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U.S. WNT Defender Kate Markgraf Discusses the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup

Prior to the U.S. Women's National Team's final Send-Off Series match in advance of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China, defender Kate Markgraf took time to answer some questions from the media about the U.S. WNT and the upcoming tournament.

U.S. Women’s National Team Defender Kate Markgraf

On the importance of this generation of players winning a championship to put their mark on U.S. Soccer history:
“I think it’s really important for us to play extremely good soccer and put ourselves in the best possible position to win because, unfortunately, people don’t really know about our team anymore since the retirement of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and the others. We kind of have gone quiet in the media. Thankfully, with the World Cup coming up, we have been exposed more and more and more people are finding out about all of our new, young stars. But, in America, people love winners and people pay attention when people are successful so if we’re able to put up a good result in China and, hopefully, ultimately win, people are going to learn about our team and get behind us because everyone appreciates a great effort and second place but everyone really, really follows the winners.”

On how they have changed since 1999 as players:
“I think the difference is in the past 10 years I have a ton more wrinkles, my hair is no longer red, white and blue and the piercings are gone. I think the big thing is, when I was 22 and started on this team, it was my first major tournament and the entire time, I was scared, freaked out, nervous, and my whole goal was not to make a mistake. Now, in this tournament, it is to help lead this team to victory by any means possible. In my position, it’s trying to prevent goals and communicating and organizing effectively on the field as well as just being a great teammate. My goals are different, as well as my abilities have improved.”

On how Abby Wambach has become a leader on the U.S. WNT:
“When (Julie) Foudy retired in 2004, it was pretty obvious Kristine Lilly was going to be our captain and Abby has definitely made Kristine’s job a lot easier. Things that need to be changed on the field, instead of every single time Lil’ stepping up and saying something, Abby has really taken a lot of the pressure off Lil’ by being vocal. She is one to yell and see something wrong tactically that we’re doing and tell us to change it from the backs and the midfield. She also helps off the field a lot, with a lot of the administrative stuff that you don’t think professional athletes have to deal with or you don’t really think about until you’re the one in charge of doing it. She’s really opened herself up and taken that step forward even though she was only 24, she luckily had enough playing experience and learned how to handle herself gracefully from all the veterans that have retired and has helped Lil’ out quite a bit in leading this team.”

On how much the league coming and going affected the team and women’s soccer in the U.S.:
“I think any time soccer is not written about in the paper or any time a game is not being played, whether it’s by the U.S. Women’s National Team or by any member of the eight teams that were in the WUSA, it limits visibility and that means also that people don’t know that we’re out there. Of course, when the league faltered and ended up folding in 2003, it affected everything. I think soccer would be much further along in terms of people knowing much more names on our team if there was a league going on, if the league had been six years in at this point. But that didn’t happen. It’s unfortunate, but it looks like in 2009 it’s going to start back up again. What we’re hoping for is the media buzz that we’re going to generate from kicking some serious butt in this World Cup and, again, the same in the Olympics, will lead up to a great start in 2009. Hopefully, the media follows us and covers us because it is important. It is important for everyone to know that women can be fantastic athletes. It’s important to see that every single day in the paper if they can.”

On the young players making an impact and what they are seeing in the young players coming through the U.S. Youth National Team system:
“I think they’re at a higher level of technical ability when they step onto the field with us, as well as, they kind of have more confidence than any single one of us probably did in our first camp. I think that is related. I think they know that they can bend balls, cross balls, they’ve been put in tough environments from the get-go from their time with the Youth National Teams. When they come up, it’s a much higher level up here, but at least they’ve been put in uncomfortable situations before and I think that’s why they thrive when they do get their shot.”

On the winning legacy of the previous teams and whether that serves as motivation or adds pressure on the team to win:
“I kind of feel like those players are like parents and they want their kids to succeed. They look at their kids and they wish and they hope the best for them and they paved the way, they made our lives easier. They want us to be successful and I want to make them proud. That’s kind of how I look at those veterans. They gave me all the tools and taught me everything I know. Now it’s up to me to go and try to do my best and to show them that everything they taught me was useful and I couldn’t have done it without them. That’s what I feel like with those veterans.”

On what the team knows about the North Korea Women’s National Team:
“What we know about North Korea is, you have an extremely technical, athletic, fast, well-coached team who prides on counterattacks and putting high pressure on anyone who has the ball. I think in order to compete with North Korea, we have to match their high pressure, their intensity, as well as play smart, just try to attack them. Don’t back down to them. It’s going to take our best soccer in order to beat them and we’re excited for that challenge.”

