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Ryan Discusses CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup in Teleconference

U.S. Women's National Team head coach Greg Ryan discussed the upcoming CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup semifinal matchup against Mexico, in a teleconference call. The regional tournament will serve as qualifying for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China.

On how U.S. WNT forward Abby Wambach’s injury is progressing and how her exclusion would impact the dynamic of the U.S. team:

“We’re still hoping she’s going to be available. She trained a little bit last night. She’s still getting treatments. I think it’s going to be closer to a game-time decision but we’re pretty confident she’s going to be able to play.

“We played in the final of the Peace Cup without Abby because she was hurt in the game before. We played our same system, same style, we just inserted Natasha Kai. We played very well. Obviously, we’re not quite the same team without Abby because she’s been so good for us, but I think we’ll probably put Tash in there and go after it like we did in the final of the Peace Cup.”

On how this new team has been able to forge an identity without stars like Mia Hamm:

“The one thing we’ve been able to forge an identity on is our success and I think that’s what we have to continue to build off of. I think we have to take care of qualifying, but if we can do that and move forward in the next World Cup, the players will have more exposure and there will be more of an identification with individual players within the team, which is good for the game, good for our team. The main thing that we’ve done is demonstrate that this wasn’t just something that happened in 1999. This is a great team now, and it’s a young team full of stars for the future.”

On U.S. WNT midfielder Leslie Osborne’s development:

“Leslie has been such a pleasant surprise. We knew she was a good player and she stepped in for Shannon Boxx when Shannon had her injury and it’s just grown with each game. She’s playing with tremendous confidence and poise, composure and skill. She’s playing well beyond her actual number of caps. She’s playing like a veteran out there and really solidifies our midfield.”

On the pressure of this being a one-game playoff and whether he would prefer a qualifying system that stretches over a longer period against more teams:

“I would absolutely prefer the other system, because the other system ensures that the top teams are going to come out on top because over eight or 10 games, or however many you go through, the top teams are going to wind up on top at the end. That’s the way it’s done in Europe. There is added pressure because there is one game and you’re in. Now, if you lose a game, you still have a shot to qualify by winning your next game and then you’re playing against Japan. But there is additional pressure with just a one-game situation.”

On U.S. WNT forward Natasha Kai and how she’s different from Abby Wambach:

“It’s interesting. They’re very similar in that they’re both great goal scorers. They’re both gifted at putting the ball in the back of the net. They’re both great in the air, skillful on the floor, and Tash doesn’t have the experience or just the tactical understanding Abby has from playing all these years on the Women’s National Team. But she’s exceptionally fast, and that’s a big plus for Tash. She’s eager, she’s enthusiastic, she puts a lot of herself out there and she’s just consistent about getting goals. We’re fortunate that we have her, especially in a situation like this where we may need to rely on her once again.”

On whether he’s worried about Mexico or is focusing more on what the U.S. team will do:

“With every team we play, we primarily focus on our game and what our game plan is and how we’re going to play together. At the same time, we also focus on every opponent, no matter who they are, whether it’s Iceland or it’s Germany, in terms of shutting down their threats. We know the Mexico team very, very well. We know the players that we have to keep quiet. We know the approach that we need to take to do that. Our team has all that information and will be able to execute the game plan, both how we want to play and how we want to stop them.”

On how the players are coming along psychologically before the 2007 Women’s World Cup with the added pressure of a one-game qualifying series:

“Over the course of the last year-and-a-half, it’s the one question I’ve had with this team: How will they handle pressure? How will they handle playing a final of the Algarve tournament against Germany? How will they do in the Peace Cup without Abby? Every time we get a challenge like that, they respond very well. Sometimes you think, well, a player is going to go in the tank, but they haven’t. I have a lot of confidence that they will handle this situation very well, with a lot of confidence and poise. I think they’re really prepared for this and I agree that this is an important stepping stone because with a young team, the talent is there but what you really have to develop is that mental side and that sense of confidence both individually and collectively.”

On whether he has seen the Canadian team close the gap with the U.S. and whether that rivalry is still there:

“I think the whole world is improving their game, Canada, Sweden, Japan, Nigeria. Everyone is improving and there’s more parity. The games are closer. Canada beat our team a few years back and we haven’t lost to them in a while but it’s a close game and it’s a battle. I think Canada is playing very, very well. They have some great veteran players but they’ve also got some great young players. I can guarantee this, every time we play Canada now, it’s a close match. If they have their best players and we have our best players, it’s a very tight match, and a good match.

