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Quote Sheet: WNT head coach Pia Sundhage Discusses The Olympic Roster Via Media Teleconference

U.S. Women's National Team head coach Pia Sundhage discusses the 18-player roster for the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing. The USA will open play at the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Aug. 6 against Norway in Qinhuangdao, China. The USA will then face Japan on Aug. 9, also in Qinhuangdao, before finishing Group G play against New Zealand on Aug. 12 in Shenyang.

On the difficult choices she had to make regarding the roster, particularly with the younger players:
“If you look at all three of them (Rachel Buehler, Tobin Heath and Amy Rodriguez), they each offer something different. It’s good to have some youth players coming with a lot of energy. If you look at Buehler she’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen, she’s good in the air and it doesn’t matter who she’s playing with, she gets the job done. If you look at Tobin Heath, she’s really unpredictable and she’s brave. It’s good to have a 20-year-old playing the way she’s playing. She has her ups and downs, but to be unpredictable that is important going into the Olympics. Amy Rodriguez offers speed and in international games you really need speed. The way she’s been playing and running at people has been very good. So, I’m happy with these three because they offer different qualities, which is important when you talk about 18 players.”

On Lori Chalupny:
“Looking at Lori, we had a bunch of good midfielders and we have tried different kinds of shapes because we have so many good midfielders. So, looking at the at the back four, we want to be an attacking team and go with outside backs. Lori, with her attacking personality and pretty good defending one-on-one, we tried (moving her to the backline) from the very beginning and it turned out to be a very good move. Actually, I’m looking at the European Championships on the men’s side and if you want to add numbers up, everybody’s talking about outside mids going forward. I feel Lori can be one of the players that, not only goes forward and crosses, she can score goals as well. I’m very happy about the way she has performed from the very beginning. It’s impressive.”

On what impressed her about Rachel Buehler and her chances to start:
“Well if you look at Buehler, as I said, it doesn’t matter who she’s playing, she’s very focused and you know exactly what you get from her. She’s good in the air and she’s a tough kid. That is good to have in these international games. She doesn’t have that experience to compare with the other ones but sometimes it’s good to have someone that is getting in there and getting the job done. Whether she’ll be in the starting XI or not, she has been and we have four more games and we’ll figure out the starting XI. That will be our first goal, we’ll face Norway, Sweden and Brazil twice and find the starting XI going into the Olympics. She might be there, you never know.”

On whether the incidents at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup affected her decision in regards to the goalkeepers for the 2008 Olympic Games:
“No. Not at all. The reason why I have picked these two goalkeepers, they have just to get more international games, especially the way we play. We want to keep the ball. We talk about keeping possession and switching the point of attack. I want them to do that in the back four and even use the goalkeeper and both Hope and Nicole are very good with their feet and that’s necessary with the way we’re playing right now. That’s why they are in the 18-player roster.”

On Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone:
“They are mothers, and they are mothers both on and off the field. The way Kate Markgraf has played in the last few games, she has been fantastic. I think she’s improved. We know that she’s been good in defending and responsible for doing her very best and trying to bring out the best in her teammates, especially in the back four. I think she’s proved a little bit of attacking ability as well.

“Christie, from the very first day I saw her, she is a role model. She leads by example and she does it off and on the field. Having these two makes me happy, gives me a lot of confidence in this team because the way they play and the way they act is contagious. [They also have] great experience in other Olympics and other World Cups as well. Christie and Kate, they are two good soccer players.”

On whether the team has the depth and experience to compensate for the loss of Leslie Osborne and Cat Whitehill:
“I would say yes. We have used the bench from the very beginning and they are coming off the bench in a very nice way and their performance has been good. I will give you three examples. First of all, Angela Hucles. She has shown that coming off the bench during this tournament and playing very well, and she’s done that from the very beginning. If you look at Tobin Heath, the youngest player, she just loves to play soccer and it doesn’t matter who she’s playing. She’s tricky and she tries to be unpredictable, which is great, and I would say that is good. Looking at the bench, it’s good to have her there. We have (Amy) Rodriguez, she offers speed, as I said before. Yes, I’m very sad that these two, Cat Whitehill and Leslie Osborne are not with us but it is what it is and you have to adjust your play. The 18 we picked, I’m very happy with these players and I do think we have depth on the bench.”

