CHICAGO (Thursday, February 7, 2002) -- The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team will travel to Portugal in late February to participate in the 9th Algarve Cup, one of the most prestigious invitational women's tournaments in the world, being held March 1-7, 2002, in the scenic Algarve region on the southern tip of the country.
For the first time, the tournament will feature 12 teams, up from usual eight that played for the title over last seven years. The USA was drawn into Group B, where three intriguing match-ups await against defending Algarve Cup champs Sweden, an England squad undergoing a tremendous growth spurt and Olympic champion Norway. Group A features China, Germany, Denmark and Finland. The new Group C will feature host Portugal, Canada, Scotland and Wales.
The USA will open the Algarve Cup on Friday, March 1 against Sweden, face England on Sunday, March 3 and finish first-round play against archrival Norway on Tuesday, March 5. The placement games will take place on Thursday, March 7, making for a grueling schedule of four games in seven days, something the USA may be used to after playing three games in five days at the recent Four Nations Tournament in China.
The tournament is perhaps the world's most competitive women's international event outside of the Women's World Cup, the Olympics and the European Championships. All the matches are played at small stadiums in the Algarve region. Fans will be able to follow the U.S. games on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics. A U.S. roster along with final kickoff times and venues will be announced in the near future.
This will be the seventh appearance by the USA at the Algarve Cup, which before 2000 was one of the few missing trophies in the U.S. Women's crowded trophy case. Including an appearance in 1993 at the first incarnation of the tournament in Agai, Cyprus, before the competition moved to Portugal, the U.S. women went five straight tournaments without an Algarve title before winning in 2000. A Brandi Chastain penalty kick held up for a 1-0 victory over Norway in the championship game.
At this year's tournament, the 12 teams will be split into three groups of four, with first-round play consisting of round-robin matches within the group. The teams in Group A and B will compete for the title as those group winners will play in the championship game. The two second-place group finishers in Groups A and B will play for third place while the third-place finishers will play for fifth. The Group C teams will be competing for a chance to play for spots 7-12 as the winner of Group C will play the fourth place team in Group A, the second place team in Group C will play the fourth place team in Group B and the third and fourth place finishers in Group C will play each other again.
With the National Team veterans busy with WUSA commitments last year, U.S. head coach April Heinrichs brought a young team to the 2001 Algarve Cup.
The U.S. distinguished themselves with some fine performances, but did not get the results, finishing in sixth place after surrendering a 3-1 lead over Norway, a surprise opponent in the fifth-place match. This year, the U.S. team will bring its WUSA stars in an attempt to mimic the results of 2000 when it beat Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Norway to win the title while allowing just one goal in the tournament. The WUSA players will return to their respective club training camps on March 8.
The Americans have a 10-2-3 overall record against Sweden, but none of the wins have been by more than three goals and seven have been by two goals or less. Sweden's win over the USA at last year's Algarve Cup was its first since inaugural meeting between the teams in 1987. Sweden played the best soccer at last year's tournament and won the title in convincing fashion over Denmark.
The USA has played England just six times, but four of those meetings took place more than 10 years ago, and the first two were England wins in 1985 and 1988. In the most recent meetings, the USA won 5-0 and 6-0 in San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore., in 1997. England is a women's soccer country on the rise, with talks of the beginning of a professional women's league sometime in the near future and an influx of support from the English F.A. towards the women's game. The Algarve Cup will be a great test for England, which made the quarterfinals of the 1995 Women's World Cup, but has not been on the world's stage since.
To the USA's chagrin, Norway remains the only team in the world with a winning record against the Americans. The USA is currently at 13-17-2 against Norway, and the Algarve clash should prove to be another classic in the battle between the two world powers. The USA has had several chances to reach a .500 winning percentage with Norway in recent years, but has dropped some frustrating matches, notably the 3-2 loss in the 2000 Olympic Final and the 1-0 loss at the recent Four Nations Tournament in China.