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U.S. Women's National Team Qualifies For 2008 Beijing Olympics With 3-0 Victory Over Costa Rica


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (April 9, 2008) – The U.S. Women’s National Team rebounded from a frustrating first half to score three second half goals – two by Natasha Kai – and clinch a spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinal of 2008 CONCACAF Olympic Women’s Qualifying.

The U.S. will play Canada in the championship game of the 2008 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Saturday, April 12, with a kickoff at 7:30 p.m. MT. Fans can follow the action live on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker. In the second game of Wednesday night's doubleheader, Canada made a first-half goal stand up against Mexico to win 1-0 and disappoint another packed stadium at Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez, earning its first-ever berth to the Olympics in women’s soccer.

The match was played in difficult conditions with high winds and a massive dust storm that made every ball in the air an adventure. Costa Rica came into the semifinal match with the tactical plan to play low pressure defense and keep a low defensive restraining line, packing its defensive third with players and making it extremely difficult for the USA to find space in goal scoring positions.

In the first 45 minutes, the U.S. struggled mightily to find a rhythm against the committed Costa Ricans, who defended very well inside their own penalty box, and the Americans were not sharp on the few chances they did create. Lori Chalupny was one of the USA’s main attacking weapons in the first half, repeatedly getting around the corner on the left side, but her crosses could not find a U.S. player. While Costa Rica rarely threatened the USA’s goal, the half ended with a surprising 0-0 score line.

With just one goal needed to change the game, the U.S. put together some excellent attacking soccer after the break. Heather O’Reilly, aided by halftime substitute Tobin Heath, terrorized the flanks as the U.S. pounded away at the Costa Rica goal, forcing the Ticas to drop even deeper into its own half, setting up its back line just a few steps above the penalty arc. The USA took full advantage of the stretched out field and finally broke through the mass of red jerseys in the 57th minute.

"Of course it was a great feeling when you score goals, especially the first one, because then we knew Costa Rica had to attack," said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. "But I have to say, we have to be smarter, and I think we were smarter in the second half. They were so tight centrally, so we needed to go wide. We needed to use the flanks better and that's why we changed the system a little bit, so we had Heather O'Reilly and Tobin Heath on each side and I think that changed the game."

Heath got around the defense on the left side, as she would the entire half, and cut a ball back on the ground to Kai. The U.S. forward smacked her shot hard on frame from 10 yards out, but it initially looked as if Ticas goalkeeper Priscilla Tapia had made the save. The ball had enough steam on it, though, that it slipped through her hands and rolled across the goal line into the lower right corner.

Two minutes later Shannon Boxx sent a header hard off the crossbar near the upper right corner and the U.S. was on its way.

The second goal came in the 72nd minute as Carli Lloyd sent in a free kick from the left wing. Kai got her head on the ball, but sent it looping high in the air toward the goal. Tapia went up to grab the ball right on the goal line, but as she came down, fumbled it and O’Reilly stuffed it into the net from just a foot away. It was O’Reilly’s 19th international goal.

Young forward Amy Rodriguez came off the bench in the 74th minute and gave the U.S. an offensive spark in the final 15 minutes. Her running created the final goal as substitute Angela Hucles played her down the right wing. Rodriguez raced around a defender and chipped a pass back to Hucles, who had continued her run, and the U.S. midfielder brought the ball down about 10 yards from the goal at the right elbow of the goal box. Hucles coolly played a square pass right into the path of Kai, who slammed her shot into the right side of the net from eight yards away to finish the scoring in the 89th minute. The two goals gave Kai four for the tournament and 14 for her career.

Rodriguez almost got a goal of her own, getting behind the defense in the 90th minute and looping a shot over Tapia, but it bounced just left of the goal.

Costa Rica had two good chances in the match, the first coming in the 68th minute when Amara Wilson drew a nice diving save from U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. Two minutes from time, a well-struck Costa Rica free kick skipped into the box and bounced off Solo’s chest as she was buried underneath two Costa Rican attackers, but the U.S. was able to clear before a Tica could get a foot to the rebound.

