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U.S. WNT Olympic Qualifying Notes - Feb. 24, 2004


U.S. WOMEN OPEN OLYMPIC QUALIFYING TOMORROW
The 11-day preparation period in Costa Rica for the U.S. Women’s National Team has come to an end and head coach April Heinrich’s squad will open the CONCACAF Final Round Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament against Trinidad & Tobago tomorrow at 3 p.m. CT.  Fans can follow the match live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.  The USA has been training hard since arriving in Costa Rica on Feb. 13, and several young players are putting this camp among the list of the most difficult since they’ve been with the full team, partly because the hard fields have taken a toll on the players’ feet.  Thankfully, the high winds have died down into cool breezes, which are more than welcome on the hot, dry field at the Dos Pinos dairy factory, where the USA has held all of its trainings.  The first and only “double-day” of the trip took place last Friday when the USA trained in the morning and afternoon, with the morning session consisting of a 60-mintue full-field scrimmage.  The match ended 2-0 for the yellow team with goals from Kristine Lilly and Lindsay Tarpley, both assisted by Mia Hamm.  After that training, the USA started to taper towards the matches, training once on Saturday, taking Sunday off, before training once on Monday and Tuesday.  None of the teams will be allowed to train in the stadiums – Estadio Nacional and Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero – during the entire tournament.  On Monday afternoon, the U.S. team packed up and moved to the official CONCACAF hotel just 10 minutes down the road.  The final days of practice before the tournament featured mostly functional training, finishing and set plays, and the Americans are primed and ready for their attempt to qualify for a third Olympic Games.  This will, however, be the first time the USA has had to go through an Olympic qualifying tournament.  In 1996, the Americans qualified for the Atlanta games as host.  In 2000, the USA qualified for the Sydney games by virtue of its finish at the 1999 Women’s World Cup. 

U.S. WOMEN UNDEFEATED IN CONCACAF QUALIFYING
The U.S. women head into their fourth CONCACAF Qualifying tournament with an all-time record of 14-0-0.  Those games span qualifying matches for the 1991, 1995 and 2003 Women’s World Cups during which the USA has piled up a 109-2 goal difference.  Interesting enough, one of those two goals was scored by T&T, the USA’s opponent tomorrow. (See Center Circle Extra for more information on that match). The other goal was scored by Canada in the championship game of the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup (a 2-1 U.S. victory that included a “golden goal” from Mia Hamm) which served as the qualification tournament for the 2003 Women’s World Cup before the tournament was moved from China to the USA. 

USA vs. T&T PREVIEW – FOURTH MEETING WITH ISLAND NATION IN QUALIFYING
The USA has faced Trinidad & Tobago six times in its history, all victories, which includes three matches in all three Women’s World Cup qualifying tournaments in which the USA has participated.  The most recent meeting was on October 29, 2002, in the second match of qualifying for the 2003 Women’s World Cup.  The USA prevailed 3-0 at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal-State Fullerton as the U.S. team broke down a highly effective bunker on goals from Cindy Parlow, Brandi Chastain, and Tiffeny Milbrett.  Joy Fawcett earned her historic 200th cap in that match as the USA out-shot T&T 30-1 and had 18 corner kicks to zero for the “Soca Warriors.”  A Caribbean nation of two islands just north of South America, T&T does not play many matches outside of CONCACAF events, but always brings a committed team with good athletes.  The USA will face the challenge of finding a way through a packed defense if T&T comes out in the same 4-5-1 formation they played in 2002 at the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup.  Teams will be allowed three substitutes per match.  All 20 players on the U.S. roster are healthy and available for duty.

U.S. CONCACAF Final Round Women’s Olympic Qualifying Schedule
Date                                   Opponent        Stadiums                                 Kickoff Time
Wednesday, Feb. 25        T & T               Nacional                                  3 p.m. CT
Friday, February 27          Haiti                 Eladio Rosabal Cordero       8 p.m. CT
Sunday, February 29        Mexico            Nacional                                   3 p.m. CT
Wednesday, March 3       Semifinals       Nacional                                  TBD*
Friday, March 5                 Third-Place     Eladio Rosabal Cordero       6 p.m. CT
                                            Final                Eladio Rosabal Cordero       8 p.m. CT

*The USA must finish in first or second place in their group to make the semifinal round.  The winners of the semifinal matches qualify for the Athens Olympics.

Quotes from the U.S. camp heading into the first match of CONCACAF Final Round Women’s Olympic Qualifying:

U.S. head coach April Heinrichs on facing T&T, a team that held the USA to three goals during qualifying for the 2003 Women’s World Cup:

“The T&T bunker we faced in World Cup qualifying was the best we’ve ever faced, largely because of their speed and athleticism, their committment to get numbers behind the ball and their committment to defend.  They sat back and had eight and 10 players in their penalty box or stretched across their back line.  Athletically, they are as quick and as fast as us, there is no doubt in my mind.  They can close us down quickly.”

