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U.S. to Face Mexico in Final Group Match of Olympic Qualifying

U.S. Women's National Team
Olympic Qualifying Notes from San Jose, Costa Rica
Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004


The U.S. Women's National Team held a light training on Saturday morning as they prepare for the final Group B match of CONCACAF Final Round Olympic Qualifying, a rare Feb. 29 match against Mexico.  It will be the USA's first ever game on "Leap Day."  Warm winds once again swept over the U.S. training, which included some technical work, some combination play and a sharp finishing drill at the end of practice in which goalkeepers Briana Scurry and Siri Mullinix both pulled of a variety of quality saves.  More than half the team did some quick weight lifting after training back at the team hotel, which features probably the top gym in Costa Rica, and then dined on a surprise lunch of pizza and sandwiches in a bit of a change-up from the hotel food.  At the almost midway point of the tournament, and after an 11-day training period before the competition began, almost all the U.S. players were content to relax during the afternoon, take a nap, watch DVDs or check their email.  As it turned out, the hotel features wireless Internet, but it only works in the lobby, which means that at any given time, several U.S. players will be stationed on cushy chairs
or couches in the lobby pecking away at their keyboards. 


The U.S. Women's National Team has not allowed a goal in 499 minutes, picking up five shutouts in a row in 2004.  The last time the USA allowed a goal it was against their next opponent, Mexico, in a 3-1 victory on Nov. 2, 2003.  The goal came off a penalty kick in the 41st minute from Mexican captain Monica Gonzalez, but since then, the U.S. net has been still.  It was actually just the third goal ever scored by Mexico against the USA in 10 matches, and the 11th meeting will be one of the most mportant for both teams.  The USA has faced Mexico three times in World Cup Qualifying competitions, but with Mexico's rise in the CONCACAF region, tomorrow's match carries added significance.  The USA, which has a plus-15 goal difference heading into the game while Mexico holds a plus-12, needs just a tie to win the group while Mexico needs a victory.  While both teams are already assured places in the semifinals, the winner of the match will take first place in Group B and face the second place team in Group A in the semi, with the winner of that game earning a berth to the Olympics.  For Mexico, avoiding Canada (the likely group A winner) in the semifinal, would make qualification for Athens more likely, but the Mexicans played Canada tough in the semifinal of 2003 Women's World Cup Qualifying, falling 2-0,
painfully…on two own goals.  The USA has won each of the 10 meetings against Mexico, but one of the closest ever matches was the most recent, the two-goal
victory in Dallas last November.  The USA defeated Mexico, 3-2, in December of 2000 in Houston.  Outside of Texas, the USA has defeated Mexico by an average of
7-0, which includes a 5-0 win on Sept. 7, 2003, before the 2003 Women's World Cup.


Although Mexico had a disappointing 2003 Women's World Cup Qualifying campaign, losing to Japan in a two-game playoff for the final spot in the tournament,
head coach Leo Cuellar's team has looked impressive in Costa Rica, taking apart its first two opponents by pounding in 13 goals (just two less than the USA), many coming off classy combination play.  Former Atlanta Beat player Maribel Dominguez and Patricia Perez, a pair of shifty attackers, have combined for 10 of Mexico's goals while feisty UCLA star Iris Mora is always dangerous.  Mexico also has a highly skillful midfield featuring the diminutive but crafty Monica Vergara.  Mexico's defense is anchored by Monica Gonzalez, a former Notre Dame star and Boston Breakers player. Tall and rangy, the Mexican team captain will be a key to slowing the U.S. attack.  Jennifer Molina, a former Colgate University player from Methuen, Mass., is probably the best women's goalkeeper in Mexican history.  Both of her parents were born in Mexico City.  Mexico features five Mexican-American players who played youth and/or college soccer in the United States.  
The U.S. players celebrated April Heinrichs' 40th birthday last Friday by dressing in all black and wearing homemade black veils, holding a mock wake at lunchtime, and sung the birthday song in a somber tone as the 40-years-young coach walked into the lunch room.  The team then sang the birthday song with their regular gusto as two cakes were brought in by the hotel staff, and Joy Fawcett's middle daughter Carli helped Heinrichs blow out the two candles, one with a 4 on it and the other with a 0.

Several players went for a quick shopping trip on Saturday afternoon in search of the strong local coffee blends as gifts for those back home (and perhaps for themselves on a morning that features an early training session).  The players were searching for a particular brand that they heard was particularly good, but could only find four bags of it at a local store.  Typical of the eager and kind Costa Rican shopkeepers, the woman behind the counter offered to order more.  The U.S. players ordered around 40 bags, which the shopkeeper will deliver straight to the team hotel next week.

Mia Hamm to a Haitian defender who insisted on giving the U.S. forward some "up close and personal" attention during the first half of the USA's 8-0 win last Friday.
"Listen, if you're going to keep holding me like that, I might as well introduce myself.  I'm Mia."