“In terms of the rivalry, I think it’s a little different than it was before and I’m not sure why. Evan (Pellerud, Canada National Team head coach) and I are good friends. We get along, we go out and have dinners together, we sit together and scout. The players know that we get along well and there doesn’t seem to be the animosity that there was at one time. We both know when the whistle blows we’re going to go out there and battle and they’re going to go out there and battle. I think the games have been good, hard, but very clean games since I’ve been coach of the team and interacting with Evan.”

On how not playing in a women’s league impacts the U.S. WNT players:

“We’re all hoping to see a women’s professional league come back in the United States because of the benefit of developing so many players and the players we were able to get out of the WUSA like Shannon Boxx, who developed so much from that league, and Abby, as well. We’re hoping that’s going to happen. At the same time, I believe that just having a residency and being able to train this young group of players has accelerated the development of our team beyond what playing in a league would have done for them because we’re training like a club team. We’re not just a national team coming in now and then. We’re playing games year-round, we’re specifically developing the individuals that play for us and we’re overseeing that process. This year has been the most ideal situation for us in terms of development of this young team.”

On whether he’d like to see some of his young players play overseas:

“Right now, no. Right now we have them year-round, we’re playing higher level games, the training is at a much higher level because of the talent level that we have training every day. If we’re not training then, yes, we’d love for them to go over. But this year, we’ve been together the entire year, so not in this situation.”

On whether there’s anyone on the Mexican team he’s concerned with in particular:

“They’ve got some very special players. (Maribel) Dominguez, up top, No. 9, is a tremendous player, not only for Mexico but on a world level. She’s just a fantastic striker, plays a lot like (Marinette) Pichon from France. She’s very fast, good at getting behind back lines and she’s a great finisher. She scored two goals against the U.S. team in the final of the 2004 Olympic qualification game. She’s a key player that we have to keep quiet. (Iris) Mora, No. 10, up top with her, is a great partner for her because she’s great at getting balls underneath and playing balls into Dominguez behind. They’ve got a good chemistry between them. She’s another player that’s important for us to keep out of the match. They have a left-footed player that plays up front but she can also play wide in the midfield. She’s very fast, skillful, great service. Her name is (Monica) Ocampo. They have other good players but those three are really talented, not just as an upgrade to the Mexico team, but I think those three would start for most international teams around the world.”

On the United States’ goalkeeping situation:

“We’ve got two great goalkeepers and they’re both paying very well. Bri (Briana Scurry) is back on her game. She still feels that she has another gear that she hasn’t reached in taking a year off and is taking some time to get back there and Hope (Solo) has been fantastic for us. We’ve told them that we have two starting-level goalkeepers on this team and we’re very fortunate to have the two that we have.”

On whether he has a ‘No. 1’ goalkeeper:

“For this tournament we have a No. 1 and that’s Hope Solo. That’s what we’re focused on now. We’ll see how this tournament goes and we’ll go into next year and they’ll continue to fight it out for that No. 1 spot.”

On Canada forward Christine Sinclair and where she fits in among the best strikers in the world:

“It’s way too early to call her the best striker in the world. She’s very good and she’s going to get better. She’s a for-real soccer player, not just an athlete that runs around. She has great vision, great touch, she plays her teammates in and she’s a great finisher and takes care of her chances. I think Christine is going to be one of the top forwards in the world, she just needs more time to develop and get more games underneath her belt. I think if you’re looking at top strikers in the world, Abby is definitely getting a lot of goals and doing well, but you have to look at Birgit Prinz, who is three-time FIFA World Player of the Year. There’s a lot of them out there. Dominguez is very good. Sinclair and Dominguez are certainly in the top 10 or 15 strikers in the world, but there’s a bunch of them out there; Han Duan from China, (Victoria) Svensson and (Hanna) Ljungberg from Sweden. There’s a ton of them. I wish there weren’t, but there are.”

On how they shut Sinclair down in the Peace Cup final:

“She didn’t get any goals but she’s always dangerous. She gets the ball and you know she has a quick release, she sees the goal well and she finds space for herself. We were able to mark her pretty effectively with our two center backs, alternating who was marking her depending on what side she was on. We don’t let her run free. We keep a player on her as much as we can.”