VICTORIA, B.C. (Friday, August 16, 2002) - After 15 events, 37 games and 17 full U-19 internationals over the past 20 months, it's finally "Go Time" for the U.S. Under-19 Women's National Team. The U.S. team will make history tomorrow at 1 p.m. PT against England by playing in their country's first-ever FIFA World Championship match. The U.S. team saw the Centennial Stadium pitch today for the first time as they ran through a sharp 45-minute practice session afforded to each team. A near capacity crowd is expected tomorrow at the 6,000-seat Centennial.
FOLLOW THE U.S. U-19s LIVE ON MATCHTRACKER, PRESENTED BY PHILIPS ELECTRONICS: Fans can follow all the U.S. matches in the 2002 FIFA Women's World Championship live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics, starting tomorrow with the first match against England kicking off at 1 p.m. PT. The USA will face Australia in its second opening round game on Monday, Aug. 19 at 7:15 p.m. PT and finish Group C play on Wednesday, Aug. 21 against Chinese Taipei (a.k.a. Taiwan) at 7:15 p.m. PT. All of the USA's first round matches will be played at Centennial Stadium. There is also a special section under Competitions on ussoccer.com devoted to the U-19 World Championship where fans can review tournament information. Fans can also look under "National Teams" and pull down Women's Youth Teams and the U-19s view a roster, bios and stats of all the U-19 players.
U.S. ROSTER BREAKDOWN: The players that will represent the USA in the first world championship for youth women come from all over the USA and from 10 different states. All four regions of U.S. Youth Soccer (USYS) are represented as these young national team players came up through the ranks of the Olympic Development Program state and regional teams. Region IV - the West - has four players on the roster (it was five before Annie Schefter from Washington tore her ACL), all from Call-South and three from San Diego. Region I - the East - has three players, two from New Jersey and one from Connecticut. Region II - the North - is well represented with four players, one each from Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Finally, Region III - the South - has seven players, three from Texas, two from North Carolina and two from Florida, which just happen to be both goalkeepers. The tallest player on the roster is Megan Kakadelas, who is 5-foot-9, although the USA has good size with four more players at 5-foot-8 and 14 of the 18 players 5-foot-5 or above. The shortest is Amy Steadman at 5-foot-2. Ironically, the oldest and youngest are the goalkeepers. Megan Rivera will be 19 years, 191 days old when the tournament starts while Ashlyn Harris will be 16 years, 302 days. The average age of the U.S. team is just under 18 years.
BOY, CAN THEY PLAY: Almost every world championship has a slogan, a catchy phrase that captures the theme of the tournament in as few words as possible. For the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, it was the classic: "This is My Game. This is My Future. Watch Me Play." For the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Cup, the slogan is: "Boy, can they play." The slogan is prominently featured in many advertisements around Victoria, on public busses and on TV commercials.
WHERE'S THE WHALES? A popular guidebook on the Victoria, B.C. area states, "Off all the species of killer whales, those on the B.C. coast are the only ones that live in large and complicated extended families. This makes Victoria a particularly good spot to whale watch because the Orcas travel in large, easy-to-find pods." Apparently, someone forgot to tell the whales. Either that, or the whales wanted nothing to do with two Zodiac speedboats filled with U.S. Under-19 Women's National Team players. Whatever the reason, when the U.S. team went whale watching on its off day on Tuesday, there was not a Shamu to be found. Each whale gulps down about 500 pounds of fish a day and apparently all three pods, or families, that occupy the waters off the B.C. coast (which totals about 75 whales) had decided that there was some good eating to done closer to Vancouver and high-finned it north through the Active Straight, where five-foot swells made it too risky, and much too far of a trip, for the U.S. Zodiacs to follow. With the whales doing 12 knots and with a good head start, the U.S. team had to turn back and to another page of the guidebook that read, "The waters surrounding the southern tip of Vancouver Island also teem with sea lions, bald eagles and harbor and Dall porpoises." The players did see a large number of the fast-swimming porpoises, several sea lions and one regal bald eagle before motoring back to the Inner Harbour.