On where she is at in her career and whether this is her last World Cup:
“I’ve been around long enough, almost 10 years, to know that every day you’re able to step out on to the field, you appreciate it for what it is. I’m approaching this World Cup as if it were my first as well as if it’s going to be my last. In terms of my timeline, who knows? I just know that I’m lucky to be afforded another opportunity to be able to play for my country for the third time. I want to leave the game when I’m playing great soccer.”

On if the 1999 team played this team who would win and why:
“Okay, which team is Kristine Lilly playing for? It’s two completely different styles. In ’99, we were the best team in our competition. In 2007, in order to win, we’re going to have to be the best team with the way the game has evolved. Evolution can mean a higher step up or evolution can mean a completely different style of play. I think this team is much more attacking than the old team. We had three very dynamic forwards in ’99, as well as Michelle Akers who was just such a rock in the center. This team, the 2007 team, we are all about attacking and our whole focus is trying to get goals. I don’t know. I think, as a whole, we’re a heck of a lot faster than in ’99. I was one of the fastest people in ’99 and I’m probably like middle of the depth charts here, and some of that might be because of age but I think it’s more because of the personnel. I’m being very politically correct right now.”

On how significant the Send-Off Series has been in their preparation for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup: “The Send-Off series has been wonderful. We’ve been able to play some really good teams with all different styles. We have faced an Asian style that is quick and fast and the ball is on the ground and they’re trying to one-two you. We have faced an Norwegian team who is strong and plays a very similar formation that we do with balls over the top and very dominant in the air. And we’ve been lucky enough to play a fantastic one-v-one team in Brazil, who are very hard and very physical. The Send-Off Series has been very wonderful in that we’ve been able to face such different opponents, all of which have made our preparation vital as well as effective. So, we’re going into the World Cup basically seeing a lot of different tactical and technical ideas thrown at us. It’s been a really good series.”

On the Germany game in 2003 and what is different from this team from that ’03 team:
“I think one of the biggest differences was that in 2003 we were coming from the WUSA into the World Cup. We had trained together a little bit, but not nearly as much as this team. This team has been together since ’05, playing and training solely with one another. What comes with that is learning the cues from one another, anticipating a lot better with one another. We play off each other a little bit better than we did in ’03. In ’03, I think we were all a little bit disappointed that a majority of our goals came off of set plays. We’ll take a goal any way that we can get it but I don’t think any of us walked off the field thinking we played our best soccer in ’03, and I think in ’07 we’ve really given ourselves the preparation and the best chance to play our best soccer and peak at the right time in September.”

On whether the environment with the U.S. WNT now is better than having players spread out all over the country in a professional league:
“The league gave us an Abby Wambach. It gave us, at that time a Kylie Bivens and a Shannon Boxx, who in that tournament became a world All-Star, on the all-tournament team. I would definitely not say that. I would say that the league gave us a chance to play year-round and be able to stay at home and build soccer in America. Unfortunately, in ’03, I don’t think the league was the reason that we didn’t gel, it’s because of injuries and everything else. It’s just one of the factors in why we just didn’t click on the field. I do not think it was detrimental. There are players sitting here today that make the ’07 team what it is that would not have even been here if it hadn’t been for the league. I cannot imagine the National Team without an Abby Wambach or a Shannon Boxx.”

On Stephanie Lopez’s development:
“Steph’s technical ability has always been her strength. I think her ability to play great through-balls and, I love using the term ‘user-friendly’ for her. I think every forward would much rather receive a ball from Stephanie Lopez than from me because it just kind of dies at their feet and it’s just beautiful. In fact, I’ve tried to watch her form and tried to replicate it, unsuccessfully. I think the biggest thing is her consistency and playing tougher in every single one-on-one battle that she has. That’s something that’s natural in every defender that comes on the team, that is the natural progression for them to get a little bit tougher because that tackle that worked in college or with the Under-20s is not going to work here. She has picked that up and ran with it. She had an opportunity when Heather Mitts went down and she has just flourished in it. I look forward to seeing how she does in the World Cup. She’s very confident. I’m not worried about her one bit. She just adds, not only a strong defensive presence, but a wonderful attacking ability out on our left side.”