On what she has seen from Aly Wagner since her return from injury:
“Before she got injured, I’ve seen her before and she’s an excellent player. Talk about, final pass, finding the angle at the right pace. She’s done that. Coming back, she struggled a little bit. It’s hard to get back from injury but the last 45 or 50-60 minutes she played, she showed that she can do it. She was under pressure with the way she played because she knew, because we pretty much told her, this is your chance. She did it. I thought she came back little by little. I think she’ll be even stronger going into the Olympics. She has a special quality and that might be very important when you play the big games and that is to play the final pass.”

On what are the team’s strengths and weaknesses:
“I would say the strength of this team is that they are brave and they can play in different systems. We have different players. We talked about ‘change’ since I started and they seemed to embrace that word. It has not been too much of a change, and it hasn’t been too little either. I think we’ve balanced that in a nice way from the way they played last year and how they adapted to a new coach, and I’m impressed with that in only seven months. I think the weakness is that we didn’t have a lot of time. We could have more in order to prepare for the Olympics. However, the fact that we have not had that much time, this team has been very precise with every single minute, every single practice. I’m very happy about that. There are players with a lot of experience and players with youth experience and I think that mix is good. Weakness? Well, could you perform, could you play, could you have fun when it really matters? Because if you look at the games today, the games we are playing, they have smiles, they’re happy. If all of us could have the same feeling going into the Olympics, we don’t know. We’ll see.”

On Briana Scurry’s reaction after not being named to the Olympic roster and whether that signals the end of her international career:
“If her international career is over, you shouldn’t ask me. I would say if she continues to play in the league next year she has a chance to come back, of course. Her reaction, she acted very professional. All these players know they are fighting for spots, competing for spots to go to the Olympics. The quality of everything they do, they’re in the mix and we work with 30-35 players, something like that and they know that someday we will pick a team and you do your very best until that day. Now she is the third goalkeeper so of course she will be fit and ready to go if something happens to the other two goalkeepers. She has been acting professionally.”

On Hope Solo being the No. 1:
“She’s playing the most minutes and right now, she is the No. 1.”

On the creative midfielders and what Carli Lloyd, Aly Wagner and Lindsay Tarpley bring to the team:
“The midfielders are very interesting. The fact that we’ve been playing Lloyd and (Shannon) Boxx a lot and I usually tell them that the midfield is the heart of the team when you talk about dictating the tempo and finding the rhythm of the attack, and also organizing the defending. Lloyd and Boxx have done a great job. We tried Tarpley as an attacking midfielder with no left winger, but also, because we’re only 18 we need to know if they can play in different spots. Tarpley can definitely play out wide as well. Now, bringing Wagner, the last 65 minutes she played, the reason why she made the team, was that she showed us that she can play as an outside mid as well. All three of them, they are smart soccer players and they read the game very well. And if you can read the game really well you can pretty much play in any spot. So, why we chose either of them, or all three of them, it depends on who we’re playing and what kind of system we want to play against that opponent.”

On how she plans to get the squad to be a full 90-minute team:
“This team has shown that they play, not only 90, they play 92, 93, 94 minutes and they score late in many games, winning goals as well. I would say the strength and a weakness, is that many things happen at halftime. We talk tactical things but I also try to reach them emotionally. They change the game a little bit in many games in the second half. I want to try to reach them during the first half so they can change it even in the first half. Of course, that’s about communication and that’s something we work on. The fact that they change, especially in the attack, in many games, we gain confidence by knowing that. Also, I think it’s hard to play against the U.S. because we are running a lot, we are attacking a lot and the opponents can’t keep up for the final minutes and, little by little, they break down. That’s another factor. It’s good to know that we can score late in the games, for sure.”

