SIXTH TIME'S A CHARM?: The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team opens Algarve Cup play this Sunday, March 12 (2 p.m. Local/9 a.m. ET), against Portugal in the USA's first match abroad since winning the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. The USA brings a 2-2-1 record for 2000 into its sixth attempt to win this tournament, a title that has eluded the Americans in their five previous trips. The USA is coming off a two-game losing streak after dropping two matches to Norway in early February, the first time the American women have lost back-to-back games since 1993. The USA is based in Albufeira, a quaint seaside resort town on the Southern Coast of Portugal. The U.S. team has trained once daily since arriving in country on Wednesday, March 8.
A CHECKERED ALGARVE CUP HISTORY: The last two Algarve Cup setbacks have been particularly frustrating. In 1998, the USA opened the tournament with a 2-0 win over Finland and a 4-1 thrashing of China behind a Mia Hamm hat trick on her birthday. The U.S. team then entered its final group game against Norway need a win, a tie or a loss by less than two goals to advance to the Final. Norway won, 4-1, and the three-goal losing margin was the largest in U.S. women's history. Last year, the USA again opened with a 2-0 victory over Finland, then drew with Sweden 1-1, setting up another clash with Norway to make the Final. This time the USA came back from a goal down through scores of their own by Julie Foudy and the game-winner from Kristine Lilly to win, 2-1, and earn a shot at China in the championship game. The USA again fell behind but tied the game at 1-1 just seconds before halftime on a goal from Tiffeny Milbrett, who would be named MVP of the tournament. Just two minutes into the second half, Hamm was hauled down in the penalty box and Brandi Chastain stepped up to take the penalty kick. Her shot against Chinese goalkeeper Goa Hong, the same player who would face Chastain in the penalty kick shootout during the World Cup Final, clanged off the crossbar. China scored off a counter-attack in the 65th minute and the USA fell in the Algarve Cup once again.
ALGARVE FORMAT: The eight teams will be split into two groups of four, with first-round play consisting of round-robin matches within the group. The USA was drawn into Group A with Sweden, host Portugal and 1999 Women's World Cup opener opponent Denmark. Group B consists of China, Norway, Canada and Finland. At the end of round-robin play within the groups, the group winners will play for the championship. The two second-place group finishers will play for third place, the third-place finishers for fifth and the last-place finishers will play for seventh.
USA vs. ALGARVE OPPONENTS: The Americans have a 4-0-0 overall record vs. Portugal, with two wins coming at previous Algarve Cups and two coming in Florida in January of 1999. In those four meetings, Portugal has never scored a goal on the USA while the Americans have scored 20. The USA is 9-1-3 against Sweden, but none of those wins have been by more than three goals, six have been by two goals or less and the last two meetings have ended in draws, including a 1-1 tie at last year's tournament. The USA also tied Sweden, 0-0, in January in Australia, fielding a team of young players with an average age of 19.9 years. The USA's veterans that face Sweden on March 14 will see a team very similar to its Women's World Cup side (with 14 players having participated in USA '99) and virtually identical to its Australia Cup team. The USA is 7-3-1 all-time against the Danes including a rousing 3-0 victory in the Opening Game of the 1999 Women's World Cup at Giants Stadium. Denmark has made wholesale changes from its Women's World Cup Team under new Head Coach Poul Højmose, bringing just five players from its 20-player USA '99 roster to the Algarve Cup. The USA has won five in a row over Denmark, but the last loss to Denmark was in 1995 at the Algarve Cup.
ALGARVE CUP SCHEDULE:
WORLD CUP REUNION: If the USA wins its group, and China duplicates the feat on the other side of the draw, it would set up the first meeting between the two teams since the historic 1999 Women's World Cup Final on July 10, 1999. The two teams played in last year's Algarve Cup Final with China prevailing, 2-1. The last four meetings have produced just one win for the USA, two losses and the 0-0 draw in the Women's World Cup Final.
RECORD SETTERS: Mia Hamm will look to increase her world-best 115 career goals while Kristine Lilly, with 192 career caps, continues the run towards 200 that will make her the first man or woman in history to reach that mark.
U.S ALGARVE CUP TEAM OVERVIEW: The USA brings an experienced side to the Algarve Cup with 14 members of the 1999 Women's World Cup Team on the roster. The inexperience is in goal, with twice-capped Siri Mullinix and uncapped Jen Branam vying for the starting spot in the tournament. The other two non-World Cup Team players on the roster are a pair of 19-year-olds in forward Christy Welsh and defender Danielle Slaton. Welsh has two goals in four games for the USA this year, including a score against Norway in the USA's last match. The left-sided Slaton is one of the team's best athletes and was a star on the USA's Australia Cup championship team in January. The USA is without both Michelle Akers, who is at home in Florida recovering from nasal surgery, and World Cup hero Briana Scurry, who is recovering from a leg injury. Both are expected to re-join the team for the match vs. Iceland on April 8 in Charlotte, N.C.
USA'S ALGARVE CUP ROSTER:
Goalkeepers: Jen Branam, Siri Mullinix;
Defenders: Brandi Chastain, Lorrie Fair, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, Christie Pearce, Danielle Slaton, Kate Sobrero;
Midfielders: Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan, Tisha Venturini, Sara Whalen;
Forwards: Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Cindy Parlow, Christie Welsh.
QUOTES FROM THE ALGARVE CUP:
Defender Brandi Chastain: "The team is very excited about this tournament because it's a new start for all of us as team with a new coach, a new philosophy and a new attitude. Ultimately our goal is to win the tournament which will give us a strong opening to a challenging year."
Forward Tiffeny Milbrett: "For the most part, we've come together. We have most of our Women's World Cup players here and during the last camp we were adjusting to new people, new faces and new things. Now we are a bit more comfortable and I think that will show in our play."
Forward Mia Hamm: "The team is excited to play and motivated to do better than we did in the last two games. We're getting more and more comfortable with the transition of new coaches and excited about what this is going to add to this team."
Midfielder Julie Foudy: "Obviously, for some of us, this is our sixth Algarve Cup tournament without winning the cup even once. We want to change that record and at the same time gauge where we are in our Olympic preparations. This has always been a great tournament for us to determine our fitness, our strength and our weaknesses because of the high caliber of teams we face. It gives us great information to move forward to Sydney."