USA PREPARES TO FACE CANADA TOMORROW
The U.S. Women's National Team held its first training session with all 20 players on Tuesday afternoon after the final seven players finished play with their WUSA clubs over the weekend and arrived in Portugal. The Algarve region on the Southern coast of the country has continued to be bathed in sunshine, although blustery winds have hit the area the last few days, lowering the temperatures slightly and making serving and heading long balls a bit of an adventure. The U.S. team will travel 45 minutes East toward Spain on Friday to Olhão, one of 11 venues for the tournament, for its first match against Canada. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET. Fans can follow the match online at www.ussoccer.com's MatchTracker presented by Philips Electronics. Although the USA has played in the Algarve Cup seven times before this year, this will be its first-ever match at the Olhão venue. Olhão, or "Big Eye" was named long ago for a huge geyser located there that used to spout from the earth.
USA vs. CANADA PREVIEW
This will be the first meeting between the two dominant teams in the CONCACAF Region since the championship game of the CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup back in November at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. That tournament, which also served as qualifying for the 2003 Women's World Cup, saw both USA and Canada win their semifinal matches to earn berths to China before they squared off for regional bragging rights in foggy, rainy and sloppy conditions at the Rose Bowl. Tiffeny Milbrett scored a world class volley in the first half to put the USA ahead and Canada's all-time leading scorer Charmaine Hooper, long a thorn in the USA's side, equalized just before halftime. The second half was dominated by the USA, but ended scoreless, sending the match into sudden death overtime. Mia Hamm ended it just four minutes into the extra period, running onto a pass from Aly Wagner to loop her shot over Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. All 22 starters from that match are at the Algarve Cup.
The USA is 24-3-2 against Canada all-time, but the Maple Leafs are much improved of late under Norwegian head coach Even Pellerud, one of just three men to coach a Women's World Cup championship team. In 1995 he lead his home country to the title. Canada features five WUSA players in LeBlanc (Boston Breakers), Hooper (Atlanta Beat), forward Christine Latham (San Diego Spirit), defender Breanna Boyd (Carolina Courage) and defender Sharolta Nonen (Atlanta Beat).
Pellerud also named six young players who were member's of Canada's U-19 Women's World Championship Team that captured the hearts of the nation last September in their run to the title game, where they lost 1-0 to the USA on a "golden goal" from team captain Lindsay Tarpley, who is on the USA's Algarve Cup roster. All six players started in that world championship final and four of the six play at U.S. colleges: goalkeeper Erin McLeod (SMU), defenders Sasha Andrews (SMU) and Candace Chapman (Notre Dame), midfielder Carmelina Mascato (Penn State) and forward Christine Sinclair (Portland), who scored the winning goal in the NCAA Championship game last year for the Pilots. Seventeen-year-old defender Brittany Timko and 16-year-old Kara Lang both play for the Vancouver Breakers. The USA has played Canada one time in the Algarve Cup, a 3-0 loss in 2001 when the Americans brought a group of mostly younger players to Portugal. In the last six games, the USA and Canada are 2-2-2, but the Americans have won two straight, both by one goal.
ALGARVE CUP RULES TO KNOW
The 12 teams have been split into three groups of four, with first-round play consisting of round-robin matches within the group. The teams will get three points for a win, one for a tie and zero for loss. As the teams in Group A and B must win their group to advance to the championship game, one slip up during group play can be costly. In the event of a tie on points in the group, the tiebreakers are the following:
2) Goal difference
3) Goals scored
+ Each of the Algarve Cup teams are allowed 20 player rosters.
+ Each team is allowed five substitutions in each match.
+ Four awards will be given out at the end of the tournament: Top Scorer,
Best Goalkeeper, Best Player and Team Fair Play Award.
CHEERING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
The U.S. players have taken advantage of the live broadcast of Champions League matches over the past few days, taking over a small local pub down the hill from the team hotel to watch the evening games. The U.S. players watched Arsenal vs. Roma and Inter Milan vs. Newcastle on Tuesday and
Manchester United vs. FC Basle and Real Madrid vs. AC Milan on Wednesday, immersing themselves in the European soccer culture. Many U.S. players were disappointed that Man United star David Beckam played only the final minutes of his match.
ALGARVE CUP OPENS WITH SIX MATCHES ON FRIDAY
Each team in all three groups will be in action on the first match day on Friday, March 14. Following are the matches taking place tomorrow:
Fri., March 14
USA vs. Canada in Olhão Group A
Sweden vs. Norway in Olhão Group A
Denmark vs. France in Silves Group B
China vs. Finland in Silves Group B
Portugal vs. Wales in Lagoa Group C
Ireland vs. Greece in Lagoa Group C
BACK WHERE THEY STARTED
Two members of the U.S. roster made their international debuts at the first Algarve Cup in 1994. Both Tiffany Roberts (94 career caps) and Briana Scurry (113) started against Portugal in Silves on March 16, 1994, in a 5-0 win. It was Scurry's first career shutout as well. She now has 58 career shutouts.
STAT OF NOTE
The USA is 4-1-2 all-time in Algarve Cup openers, losing only when a team of younger players participated in 2001.
Quotes of the Week
For the first time in the 10-year history of the Algarve Cup, a pre-tournament press conference was held. Representatives from eight of the 12 teams attended. Following are quotes from coaches of all the teams in Group A.
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs, who coached the USA to its only Algarve Cup title in 2000:
"In our press releases we are always talking about the Algarve Cup being the best non-World Cup, non-Olympic event on a yearly basis. It's a very difficult tournament to win. It's difficult because you are playing great teams and you are playing four games in seven days, and internationally that is very demanding for the players. For us, we feel like the Algarve Cup wouldn't be an opportunity without the invitation of the Scandinavian countries (who organize the tournament along with the Portuguese FA), so we are always appreciative of the opportunity to play in it. We feel regardless of who we play in the Algarve Cup, we can learn something about ourselves and something about where we need to be six months from today or a month from today. This particular tournament is great for us because we play three teams in the World Cup, so it will be an incredibly difficult road for us to advance, but at the same time we want to put our players under that pressure because that is the best way to become better."
Sweden Head Coach Marika Lyfors, who has been at all 10 Algarve Cups, winning twice:
"This tournament is very important for Sweden. We get to meet some other countries that are in the World Cup, which are also some of the best teams in the World Cup, and to compare us to them. This is our pre-season, but every year we have been here it has been a great experience, not only playing matches, but getting our team together for two weeks."
Canadian head coach Even Pellerud, who has coached at the Algarve Cup with Canada and Norway:
"The tournament is particularly important for Canada because most of my players are playing in not very competitive daily environments as compared to the Scandinavian countries and European countries. Our country is very big and it is hard to gather the players. For March, it is extremely good for us to come play these big teams. This year it will be a very, very tough tournament for Canada facing the USA, Norway and Sweden. But we are very much looking forward to the games knowing it will be our first games since November, and it's going to be tough, but this is the only way for us to learn; learn to compete, learn the standards and with that start preparation for the Women's World Cup."
Norwegian assistant coach Hans Kutsen:
"The staff and the players are always looking forward to this tournament because we know we are coming to a part of the world that is friendly and peaceful. It is always a fight between the best teams in the world, we have beautiful pitches to play on and a professionally organized tournament. We know that our training facilities in Norway this time of the year is bad (due to the cold), so it is a perfect time of the year to come down here. We are meeting three teams that have qualified for the World Cup, so it is always interesting to compare and find out where you are against these good teams."