On midfielder Tobin Heath:
“I would say she is so different from Leslie Osborne. I think, if you look at the team, you never know because you have to see the bigger picture. We have been discussing her a lot. The reason for that is that she is unpredictable and she is very supportive on the bench. You can see she really loves soccer. That is a strength. You can wake her up in the middle of the night and she would do certain things, dribble and so on and we need that from a very organized U.S. team, someone that mixes it up. I like her attitude. Tobin Heath, she is a very good player and she could be very good in the future, that’s for sure.”

On how she guards against overconfidence as she prepares for the upcoming matches and the Olympic Games:
“The way we’ve been playing and the way we’ve been talking, talking about tactics and so on, I know that all the players respect the opponents and they respect the game. So it’s very important and easy to motivate them and for all of us to be focused regardless of who we’re playing. It’s so interesting because we’re playing different styles with opponents. So, one day we have Canada and one the other day we have China, or whatever it is. It has nothing to do with how strong they are, because we are learning every single moment, especially in the attack. We said from the very beginning, if we run a lot and read the game very well and if we dare to dictate the tempo, we will bring this soccer to the next level when it comes to the attack. Undefeated is great but we win the game in two ways, not only 1-0, hopefully, but we try to win respect from everybody in the way we attack.”

On Kate Markgraf and Lindsay Tarpley and how they’ve had to add dimensions to their game to adjust to the new system:
“Kate has improved her game. I’ve seen her so many times and I coached her in Boston and she’s very good at defending. She’s disciplined and very focused. I also think she improved her attacking and it’s about picking and choosing when to play that big ball and picking and choosing to keep possession and so on. I think she likes the way we’re playing right now because she’s more involved in the attack. I want them to switch the point of attack in the back four, not only in the midfield or even higher in the field to take chances and risks.

"The same thing for Tarpley. We changed her role a little bit from the very beginning in January from being an attacking midfielder to being able to play wide as well, but still attacking. She reads the game very well, so she has adapted her way and it’s great for us to know that she can play both central and wide. They’ve done great, both of them, to adjust the way they play.”

On how relieved she is to be able to concentrate on the Olympics:
“Relieved is the wrong word because I really look forward to this very moment after the Peace Queen Cup. As the head coach, with the coaching staff, to pick the team going to the Olympics. That is a unique moment. I look forward to it and we discussed it a lot. I’m happy, more so than relieved and the fact that all 22 have been a part of this road going to the Olympics. Now we go to the next stage and talk more about finding the starting XI.”

On the difference between this team going into the Olympics undefeated and the U.S. WNT team going undefeated before the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup:
“The difference, I would say it’s hard to explain, but we’ve been talking about being more patient in the attack and being brave playing through the midfield and getting pretty much everyone involved in the attack. The fact that we talked about Lori Chalupny just minutes ago and we want her to go forward. Whoever is playing outside back, they have to go forward, they have the green light. You will need to keep possession in order to be able to penetrate. And of course you will get dispossessed. If you do, we know for a fact that we have good players, even though they’re exposed to one-v-one defending, still, they can do that. They’ve shown that for 18 games, that they’re pretty good in defending and they want to do even more in the attack. The hardest part now is, it’s one thing to be brave in different games going into the Olympics. I think it’s so important, and I will start with myself, to show that I have faith in the players to play the same way, even though they’re now where it matters. Going into Norway, they play some sort of 4-3-3, 4-5-1, there’s great organization defending, with counterattacks and so on. We have to be brave and have fun out there so we can play the way we’ve been playing. I think that is the trickiest part. We start with my communications and my body language and hopefully that will be contagious because I know this is a great team.”

