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U.S. WNT Olympic Qualifying Notes - Feb. 20, 2004

The U.S. Women’s National Team has settled into a nice rhythm during its 11-day training period before the CONCACAF Final Round Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which begins for the USA on Feb. 25, as the Americans take on Trinidad & Tobago. The U.S. women have been training almost every morning at the Dos Pinos dairy factory, and one word that many players have learned as they continue to expand their Spanish vocabularies is viento – wind. Since the second day in Costa Rica, blustery, swirling winds have raked the U.S. training sessions, making hitting a quality long ball difficult and every header a potential nose-squashing, eye-watering experience. As Costa Rica has the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Caribbean on the East, this time of year features windy conditions that have blown gusts of up to 30 miles an hour over the U.S. team. Due to the wind, the hard training field (which has caused some sore "little piggies" on the U.S. players), and an altitude of almost 4,000 feet, the practice conditions have been a bit difficult. Still, the adverse conditions have not stopped the U.S. team from working hard with quality as it prepares for its first-ever Olympic qualifying tournament. Wednesday’s training was a tough one, featuring fitness in the form of 300-yard shuttles, a quick heading drill, and finally a 16-minute full field match which featured a pounded header from Abby Wambach off a cross from Julie Foudy that sliced through the wind to the far post. The Dos Pinos factory has been very accommodating to the U.S. team, loading an ice chest with tasty peach and strawberry liquid yogurts, orange/carrot juice and other treats produced right at the factory. The entire 20-player U.S. roster is now in Costa Rica after Mia Hamm arrived on last Tuesday and Briana Scurry arrived on Thursday. While the roster for the Olympics will be 18 players should the U.S. qualify, the qualifying rules state that if the confederation holds a single tournament in one place then the teams are allowed 20-player rosters. A 20-player roster will come in handy for U.S. head coach April Heinrichs, whose team must play five matches in 10 days.

Last Tuesday was an off day from training for the USA and the entire team used the day to do some exploring of the vast beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. The majority of the team traveled to the Rio Reventazon, and embarked on a nine-mile journey on rubber rafts down Class 3 rapids, with six people to a boat, all with bright orange life vests, helmets and paddles. While the 90-minute trip produced more than a few humorous moments, and several players took unplanned dips in the river, overall the U.S. women proved to be fine, if not soaked, rafters. Only four people fell in, but three of them came from the same boat, dubbed "the young boat" as Leslie Osborne, Aly Wagner and Cat Reddick all splashed down in the Reventazon. Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone got adventurous and traveled to the Volcano Arenal, a journey of three hours north to see the most active volcano in Costa Rica. While the steaming behemoth failed to produce any real fireworks, the players were more than happy to soak in the natural hot springs at the bottom of the volcano and eat dinner in the shadow of the mountain, which glows at night from the lava flows. Joy Fawcett, her three children and Shannon MacMillan chose a less arduous day, taking a 90-minute aerial tram ride over a lush rain forest among a cacophony of tropical birds. On Thursday, the U.S. team trained in the morning and then jumped on a tour bus around 2 p.m. for a bumpy 45-minute drive up to a cloud forest at 7,200 feet, where they slid down a course of eight "zip" lines on cables strung from tree to tree and platform to platform, a safe, but somewhat scary looking way to see the beautiful forest canopy. The only mishap occurred when a staff member, who shall remain nameless, slammed into a tree, but emerged none the worse for wear. One of the highlights of the days were two dogs – Negra and Mani – the unofficial mascots of the tour company, who followed the players all the way up the hill, followed the team through the forest from the ground, then ran back down the hill to the clubhouse, where they demanded hugs and neck scratches. Considering almost every dog the U.S. has seen thus far has been asleep and sprawled unmoving on the ground, the fitness level and enthusiasm of Negra and Mani were quite impressive to the U.S. players, who felt the effects of the altitude on the short hike to the first platform.