The U.S. defeated Costa Rica in the semifinal of the Olympic qualifying tournament four years ago to earn a berth to Athens 2004, winning 4-0 in that match in San Jose, Costa Rica.

- U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT -

Match-up: USA vs. Costa Rica
Competition: 2008 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Semifinal
Venue: Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez; Juarez, Mexico
Date: April 9, 2008; Kickoff – 5:00 p.m. MT
Attendance: 22,280 (Sell-Out)
Weather: Windy and blowing dust – 73 degrees

Scoring Summary:   1     2     F
USA                              0     3     3
CRC                             0     0     0

USA – Natasha Kai (Tobin Heath)           57th minute.
USA – Heather O’Reilly (Natasha Kai)                     72.
USA – Natasha Kai (Angela Hucles)                        89.

Lineups:
USA: 18-Hope Solo; 14-Stephanie Cox, 3-Christie Rampone – Capt., 4-Cat Whitehill, 17-Lori Chalupny; 9-Heather O’Reilly (16-Angela Hucles, 83), 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Carli Lloyd, 5-Lindsay Tarpley (13-Tobin Heath, 46); 6-Natasha Kai, 20-Abby Wambach (19-Amy Rodriguez, 74).
Subs not used: 2-Rachel Buehler, 8-Lauren Cheney, 12-Leslie Osborne, 24-Nicole Barnhart.
Not Eligible: 10-Kacey White, 15-Kate Markgraf.

Head Coach: Pia Sundhage

CRC: 1-Priscilla Tapia; 3-Vanessa Rojas, 4-Karol Galves, 5-Amanda Esquivel, 10-Katherine Alvarado, 15-Cristin Granados, 16-Yuliana Rodriguez, 8-Monica Malavassi – Capt., 12-Laura Sanchez, 14-Amara Wilson, 17-Adriana Venegas (13-Megan Chavez, 69).
Subs not used: 2-Adriana Rodriguez, 6-Gabriela Trujillo, 9-Paola de los Angeles Alvarado, 11-Raquel Rodriguez, 18-Yirlania Arroyo, 19-Maria Flores,
Not Eligible: 7-Mariela Campos, 20-Wendy Acosta.

Head Coach: Juan Diego Quesada

Statistical Summary: USA / CRC
Shots:                                26 / 6
Shots on Goal:                 13 / 4
Saves:                                  4 / 9
Corner Kicks:                      9 / 2
Fouls:                                 17 / 10
Offside:                                 2 / 0

Misconduct Summary: None.

Officials
Referee: Diane Ferreira-James (GUY)
Asst. Referee: Isabel Tovar (MEX)
Asst. Referee: Rita Munoz (MEX)
4th Official: Carol Ann Chenard (CAN)

Sierra Mist Woman of the Match: Lori Chalupny

U.S. Women’s National Team Quote Sheet

U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage

A smiling Sundhage on her feelings on qualifying for the 2008 Olympics:
“Look at my face. I am really happy for the team and the fact that we turned it around in the second half.”

On achieving the goal of qualifying for the Olympics:
“The first goal was to qualify for the Olympics and then do great in the Olympics, but another very important goal is to change the attacking style a little bit, which we have done. Of course, it’s a fine line keeping possession and being boring and keeping possession and penetrating at the right time, but the second half was pretty good today.”

On returning to China for the Olympics after serving as an assistant coach for China during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup:
“First of all, I am very happy to go back to China, but now as a head coach. There is a huge difference of course to be an assistant coach in China and the head coach for the U.S. team. Regarding playing (China) or not, I have not given that a thought. I look forward to any game, and especially if it’s in the Olympics.”

On the wind and dust:
“It was bad and we said from the very beginning that it will affect the game, and it did. But the last thing I said going into the game was ‘it is what it is.’ I think the first half we didn’t do a good job using the flanks and they were dropping off a lot with a bunker just outside the box. I think we did a better job in the second half. We changed the formation and a player like Tobin Heath changed the game a little bit. Yeah, you could blame the wind, but I think that’s a bad excuse for professional players.”