MOST LIKELY TO WHAT? Although they did not see any killer whales, the coast of Victoria and the hundreds of islands spread about the waterway was stunningly beautiful during the players three-plus hour boat ride. The U.S. players did learn that Mt. Rainer, an active volcano that rises up on the Washington coast across from Victoria is on the world's "top-15 most likely to erupt" list.
NEW COUNTRY, OLD COUNTRY: With the U.S. playing England in its first match of the World Championship, two U.S. staff members will no doubt know the words to their opponent's national anthem, although they wouldn't be caught dead singing them, as they both now bleed red, white and blue. Assistant coach David Smith and equipment manager (they call them "kit men" in England) James Armstrong both were born and raised in the birthplace of soccer - England. Smith hails from London while Armstrong is from Skipton, a small town in Yorkshire. While they have received some good-natured ribbing from the U.S. players, they'll be draped in Old Glory rather than a Union Jack come Saturday. Smith, who has coached youth club soccer in Texas for the past 14 years, is refusing to speak to anyone with an English accent, including Armstrong, until after the game.
CANADIAN MEDIA GEARING UP FOR TOURNAMENT: Several newspapers, including the Victoria Times-Columnist and The Province featured lengthy previews and stories on the Under-19 World Championship today, including a three-quarter page picture of Canadian star Christine Sinclair on the front of the sports page in the Vancouver Sun, a story which got placement above perhaps the country's biggest story of the day, NBA star Steve Nash's (Dallas Mavericks) decision not to play for Canada in the upcoming world championships. The excitement surrounding the tournament is building for the Canadians as their U-19s are definitely one of the favorites to win it all. While the USA plays the first game of the tournament tomorrow, Canada will play the first nationally televised match on Sunday, Aug. 18, against Denmark at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. A crowd of 35,000 is expected for the game that will be broadcast across Canada on Sportsnet. It will be the first of 14 matches broadcast on what is basically the Fox Sports Net of Canada.
A LOOK AT ENGLAND: England will no doubt be a difficult test for the young U.S. team in their first ever world championship match. England qualified by reaching the UEFA U-19 semi-finals, where the team fell to Germany, 1-0. England finished second in Group B in first round play by beating Norway, 3-1, falling to Denmark, 2-1, and falling to Switzerland, 4-3. The team advanced to both the UEFA semis and thereby the World Championship tournament on the basis of goal differential over Norway, which also had three points in group play. With women's soccer as the fastest growing sport in England, the U-19s will be looking to prove much in this tournament, especially against the Americans. England has several talented forwards including Ellen Maggs, who plays for Arsenal and Katy Ward, who scored twice against Switzerland in UEFA Qualifying, who plays for Birmingham City. Faye Dunn of Tranmere Rovers also scored twice in qualifying. England's top midfielder is Kelly McDougall, who scored against Norway in UEFA qualifying. She plays her club ball with Everton and has also seen time with the senior side.
JAPANESE TO RUN THE MIDDLE FOR USA-ENGLAND: Japanese referee Mayumi Oiwa will patrol the middle for the USA's first World Championship match against England. Lynda Bramble from Trinidad & Tobago and Ameoli Aquerebourou from Tonga will be the assistant referees. Fatou Gaye from Senegal will be the fourth official.
STAT OF NOTE: U.S. forward Kelly Wilson made her senior national team debut against England at the Algarve Cup this past March and scored her first-ever full international goal.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK:
U.S. goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris on the eve of the USA's first match in the 2002 FIFA Under-19 World Championship:
"We've been talking a lot among ourselves and we really are in a good place right now. We feel very confident in each other and basically we just can't wait to get out and play. Fitness-wise, technically and tactically, we really feel we've done everything we could do to prepare for this tournament."
Sentence uttered by no less than five different people, all sure they had nailed the joke of the day, as U.S. team administrator Heather Walles waited at a local Wendy's for the team bus to arrive after practice while holding 28 milkshakes in her hands for the team and staff:
"You must be mighty thirsty, eh?"