After training on Wednesday, Mia Hamm, Cat Reddick and Lindsay Tarpley posed for a Glamour magazine photo shoot that will be a part of a large layout on "Olympic Goddesses" featuring numerous American women who are expected to excel at the Athens Olympics this fall. The shoot was focused on portraying the veteran Hamm with two young upcoming players, as Reddick and Tarpley have been the last two Chevrolet U.S. Soccer Young Female Players of the Year. Unable to schedule a time in the USA when all three players were together and could do the shoot, Glamour sent an eight-person team to Costa Rica that included renowned photographer Norman Jean Roy, who photographed the players in beautiful, flowing white dresses that contrasted mightily with the venue of a dusty soccer field outside an old church. Needless to say, the site of three stunning women all decked out in elegant white dresses, kicking a soccer ball, was something the Costa Ricans in that neighborhood had never seen before, and will likely never see again. By the end of the shoot, a large crowd had gathered, many of them who had heard of and recognized Hamm. In an amazing confluence of events, a massive rainbow emerged behind the players just as the shoot was beginning, adding another twist to the beautiful late afternoon light.

The U.S. staff had a familiar visitor on Wednesday night as Costa Rica Men’s National Team head coach and former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Steve Sampson dropped by the hotel to say hello. Sampson, who lives just five minutes from the U.S. hotel, will guide the Ticos into World Cup Qualifying this summer. He had just returned from Morocco, where his team played a match and will leave today for the Cayman Island to watch the first leg of the Cuba-Cayman Islands series, the winner of which will face Costa Rica for a spot in the semifinal round.

The U.S. players have found no shortage of top class club and international matches on their hotel TVs, which feature a vast array of channels, mostly in Spanish, but some in English. Most of the players watched the USA-Holland game live on TV, and then stayed put as the Portugal-England match came on. The USA has also been able to watch matches from Spain, England and Italy, as well as many highlights from the Costa Rican First Division, which features a "super classico" this weekend as Alajuela and Saprissa -- the top two clubs in Costa Rica -- meet in a showdown.

While the food at the U.S. hotel has been excellent, the U.S. team was happy to find the option of a food court at a mall across the street from the hotel which features almost every single American fast food franchise you could name, including TCBY frozen yogurt, which by itself would have been enough to satisfy this frozen yogurt-loving soccer team.

2/20/2004 2:38:00 PMMia Hamm talks to the Costa Rica media, who have dubbed her the Superwoman of Soccer. noleftno 180240 img_6_2488.fpx0.4226,0.062,0.4688,0.625nono

The Costa Rican media proved to be no different than most media in the United States in that they all wanted to talk to Mia Hamm. Two of Costa Rica’s largest newspapers – La Nacion and La Prensa Libre -- ran big stories, with large photos, on Hamm and her teammates, one of which called Hamm, the "Superwoman of Soccer." One didn’t need to be able to read Spanish to see that the Costa Ricans expect the American women to do well in this tournament, as witnessed by the headline: "Mucho mas que favoritas," or "very much the favorites." The Costa Ricans did prove that they can misquote a player with the best of them, taking a quote in which Hamm routinely explained that the U.S. always respects all of its opponents, but always plays to win every game, and turned it into a headline that blared: "Hamm: I’ve come to win it all." The newspaper also "blurbed" a quote in which Hamm said that she’d love to come back to this beautiful country on vacation.

Now in its 20th year, U.S. Women’s National Team trips to other countries in the CONCACAF region have been a rarity. While the trip to Costa Rica is the first ever for the U.S. women to Central America, and the first-ever to a Spanish-speaking country, it is just the sixth-ever trip to another country in its region, and that includes three trips to Canada. Two of the trips were for Women’s World Cup qualifying in 1991 to Haiti and in 1995 to Canada. While this of course reflects the slow development of women’s soccer in Latin America and the Caribbean, the USA’s only other journey to face a CONCACAF foe that wasn’t in Canada was the legendary trip (among the U.S. veterans) to Haiti and three matches in Trinidad & Tobago in 1994, one against the host and two against Canada. Ironically, T&T and Haiti represent two of the USA’s first round opponents in this Olympic Qualifying tournament. While the USA has played its third first-round opponent Mexico 10 times, it has never faced Mexico in Mexico. The USA has never lost a game on the road to a CONCACAF opponent, going 13-0-1. None of the USA’s matches will be televised in the United States, but fans can follow all the action on’s MatchTracker presented by Philips Electronics.

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

*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.

"We said to ourselves, we go big, or we go home. We took the most "extreme" line down that river."
          --U.S. midfielder and extreme sports extraordinaire Aly Wagner, in her best mock surfer tone, on why three of the four people who fell in the river came from her boat.