Heinrichs on if T&T will play the same was as in World Cup Qualifying:

“It’s hard to say.  It’s a big carrrot to be able to get into the Olympics.  When you are a country like T&T, you might take victories in small steps.  Maybe they are going to get a little more ambitious, attack a bit more and try to get a goal off the U.S. team.  But we are expecting the same tactics, we are expeting them to understand that they were very successful at limiting the U.S. attack in the last game, so let’s play the same way again.”

Heinrichs on the USA’s training period in Costa Rica for the tournament:

“We worked extremely hard these last 11 days.  We trained from 90 minutes to two hours, with lifting and agility training as well.  The players are starting to get beyond the pre-season fitness.  We have eight or nine players who are match fit and a group of four or five players right behind them who could be match fit by the end of this tournament.  So this will be the first time that most of the team will be match fit heading in March 1st, and they will help us as we are just going to raise the bar even more the rest of the year.”

U.S. defender Cat Reddick on the 11-day training period:

“It was really hard, but with wonderful breaks on our off days.  The sun was scorching, the field was hard, but now that the games are beginning, we’re all very happy and we feel closer as a team.  I think we’ve gotten better, stronger, faster and more physical.  We are definitely ready to play someone else as we are tired of tearing into each other all the time.”

A MOMENT NOT FORGOTTEN AGAINST T&T

One would think something as rare as a fight in international women’s soccer would be vividly remembered by those who were there, but the details of the one and only fist-a-cuffs ever to break out in a U.S. Women’s National Team game are a bit murky.  On the eve of the USA vs. T&T match in CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying, a match that is guaranteed to be more civil that the 1994 meeting, Center Circle Extra attempts to piece together a strange, but true moment in U.S. Women’s National Team qualification history.
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HI TECH TURTLES
The phone lines and Internet connections in Costa Rica have been shaky at worst, super slow at best.  (Dare we say, as slow as a turtle?) That changed for about two hours on Monday afternoon.  A huge seminar on sea turtles was beginning on the day the USA checked out of its hotel to move to the official tournament hotel and the lobby was packed with sea turtle proponents as the team returned from its morning training.  One seminar participant saw Kristine Lilly waiting in line to check her email on a computer in the lobby that features a rare high-speed connection and offered up her computer, which was popped open on a table.  It seems that the company that organized the seminar had arraigned high-speed wireless Internet access for the sea turtle devotees, starting that day, and about a half dozen U.S. players set up their laptops, connected to their Internet providers and pounded away on the keys until the bus arrived to take the team to their new, and wireless Internet-less, hotel.  In fact, a rainstorm hit just as the team was boarding the bus, knocking out the cable TV and the limited Internet access at the new hotel for part of the evening.

LA ISLA TORTUGA
The U.S. team had Sunday off after eight hard days of training and took an excursion that none will soon forgot.  The USA found out that a two-hour bus ride and wonderful one-hour sail on a large catamaran will get you to La Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island), a picturesque island off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the Gulf of Nicoya.  The U.S. players ate a scrumptious lunch of local foods, snorkeled over a small reef, waded in the some of the warmest seawater known to man and basically relaxed for several hours before heading back to San Jose.  Those familiar with the Jurassic Park movies, which were set on islands off the coast of Costa Rica, will understand the views of thick jungle over rolling mountains that U.S. players saw as the catamaran “Calypso” motored into a secluded beach on the island.  There were no dinosaur sightings, and for that matter, not a turtle to be found (perhaps a reason there was a turtle conservation seminar going on at the hotel), but the U.S. players did meet one mangy-looking peccary, one of the many animals in Costa Rica. The peccary, which is a sort of a cross between a pig and small dog, was obviously of the knowledge that the island belonged to him and seemed unconcerned by the players as it shuffled around looking for food, before plopping down for a nap underneath one of the picnic tables, prompting U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry to find a new seat.  Later, some other wild peccaries (small wild boars, really) made an appearance, as did some wild turkeys, and one very annoying rooster, who insisted on incessant “cock-a-doodle-doing” as U.S. captain Julie Foudy was attempting to relax in a hammock and read her book.  Foudy finally asked the rooster if he’d ever heard of chicken nuggets.  The rooster then left the vicinity.

FEELEY TO THE FISH
U.S. defender Heather Mitts found out a few days ago that her boyfriend, NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley was being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Miami Dolphins.  While Mitts attended the University of Florida, the former Philadelphia Charge star had become a dedicated Eagles fan (surpassed perhaps only by her allegiance to her hometown Cincinnati Bengals), and worked as a host of the Eagles pre-game show “The Tailgate Show.”  She will now be rooting for the turquoise and orange.  Mitts, who was recently named the winner of an ESPN.com poll as the “Hottest Female Athlete of 2004,” a distinction for which she received much ribbing from her teammates, admits that she won’t be upset about the differences between the Philly and Miami winters.   

SHE SAID IT:
“Whoever voted for Heather did not get a good look at her feet.” 

    -- U.S. athletic trainer Cody Malley on Heather Mitts, winner of ESPN.com’s “Hottest Female Athlete of 2004” poll, who like most of the players, has a few blisters and calluses from the hard fields in Costa Rica.


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