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U.S. Women Draw Canada, Portugal and Sweden at Algarve Cup


CHICAGO (Thursday, February 22, 2001) - The U.S. Women's National Team has drawn Canada, Portugal and Sweden in the first round of the 8th Algarve Cup, being contested from March 11-17 in the scenic Algarve region of Portugal on the southern tip of the country. The eight-team international tournament is one of the world's most competitive events outside of the Women's World Cup and the Olympics and also features Olympic champion Norway, China, Denmark and Finland.

The eight teams will be split into two groups of four, with first-round play consisting of round-robin matches within the group. The USA, which is participating in the tournament for the seventh time, has historically struggled in the competition, winning just once. That triumph came last year when the USA finally broke the drought and downed Norway in the final, 1-0, on a penalty kick from Brandi Chastain.

At the end of round-robin play within the groups, the group winners will play for the championship. The two second-place group finishers will play for third place, the third-place finishers for fifth and the last-place finishers will play for seventh. All the matches are played at small stadiums in the Algarve region.

Chastain and her Olympic teammates, all busy with WUSA commitments, will not make this trip as head coach April Heinrichs will take a young team to Europe for some extremely valuable seasoning against some of the best teams in the world.

The USA will play a friendly against Italy in Rieti, about 40 minutes outside of Rome, on March 7 before traveling to Portugal. It will be the first visit for the U.S. team to Italy since the very beginning of the U.S. Women's National Team program back in 1985. The USA traveled to Italy in 1985, 1986 and 1988, but has not been back since. Heinrichs was on the '86 and '88 tours, and later played professionally in Italy with the club Prato. The U.S. team departs for Rome on March 3.

The USA will open the Algarve Cup on Sunday, March 11 against Canada, face Portugal on Tuesday, March 13 and finish first-round play with Sweden on Thursday, March 15. The placement games will take place on Saturday, March 17, making for a grueling schedule of four games in seven days.

This will be the seventh trip for the USA to the Algarve Cup, six in Portugal and once to Cyprus in the first incarnation of the event. The U.S. team had come home without a first-place trophy five straight times before last year. In 1993, the USA finished fourth at a six-team tournament in Cyprus. In 1994, the Americans took second in the six-team event held for the first time in Portugal, defeating Portugal and Sweden before falling in the championship game to Norway, 1-0. In 1995, the U.S. finished fourth again, this time in an expanded eight-team field, defeating Finland and Portugal, before losing to Denmark 2-0. The U.S. then lost to Norway in a penalty kick shootout, 4-2, after tying 3-3 during regulation time in the match for 3rd place.

The USA did not participate in the 1996 and 1997 tournaments, but came back in 1998 to defeat Finland 2-0 and China, 4-1, before facing Norway in the final group game. Needing a win a tie or a loss by just two goals to advance to the final, the USA lost 4-1 to Norway in its worst-ever defeat, and then beat Sweden, 3-1, for third place. In 1999, the USA fell to China in the championship game, 2-1, before finally getting an Algarve Cup title last year under Heinrichs.

The USA is 22-2-1 all-time against Canada, but the last two matches have produced a draw and a loss for the USA, breaking a 22-match unbeaten streak. While the USA has played Canada 25 times in its history, the two teams have never met at the Algarve Cup. Unlike the USA, Canada will not lose its WUSA players to pre-season training camps and will bring the squad that defeated the USA, 3-1, in Columbus, Ohio last November.

The USA has faced Portugal five times in its history, three of those coming at the Algarve Cup. The USA has won every match convincingly, outscoring the Portuguese 28-0, including a 7-0 trouncing at the Algarve Cup last year.

The Americans have a 10-1-3 overall record against Sweden, but none of those wins have been by more than a three-goal margin and seven have been by two goals or less. The USA tied Sweden 0-0 while playing with a young squad at the 2000 Australia Cup and defeated Sweden, 1-0, on a goal from Mia Hamm at last year's Algarve Cup to earn a place in the championship game.

The USA has played Italy eight times in its history, losing the first three (all played in Italy) before reeling off five straight wins (all but one in the United States). The last meeting between the two teams was a rousing 4-1 victory for a young U.S. squad in front of a sold-out crowd at EAB Park in Central Islip, N.Y. The USA went into halftime up 1-0, gave up an equalizer just two minutes into the second half but roared back to score three times to put the game way.

Italy is coached by Italian legend Carolina Morace, who is tied with Michelle Akers for third on the world's all-time scoring list with 105 career goals. Morace, a well-known TV commentator and the first women to coach a men's professional team in Italy, has done well in her brief stint as head coach of the national team since she took over in July of 2000, leading Italy to a 5-0-0 record and a berth in this summer's European Championships. Morace, 36, played more than 15 years in the Italian First Division winning 12 league titles with eight different teams. She scored 550 goals on the club level and played 153 times for Italy. She captained the national team for 10 years and twice led Italy to runner-up finishes in the European championships.

Heinrichs and Under-21 Head Coach head coach Jillian Ellis are evaluating a group of 24 players this week at the ARCO Olympic Training Center and next week will announce a 20-player roster, which may included players from outside the training camp, for the Italy match and the Algarve Cup.

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