-seeing, but we have been doing a lot of reading to learn about the history of this country, because it’s fascinating.”

Foudy on if this being her last Olympics adds motivation:
“I get no motivation from this being my last go around.  Anytime you are going to an Olympics, you are going to be motivated, whether it’s your first or last.  The motivation is intrinsic.  Every time we go into a tournament we set a high standards for this team.  What it does remind the older players is, let’s just enjoy the heck out of this, have fun and really take a moment to look around at this last month and enjoy the Olympic atmosphere.”

Foudy on if there is pressure on the USA:

“It’s exciting to be playing Greece.  We say pressure is a privilege and it’s a good opportunity to showcase our sport.  We’ve played in a lot of big events and this team handles pressure pretty well.  We know Greece is going to come in with high energy.  This is their first Olympics and to play at home in front of their own fans, they have a lot on their side and nothing to lose.  But we come in with tremendous respect for them and hopefully, there will be a good crowd and we plan to enjoy the atmosphere.”

U.S. forward Abby Wambach on facing the host country:
“Whenever you play an opponent on their home soil in a world championship, you know they are going to bring their best stuff.  That’s kind of what we are expecting and we would expect nothing less.  We don’t think that they would come here and in any way not put forth their best effort on the field.  We will have to battle that and the crowd for the first 10 minutes before the game settles down.”

Wambach on the opening game:
“We are going to be playing as hard as we can like it’s our last game.  Even though we know that we have two other games in the first round, these are some of the last games that a lot of us will have a chance to play with the veterans.  I won’t forget that and I will be taking in as much as I can so I can remember it for the rest of my life.”
Wambach on playing before the Opening Ceremonies:

“We don’t know how many people know there are even games going on before the Opening Ceremonies.  We don’t know who is going to be watching, all we can do is go out and play and put a good product on the field, which I think we can.”

U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry on the games starting and not having to face U.S. forwards Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm in training as much:

”I’m so glad it’s the other team now.”

U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx on the heat:
“We trained really well back in California for the heat.  We tried to train during the hottest part of the day.  We played all our friendly matches in the Midwest and on the East Coast, which was very hot and humid--even worse than it is here.  But it is hot, and I think we’ve all gotten used it to a little more every day we’ve been here.”

U.S. head coach April Heinrichs on Greece:
“We haven’t seen them play in five months, so we don’t really know what they are going to do. They could play five in the back, they could play three in the back, but we do know that they are very organized, they play with a lot of numbers, they play a counter-attacking style and they really have good team chemistry offensively and defensively.  They have a great combination-play quality to them despite their lack of international games as a country. “

U.S. forward Mia Hamm on preparing for the first match in Crete:
“We got to spend some time in the Olympic Village, and got a taste of the entire experience, but once we got here, we have concentrated on what we need to do and the organizers have really made in comfortable for all us to be able to do that.  We are enjoying our stay here, but that the same time our focus is what we are doing tomorrow, and I know that is on all the player’s minds right now.’
Hamm on the Greece match:
“This team has always taken great pride in not only the result, but how we get there.  We want to play attractively and we want to set higher standards for the game, and we’re going to try to do that.  Every single game we are going in respecting our opponent, and in the first game, it’s Greece.  They will be playing with a lot of emotion.  They have been together as a team for close to two years now training for this moment, just like us, and we expect nothing but the best from the Greek team.”

STAT OF NOTE:  While the U.S. team, with eight players that have played far more than 100, or even 200 games, is far more experienced that Greece, the Greeks are far more experienced than some might think, as they have eight players on their roster who have played 50 or more times for their country and another seven players with 30 or more caps.

“We have a saying in Greece that every prophet after Jesus is a donkey, and therefore I will not make a prediction."
        --A member of the local Greek organizing committee to the local press when asked to predict the size of the crowd for the USA vs. Greece match.
        [Note: Organizers are expecting between 10-15,000 in the 27,000-seat stadium.]