On the USA’s forwards:
“Natasha Kai scored a couple of goals, which is important of course, but it’s not about her, it’s about how she plays with Abby. It was really nice to see Amy Rodriguez came in the second half with Natasha Kai and the third goal was really sweet. It started off with both Rodriguez and Angela Hucles. We are happy with all the forwards we have. They were good in different ways.”

On the level of play at this CONCACAF tournament:
“I’ve seen the competition in Europe and of course it’s a higher level, but I have to say the teams here have improved a lot compared to what I knew about them five or six years ago. Look at this game, the U.S. playing Costa Rica and it’s 0-0 at halftime. I would say it’s an important moment for me, who has been around the game for so long, to see Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and the way Mexico has improved so much. It’s not only good for U.S. but for women’s soccer overall.”

On the game and finally getting a goal in the 57th minute:
“Of course it was a great feeling when you score goals, especially the first one, because they we knew Costa Rica had to attack. But I have to say, we have to be smarter, and I think we were smarter in the second half. They were so tight centrally, so we needed to go wide. We needed to use the flanks better and that’s why we changed the system a little bit, so we had both Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath on each side and I think that changed the game.”

On the work to be done before the Olympics:
“It’s very exciting, but it’s important not to get caught up with looking too far ahead. You have to look at each day in order to prepare. Because it’s whatever you do the next day and the day after that, hopefully it will pay off in the Olympics. It’s important to stay with both feet on the ground and enjoy the next practice and the next game.”

On struggling in the first half, but finally getting the goals to win and qualify:
“I think it’s important to learn a lesson going to the Olympics. Certain details will be important and it’s a great feeling to know that you can actually make some mistakes and still qualify for the tournament.”

On what she said to the team at halftime:
“We changed the system and I said use the flanks and go to the bi-line because you have to run at the widest player on Costa Rica and speed up the game. We tried to be tricky and tried to combine centrally and that didn’t work. (I said) it’s your time right now. You have to step because after 45 minutes we will know if we got to the Olympics or not. Now is the time that matters.”

On her experience as a coach at this tournament:
“For me, it’s a huge advantage and great experience to know I went to Mexico for this tournament and I know how it is to play against Mexico when there is 25,000 people watching the game and they are very loud. That’s something I’m very grateful and happy that I was able to do that.”

U.S. forward Heather O’Reilly

On the match:
“I think that we went into halftime a little surprised. It wasn’t the result we wanted at half, obviously, but I think we stayed very composed and very positive and that shows a lot about our team, our leadership and our coaching staff. Nobody was freaking out. We had a lot in belief in ourselves and our preparation. We knew that we were the better team and if we did our thing and put the passes together, eventually we would score.”

On qualifying for the Olympics:
“The Olympics are such an unbelievable event so I am so glad that we qualified and now we can just look ahead to the summer and preparing to reach our potential for Beijing.”

U.S. forward Amy Rodriguez

On where she was during the 2004 Olympics in Greece:
“I was at home on my couch watching the games. As exciting as it was, I really wanted to be there and hopefully now, in a couple of months, I will be out on the field and actually be playing instead of watching.”

On the match:
“I think this game was huge for us. We all came together in the second half, stayed connected and when we play together, that’s when we play our best.”

On the wind and dirt:
“I never played in a sand storm, I’m from California. It was definitely different, but it’s great to play games in different weather conditions because then you get used to it. You’re not always playing on the perfect field with perfect weather.”

U.S. forward Natasha Kai

On the match:
“I think in the first half the wind was a big factor. We were a little frustrated and we didn’t really connect as a team. In the second half, the first goal was critical. We needed to get a goal early and that’s what we did.”

On a much better second half:
“We just needed to be more positive. We were getting a little upset and we knew we had to stay positive. Just do the simple things and be on the same page. Right when we came out on the field in the second half, we got in our huddle and said we needed to play more as a team. We need to play for each other. That’s what we did and we got three goals.”

On the wind and dirt:
“You have to be ready to play under any circumstance and that’s the whole part of being a professional. Being here in Mexico with this crowd and the wind and the dirt, we just have to play our best.”

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