U.S. Women Prepare for Gold Medal Rematch with Norway Tomorrow
GOLD MEDAL REMATCH WITH NORWAY TOMORROW: The U.S. Women's National Team opens the Four Nations Women's Tournament tomorrow (Wed., Jan. 23, 1:30 p.m. local/12:30 a.m. ET) against Norway in the first meeting between the full squads of both teams since the 2000 Olympic gold medal match, won by Norway, 3-2. The two teams did meet at the Algarve Cup in Portugal last March as an almost full-strength Norway side beat a young U.S. team, 4-3. Of the 18 players on the U.S. roster for the Four Nations Tournament, only Cat Reddick, Jena Kluegel and Aleisha Cramer played in the Algarve Cup match. Reddick scored her first, and thus far only, international goal in that game, beating Bente Nordby on a well struck direct free kick. The Olympic loss was a heartbreaker for the U.S. women, who outplayed the Scandinavians and tied the game 2-2 on virtually the last touch of regulation time as Tiffeny Milbrett headed in a Mia Hamm cross. The Americans lost in the 102nd minute of sudden death overtime on a goal from Boston Breakers forward Dagny Mellgren. Replays showed that the ball hit her arm before she shot, but Norway certainly took advantage of their opportunities, scoring on all three of its shots on goal. There are 10 players on the U.S. roster from the Olympic final, nine of which played in the match. Milbrett scored both goals for the USA, which out-shot Norway 15-8. The USA had beaten Norway soundly in Group play, 2-0, out-shooting them 19-9 in that game. As Norway is in a rebuilding phase, only eight players from the Olympic final are on their roster for the Four Nations, but tomorrow's match will no doubt be heated as anytime these two long-time rivals meet, it produces some of the world's most intense women's international soccer. Nordby will be in goal for Norway. She played for the Carolina Courage and the San Diego Spirit in the WUSA last season, but was released by the Spirit and signed with Kolbtn in her native country. Norway captain and Carolina Courage midfielder Hege Riise, who at 155 appearances is one of the world's most capped players, is also one of the best. She will be looking to spring the speedy Mellgren, who is Norway's main offensive threat. Mellgren has 22 goals in 47 appearances for her country. Norway has played three of its six Women's World Cup qualifying matches thus far, beating France, Ukraine and the Czech Republic by a combined total of 12-0, and is virtually through to the 2003 Women's World Cup Finals.
MEETING THE MEDIA: The head coaches and captains of the four competing teams attended a press conference on Monday morning at the U.S. team's hotel. Following are brief comments from each of the head coaches:
Germany head coach Tina Theune-Meyer:
"We arrived yesterday and had only one training session. My team is maybe not in the best shape as we started two weeks ago with our preparation and we've had a break in our club season, but we are looking forward to this tournament and are very excited to play three games against such great competition."
Norway head coach Age Steen:
"We are very happy to be in China for this tournament and hope to back here next year for the World Cup. This tournament is good training for the world championship. In Norway, it is snowing and raining so we are happy to come and play on good fields, in good weather. After the Olympics we lost some key players, but some of the older players like Hege Riise are still going strong, so we will try to build the team again going into next year's tournament."
United States head coach April Heinrichs:
"It's great to be in China. We are very familiar with this country and have been here many, many times. We thank the Chinese Federation for inviting us. We've been together for about 10 days now after a long break, so it's great to have the players back with energy and enthusiasm as we start to focus on our qualifying tournament later in the year. These three games are a great way to open the new year."
China head coach Ma Yuan'an:
"We have the four super powers here. The Women's World Cup and Olympic champion USA, the Olympic champion Norway and a very strong team from Germany, the European champions. For China, the purpose of this tournament is to promote women's soccer worldwide. We want to have a very good performance in every game. As the head coach, I hope my players provide a very satisfying performance for the media and fans."
HOUSTON...THE SNACK TRUNK HAS LANDED: One of the USA's most prized pieces of luggage finally made it to the team hotel on Monday, five days after the American arrived in Guangzhou. The USA's trunk filled with snacks and treats from home arrived to the cheers of the American team, who had been craving peanut butter and jelly, American cereal, oatmeal and numerous other treats. The trunk had been checked under the name of U.S. defender Jena Kluegel when the Americans departed for the Far East, and she got a call from the front desk Monday afternoon asking for "Louis?" "There's no Louis here," said her roommate Lakeysia Beene before hanging up. The front desk called back again, and in broken English, once again asked for "Louis" and said that there was a package for "him." As it turned out, the trunk was checked in under Jena "Louise" Kluegel, and it was delivered straight to her room. Kluegel, perhaps the one U.S. player who was the most heartbroken by the prospect of the lost snack trunk, quickly tracked down the key to the lock, popped open the trunk and along with half the U.S. team, tore into the snacks. All in all, a happy ending to the snack trunk saga.
TOURNAMENT RULE CHANGE: The coaches will be allowed to use five substitutes in each match of the Four Nations Tournament instead of the three that was originally announced in the tournament rules, meaning U.S. head coach April Heinrichs can play 16 of the 18 players on her roster if she so chooses.
THE ROOKIES: U.S. defender Kylie Bivens, 22, will be looking to earn her first cap during the Four Nations Women's Tournament. Bivens is the only uncapped player on the U.S. roster. Thori Bryan, Jena Kluegel, Kate Sobrero (see below) and Aleisha Cramer will all be searching for their first full international goals.
MAY FAIR IS IN THE BUILDING: A U.S. trip to China would not be complete without an appearance from May Fair, mother of U.S. midfielder Lorrie Fair. Born in Shanghai, China, she immigrated to the United States in 1962, and in 1978, gave birth to twin daughters, Ronnie and Lorrie, both of whom play in the WUSA. May speaks three Chinese dialects and is bringing 12 friends from Hong Kong and Guangzhou to the USA's match against Norway.
STAT OF NOTE: No field player in U.S. history has played more games without scoring an international goal than Kate Sobrero. The defender has played 68 times for the United States and has yet to find the net. Defender Linda Hamilton (1987-'95) played 71 times for the USA and scored one goal in her career.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Hungry U.S. captain Julie Foudy, accurately capturing the U.S.'s team's relief and euphoria after the missing snack trunk, previously thought lost or stolen during the trip to China, finally arrived at the team hotel: "Maybe the Chinese don't like instant oatmeal, maybe there's no black market for Hershey's chocolate bars, or maybe it's just plain divine intervention, but whatever the reason, thank heavens the snack trunk has arrived!"