On how much of a transition there was trying to make up for the absence of Kristine Lilly:
“First of all, we lost so much experience from Lilly, a captain, and we had to adjust in some way or another. My glass is half full so I looked at in a positive way. I would love to have Lil’ on the team going into the Olympics but she’s not here. So, my glass is half full and I looked at is as, okay, that is a part of the change. We can’t play the way they were playing before because we don’t have Lil’. It’s more about the team than talking about the good ol’ days with great players like Lilly and Mia Hamm, (Julie) Foudy and you name it. They’re not here any longer so now we need other players to step up. I don’t think we have the star but I think we will get, not only one star, but two or three stars in three or four years. It has been very interesting and I’m so grateful that I’ve been part of this. You know, I think the players like the team, like the way we prepared for the Olympics.”

On who the leaders of this new generation are and how she classifies their leadership style:
“We have a great captain in Christie Rampone and she leads by example. She is not loud, if you compare her to Foudy, for instance. Christie communicates in other ways, leading by example is, for me, great. I know that I can trust her 100 percent. You also have, of course, Abby Wambach, she is, on the other hand, very loud. That’s a great balance. Between these two, you have different players stepping up. Not always, but now and then. I do emphasize that it’s about the team with Christie on one side and Abby on the other side, and I hope that will be enough in order to have a great tournament at the Olympics.”

On whether she was concerned about factions being formed within the team:
“I always start with a performance. I always start with everything on the field. I’ve competed in different teams, I’ve seen different teams, you don’t have to love each other, but you do have to respect each other. Certain things you have to do on the field, but also off the field. In this team I have not seen any of that. You can see on the field that they’re a unit. I think they know, I know, we need to be a unit in order to win the next games.”

On how she feels about leading the team, personally, and the adjustments she has had to make:
“First of all, it’s a dream come true. Sometimes I have to remind myself, you are the coach of the U.S. team. It is fantastic and you’re going to the Olympics. That’s huge. I’m also very grateful to be part of this particular team because I can see the new generation blend with the old generation. That is a little bit tricky because it’s not only that the old generation should teach the new generation. I’ve seen different things going on in Sweden and in China and I can feel it here as well. Knowing that, I need to pay attention to what’s going on in order to be a good coach. Everything has happened. I improved my coaching with the U.S. National Team on a high international level. It’s hard to explain in English. I could hardly do it in Swedish, either. It’s something that I will always remember and it’s great.”

On defender Stephanie Cox:
“Stephanie Cox came back and played a great game and she showed a little bit of what she’s capable of doing. As you know, Cat Whitehill got injured so we took a chance. Stephanie was on the bubble and she got a second chance. That’s fantastic. And, she took it. I can imagine that the fact that we didn’t pick her and, all of the sudden, she got a chance 10 days later. Of course, if you ask her, that’s a lot of feelings. I can see a sort of sparkle in her eyes. She really wanted to come back to the team and she made it. I’m very happy about that. It has to be very, very hard for her from one day not being on the team and the next day being on the team. I know that we will get 100 percent from her.”

On whether she has to show the younger players the ropes and let them know how important the Olympics are:
“I think that everybody knows the importance of the Olympics. I think the most important thing for me, personally, is to communicate in a positive way. Hopefully that is contagious so they really have fun out there even though they are under a lot of pressure. In Europe they talk about the U.S. and they think that the U.S. can win the gold medal. It could be played under big pressure. They know that it’s important. More so, they need to find the feeling that this is fun and this is the chance to play together on a great team and in a great moment. It starts with me and with my way of communicating with the players.”

On Angela Hucles and how she will be used:
“Angela Hucles is amazing. It’s about change and it’s about changing speed. She has all the tools. She’s fit, she has great technique, she can strike that ball. Tactically, she’s good. It’s about changing and being unpredictable. We’ve shown a video, we talked to her and all of the sudden, she got it. She’s coming off the bench and has done great stuff. She’s started and done great stuff, as well. She can change her speed and change directions. She will not only play many minutes at the Olympics, she will score many goals as well. I look at her and I just smile because she changed her style a little bit. She had it, she had the ability and she pretty much found it and coached herself. Angela Hucles made me very happy lately. She’s good.

“I told her when I was a coach for Boston Breakers, I said the same thing. Then, I couldn’t see the change. Greg Ryan probably said the same thing. Then something happened. I don’t know what but I think it was her teammates and the team and all the sudden she just decided, okay, this is it. She changed her speed and then she became unpredictable and then her performance was much better.

