ROAD TO CANADA BEGINS ON ISLAND OF TOBAGO: The U.S. Under-19 Women's National Team arrived on the small Caribbean island of Tobago late on Tuesday, April 30, after departing as a team from Miami that afternoon. The U.S. team will train for five days before opening the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament on May 7 vs. Suriname in hopes of earning a berth to the FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship to be held in Canada from Aug. 17-Sept. 1, 2002. Group B, being played entirely on Tobago, will consist of the USA, Suriname, Haiti and Costa Rica. Group A will be contested on the island of Trinidad and features host Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Jamaica and Panama. The winners of both groups earn one of the 12 spots at the world championship in Canada.
ALL ABOARD THE TOBAGO EXPRESS: The U.S. team took the 3½ hour flight from Miami to Trinidad, located just above South America and separated from the northeast coast of Venezuela by only by a dividing channel known as the Serpent's Mouth, which at places is no more than 20 miles wide. The team had to rush through customs in Trinidad to catch a plane to Tobago, located just north of Trinidad. The 20-minute flight was likely the first time any of the U.S. traveling party had taken Tobago Express Airlines, making the short island-to-island hop in a 50-seat twin propeller airplane. The U.S. players were amused to find the same Tobago Express worker checking them in, helping to load bags on the plane and getting them seated on the flight. The flight was actually held for 45 minutes to allow the U.S. team to make the connection. Due to the amount of baggage and team gear, the U.S. players had to move to the front of the plane to balance the weight, and landed smoothly in Tobago about 11 p.m. to dripping humidity, but finally at a destination that most of the players have been looking forward to for a year and half during the preparations for the historic first FIFA youth world championship for women.
U.S. OPENS AGAINST SURINAME ON MAY 7: The USA's opens the tournament on May 7 against Suriname (7:30 p.m. ET), plays it second match against Haiti on May 9 (5:30 p.m. ET) and finishes the tournament against Costa Rica on May 11 (7:30 p.m. ET) in the final match of the tournament.
BREAKFAST AT THE BEACH: The U.S. team is taking their meals on a large, covered, open-air deck that overlooks the crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea on Grafton Beach, situated on the northwest coast of the island. As Tobago is only 116 square miles, ocean views abound. The only downside to scenic mealtime view is the small, colorful tropical birds that are intent on stealing small bits of food with daring sorties when plates are left momentarily unattended.
SECOND TIME IN T&T FOR A U.S. WOMEN'S TEAM: The trip by the U-19 women to Trinidad & Tobago marks the second visit to this island nation for a U.S. Women's National Team as the senior team played three games here in 1994, one on Tobago and two on Trinidad. The USA defeated T&T, 3-1, in Scarborough, Tobago, then downed Canada twice, 4-1 in San Fernando, Trinidad, and 3-0 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. It was in the final match in Port-of-Spain that U.S. forward Shannon MacMillan scored her first career international goal.
TRAINING AT "THE DWIGHT": The U.S. team is training at a field adjacent to Dwight Yorke Stadium, site off all the matches in Group B of the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament. Named after Trinidad & Tobago's most famous player, the 7,000-seat stadium was finished just last year for the FIFA U-17 Men's World Championship. Yorke, who had several tremendous seasons for Manchester United in the English Premier League, but who has lately has been out of favor and has struggled to break into the starting side (much to the chagrin of the any Tobago local with which the subject happens to be raised) was born on Tobago. While the humidity is oppressive, the training field is excellent and scenic, set against green, rolling hills thick with forest and thatched with palm trees and other leafy island foliage.
U.S. ROSTER PRIMED AND READY: U.S. head coach Tracey Leone watched more than 50 players in game action over the past 16 months and boiled her roster down to 18 very talented young women, some of whom are future stars that fans will see playing with the full U.S. Women's National Team one day.
STAT OF NOTE: Since the beginning of 2000, the U.S. Under-19 Women have scored 44 goals in nine full international matches. Of those 44 goals, the USA's "Quadruple-Edge Sword" of forwards Lindsay Tarpley, Heather O'Reilly, Kelly Wilson and Megan Kakadelas have scored 28 or 63%.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK:
Forward Heather O'Reilly on the mindset of the U.S. team heading into the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament:
"This tournament is all we've talked about the last two years. Tracey Leone has always made it a point to focus on these games and I know everyone is really excited to get going. Our practices are so competitive because that's the way we've been trained and it's the only way we know how to play. We can't wait to bring that to the field against other national teams."
Defender Kendall Fletcher, predicting that her mother will have trouble navigating the roads of Tobago where they drive "British" style on the opposite side of the road, once mom arrives to watch the qualifying matches:
"My mom is SO going to get in a wreck. She has a hard enough time driving on the right side of the road."