The U.S. Under-19 Women's National Team will make history tomorrow night, May 7, as they play in the first-ever world championship qualifying match for a U.S. women's youth team. The young Americans open the 2002 CONCACAF U-19 Qualifying Tournament at Dwight Yorke Stadium against Suriname, looking to jump out to a quick start in their quest for a spot in the 12-team 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship to be held in Canada from Aug. 17-Sept. 1, 2002.
FOLLOW THE U.S. U-19s LIVE ON MATCHTRACKER, PRESENTED BY PHILIPS ELECTRONICS: Kickoff against Suriname is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, and for the first time ever fans will be able to follow a U.S. Under-19 Women's game live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. The other two U.S. matches in Group B of the tournament will also be featured live on MatchTracker on Thursday, May 9 vs. Haiti at 5:30 p.m. ET and on Saturday, May 11 vs. Costa Rica at 7:30 p.m. ET. The USA must win Group B to book its tickets to Canada. Group A is being contested on the island of Trinidad between the host T&T, Mexico, Jamaica and Panama.
EYE ON SURINAME: The USA-Suriname clash presents an interesting challenge for the U-19s as no U.S. women's team has ever faced the former Dutch colony, which despite its location on the northern tip of South America, is nevertheless a member of the CONCACAF region for world championship qualifying. Suriname went through pre-qualifying to earn a spot in this eight-team CONCACAF Tournament, winning Group 2 in the Caribbean Zone with victories over Guyana (7-1), Dominica (12-1) and Antigua & Barbuda (3-1). Suriname's big gun is Suzanna Berenstein, who scored nine goals in that tournament, including five against Dominica. About the size of Georgia, home state of U.S. midfielder Allison Graham, Suriname borders Brazil, French Guiana and Guyana and has a population of about 430,000. The official language is Dutch.
SIX IN, SIX TO GO: Six teams have already qualified for the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship, with six more spots open and to be decided in the coming days. Canada gets an automatic berth as host, while Nigeria will represent Africa, Brazil will represent South America, Australia will represent Oceania and Japan and Chinese Taipei are Asia's entrants. Four more teams will come from Europe after the completion of UEFA's eight-team tournament going on this week in Sweden, and two will come from this CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN: After four days of intense practices from Tuesday through Friday, U.S. head coach Tracey Leone gave the team last Saturday off and booked a tour for a unique island adventure. The team waded through the surf at Store Beach about 11 a.m. to board the "Sun Fun," a glass bottom boat that proved much more seaworthy than it looked, and piloted ably by two very large Tobogonians - Godfried and Chili (affectionately referred to by his shipmate as Fat Man), who had obviously spent countless hours cruising the coastal waters of the island. First stop was Bucco Reef where the U.S. players splashed around in clear blue water, which although a mile from the coast, was only four feet deep, and snorkeled among vast and varied schools of colorful fish. The "Sun Fun" then cruised to a reef called Coral Gardens, where Chili gave a tour of the coral and sea life through the glass bottom, not a show for those without their sea legs, as the coral, sea plants and fish flashed under the rocking and bobbing boat. Next stop was the Nylon Pool, another shallow section of ocean with clear water and a sandy, white bottom. Local legend has it that a swim at the Nylon Pool will make you five years younger, meaning that head coach Tracey Leone, who celebrated her 35th birthday yesterday, is now 30. The final stop was a small peninsula called No Man's Island, a strip of deserted beach straight out of "Survivor" or maybe "Gilligan's Island" and accessible only by boat. The USA had scrumptious island BBQ lunch prepared by the hosts, learned the authentic limbo dance from the owner of the tour, Frankie, and after some down time, sailed back home. The U.S. players capped the wonderful day with a remarkable show at the team hotel that night featuring a fire-eating, fire-walking, limbo-dancing performer named Ashton, who someone managed to limbo under a flaming bar about a foot off the ground while lighting a cigarette in his mouth in the process.
NOT TOO MUCH FUN IN THE SUN: In early April, the U.S. Under-19s announced an initiative to use the run to the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship as a platform to help raise awareness for the prevention of skin cancer. As a young team, playing outdoors every day, the team has partnered with The Skin Foundation to spread the word through clinics, appearances at schools and interaction with the media. As the U-19 women have made it a team goal to inform the public that almost all skin cancers are preventable and curable when detected and treated early, they have taken great lengths to limit their sun time in Tobago, not an easy task on an island bathed in sun all day long, outside of short tropical showers that have rolled by almost every day. When the team has been outside, during trainings or outings as on the excursion to No Man's Island yesterday, gallons of sunscreen and hats are the order of the day. The team has also made it policy to avoid the energy-draining sun as much as possible leading up the matches, as 90 minutes of hard running in the hot, heavy, liquefied air will be a challenge even for the fittest of soccer players.
A SMALL WORLD: U.S. captain Lindsay Tarpley hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, not the smallest town in the USA, but certainly not a thriving metropolis. So one can imagine Tarpley's surprise when on the first day in Tobago the U.S. team saw a sign for a market named - Kalamazoo. The kicker came on the USA's boat outing yesterday. Besides the U.S. team and staff, there were only two other Americans on the boat - both from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Of course, the couple and Tarpley had mutual friends back in Kalamazoo, proving that home is never that far away.
ALL FOUR REGIONS WELL REPRESENTED ON U.S. ROSTER: The talent that makes up the 18-player U.S. roster comes from all across the United States and is pretty much evenly divided among the four regions of the United States Youth Soccer (USYS). Eleven states are represented, with California, New Jersey and Texas each placing three players on the roster. Of the 18 players, Region 3 (South) leads the way with seven players. Region 1 (East) has four players, while Region 2 (North) has three and Region 4 (West) has four.
SACRIFICING ONE SPECIAL NIGHT FOR THREE: Three of the U.S. players will miss their high school Proms while in Tobago for the three matches in the U-19 CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament. Midfielders Lori Chalupny from Nerinx Hall (St. Louis, Mo.), Sarah Huffman from Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas) and Annie Schefter from West Valley (Yakima, Wash.) all traded their gowns for Nike soccer gear, their perfect hairdos for sweaty ponytails and the limo ride for the 20-seat MaxiTaxi which takes them to training everyday over bumpy roads with goats, chickens, sheep, cows and bulls along the side of the roads, but none would have it any other way. Schefter, a member of the Prom Court at West Valley, was the odds-on favorite to take home Prom Queen honors. No word from Yakima on whether she earned enough absentee votes to win the crown.
STAT OF NOTE: The youngest player on the U.S. roster is 16-year-old goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who won't turn 17 until October. The wonderfully athletic Harris, who hails from Satellite Beach, Fla., had aspirations and the talent to be a pro surfer before she became one of the best young goalkeepers in the country. Harris is 47 days younger than 16-year-old forward Kerri Hanks.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK:
Defender Leslie Osborne, on the eve of the historic first-ever World Championship qualifying match for a U.S. women's youth team:
"It feels like we've been talking about this day forever. I'm going to be nervous, but also confident because I know we've prepared the best we could. It is going to be scary because everything we've worked for comes down to these three games, but it's also the best feeling in the world because we know we have a chance to make history."
Forward Heather O'Reilly, predicting her victory before the U.S. team engaged in an impromptu ping-pong tournament:
"I owned the ping-pong table during 4th period P.E. class at East Brunswick High."
Note: O'Reilly subsequently lost three consecutive matches.