“As I said, with the four games coming up now we are looking to find the starting XI going into the Olympics against Norway. If you look at the all performances, after that, we will see who is starting. I’m sure that she will play a lot of minutes at the Olympics.”

On how the goalkeepers have performed this year and how that gives her confidence going into the Olympics:
“I have Phil Wheddon as the goalkeeper coach and I ask him every day how they’re doing in individual stuff. When I see them playing, both in practice and in games, I’ve very happy with their performance. There is one detail I appreciate and that is the game with their feet, with the way we’re playing. We’ve talked a lot about their presence in the air and improved every day. I’m very happy with two good goalkeepers, and the third, Briana Scurry, is very good.”

On forward Amy Rodriguez:
“She offers speed and, not only speed, but she can turn on a dime and just go. That is important in international games. If you have a team playing a high backline, she is great to play because, in a footrace, she will beat many players. She gives us a little bit different choice if she’s on the field.”

On what she wants to accomplish before they play in the Olympics:
“The last four games we will look into some sort of starting XI. We have put a lot of time on set pieces and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll sharpen up our defending a little bit and continue with the attacking style, looking at details more so at what will be happening late in the game, in the beginning of the game and so on. Everything we’ve been doing up to the Olympics, that is the biggest part because during the Olympics we won’t practice a lot. It will be much more, okay, now it’s the player’s game. July 16, hopefully, they will be so well prepared they can win the next game.”

On Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts:
“Starting with Mitts, she has been very professional. She was injured and couldn’t go to the World Cup and she’s come back. She had it pretty tough in March when we went to Algarve Cup, but she’s been very careful and done everything in a very professional way. Her ability one-v-one defending, her experience and her attacking ability, she’s pretty fast, is good for the team. I’m very happy that she’s back. I talked about Heather Mitts when I talked to Leslie Osborne and Cat Whitehill. It’s so hard to get injured just before a big tournament, but you can do it if you are professional with everything you do, and Mitts has been.

“Abby Wambach. Dear Abby. She is fantastic. She is great. You can ask any coach or player in Europe. They look at Abby and say, ‘Wow. That’s a good player.’ I’m very happy with the way she improved her game. When I saw her at the first camp in December, she was not good. Well, she had two months off, or something like that, and now I think she will be one of the best players in the world with the way she is playing right now, both as a team player but also to score some goals and individually. Abby, she is great.”

On what Europeans are saying about the United States:
“What they say is, ‘Okay, you can keep up with them for 45 minutes. Maybe 55. But then you have to be tactically strong to win the games.’ If you look at the history from ’91 when the U.S. won the gold medal, they have gotten a medal at every single big tournament and that is huge pressure. What they’re saying right now, though, is that you don’t have the old stars. How will it go? And, you didn’t win the World Cup. Still, we have a chance but everybody is talking about Germany right now.”

On the team’s depth at central defense:
“We have tried Christie and Kate. They’ve been playing together quite a bit. Rachel Buehler has been playing as a center back, as she did last game and she’s doing fine. I’d say that a player like Stephanie Cox could also play as a center back. We’re bringing six defenders to the Olympics and I think that will be good enough to keep up with the defending.”

On whether Mitts can play in the middle:
“She has, yes. The thing is, if you fool around with the defenders, you want them to find a role so hopefully we’ll find a back four and play them many minutes together. That’s what we’re trying to do in the next four games.”

On whether the impact of Marta on the Brazilian team concerns her:
“Whether she’s playing in the upcoming games, we don’t know. Marta is a great player. I’ve seen her many times in Sweden. Even though she is a great player, she needs a team behind her and she needs to play against a team as well. That will be very interesting, discussing how to deal with her because you have to. You have to respect her quality. I think it’s fun. That’s what coaching is all about. You have many questions and you have to pick an answer that suits your team. If you look at our defenders, I think we will play well against Brazil, with or without Marta.”