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U.S. WNT Arrives in Japan, Begins Preparations for Two Matches

KUMAMOTO, Japan (May 3, 2006) - The U.S. Women’s National Team (roster) has arrived in Japan to play matches on May 7 and 9 against the Japanese Women’s National Team, which will be the USA’s first games since the 2006 Algarve Cup in March.

To get to Japan, the U.S. team endured a grueling day of travel, having left Los Angeles at 12:30 p.m. on May 1 to fly over the Pacific Ocean to Tokyo, where they had to pickup the luggage and re-check it during a two hour layover before catching an hour and 45 minute flight to Fukuoko, on Japan’s most southern island of Kyushu, followed by a 90-minute drive south to the team hotel in Kumamoto.

All-in-all, about 24 solid hours of travel, but truth be told, it could have been worse if not for some efficient work from the Japanese travel agency assisting on the trip. The Japanese are certainly known for their efficiency and the hosts of the team have certainly been ultra-accommodating and eager to please. While it was a late dinner that awaited the U.S. players when they finally arrived at the hotel, the hour didn’t dissuade several of them from a few quick bites of sushi before hitting the pillows for some well-deserved rest.

FIRST TRAINING: The U.S. team held its first training in Japan since 1998 on Wednesday morning, May 3 at Otsu Stadium, a small complex that featured about as good a training field as you’ll find anywhere in the world. The perfectly manicured, pool-table-flat pitch was exactly what the U.S. players needed to get some good touches on the ball. The U.S. team got the blood flowing and the legs moving with some possession and small-sided games, as well as some finishing for the attacking players. The training was watched by a gaggle of high school boys, at the fields for their own games, who seemed highly impressed with the skill level and shooting ability of the U.S. players. The U.S. team obliged the boys with pictures and autographs after practice. The USA will be playing Japan for the first time since meeting in the quarterfinals of the 2004 Olympics in Greece, a 2-1 U.S. win. The USA has not played in Japan since three matches in 1998 that took the team through Tokyo, Yokohama and Kobe.

TWO LEGS AGAINST JAPAN: The USA will play its first match in Japan on May 7 at the 32,000-seat KK Wing Stadium in Kumamoto with the kickoff at 1 p.m. local time (midnight ET). The second leg in Osaka will be played at the 50,000-seat Nagai Stadium with a kick off time of 4:30 p.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET). It will serve as the opening game of a doubleheader that also features the Japanese Men’s National Team against Bulgaria in one of their final tune-ups for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Nagai hosted three 2002 FIFA World Cup matches. The Japanese women are currently 11th in the FIFA Women’s World rankings. The USA, which is 4-0-3 in 2006, is ranked second behind Germany and has yet to lose a game in regulation under head coach Greg Ryan, who has a 12-0-4 record since taking over in March of 2005.

Date    Match-up City     Venue                                                 Kickoff
May 7   USA vs. Japan   Kumamoto KK Wing Stadium      1 p.m. local time (Midnight ET)
May 9   USA vs. Japan   Osaka Nagai Stadium                   4:30 p.m. (3:30 a.m. ET)

WHY IS THAT MOUNTAIN SPEWING SMOKE?: The U.S. hotel is about 45 miles from Mt. Aso, which sits in the center of the world’s largest caldera, a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself. Mt. Aso is a series of five volcanic cones. The U.S. hotel actually sits in the caldera, which is about 80 miles in circumfrance and dotted with towns, set among lush green forrests, grasslands, bamboo groves, rice paddies and hot springs. One of the five volcanos, Mount Nakadake, is still active, and regularly emits sulfurous fumes and hot gasses, earning Kumamoto the nickname of “Land of Fire.” The U.S. hotel is set at the base of a densly forrested mountain and overlooks two rolling, scenic, 18-hole golf courses. The U.S. players took a short walk around the golf course on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to stay awake and get adjusted to the 16-hour difference from the West Coast of the United States. No word if anyone worked on their putting on the two practice greens that sit just outside the window of the USA’s meal and meeting room.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTERALL: How could a flight attendant on United Airlines and U.S. captain Kristine Lilly possibly be linked in women’s soccer history? After settling into her exit row aisle seat (306 caps will get you that perk), Lilly was recognized by one of the flight attendants. According to the flight attendant, it seems that after the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final -- a game in which Lilly not only headed a Chinese shot off the line in sudden death overtime, but also made the critical third penalty kick in the historic shootout -- Lilly threw her shoes in the crowd. The flight attendant’s daughter, who now plays soccer at Boston College, caught one of them. One problem … Lilly is pretty sure she still has the shoes she wore in the final. But Lilly, who admits to being 34 and perhaps losing her memory, has another theory. In photos taken that day, forward Tiffeny Milbrett is barefoot. Could it be Milbrett’s shoe that she caught? Like the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, this one may never be solved.

MOMENTARY UPGRADE: U.S. midfielder Lindsay Tarpley is a nice girl. She’s from Kalamazoo, Michigan for gosh-sakes. So it was no surprise that she gave up her window seat on the USA’s flight to Japan so that Christie Rampone, her seven-month old daughter Riley and Rampone’s mom (serving as the team nanny) could sit together. For her good karma, Tarpley was rewarded with a seat in business class…for about 10 minutes. Just as she was settled in all nice and comfy, the head flight attendant threw a serious buzz kill, telling Tarpley that she couldn’t sit there. She already had the foot-rest up, the chair leaned back and was preparing for a nice eight-hour nap. Tarpley did get moved to another window seat, but is no doubt due some karmic love sometime soon. If anyone at United is reading this … how about an upgrade on the way home?

WIRELESS SUCCESS: The e-mail and Internet addicted U.S. players were stunned to arrive at the team hotel and find just one high-speed Internet line on the players’ floor. And that line was located in the very small training room. After initially setting up an Internet sign-up sheet in 20-minute increments (which quickly filled up), a wireless router was requested and procured by the hotel staff, set up (with the help of Internet technician and U.S. general manager Nils Krumins) and boom…wireless for everyone. U.S. captain Kristine Lilly was the first to connect (after some initial struggles with directions in Japanese), eliciting an eruption of applause from the U.S. players. As the training room wasn’t nearly big enough to hold more than a few players, that led to the creation of a makeshift Internet café on the floor in the hallway outside the training room which was quickly lined with U.S. players hacking away at their keyboards.

Stat of Note
Japan has held the USA to two goals or fewer in the last four meetings between the two teams (three ties and one win for the USA) after averaging 5.75 goals allowed per game when facing the USA in the four matches before that.

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