TRAINING AT YING DONG
While no U.S. players have been to Panyu before, U.S. coaches April Heinrichs and Tracey Leone certainly have, as both were members of the USA 1991 Women's World Cup Team that played two matches here, including their opening game of the tournament against Sweden. The USA held its first training on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 9th, practicing at Ying Dong Stadium, where the first match of the two-game set against China will be played on Thursday. The match carries with it a bit of history, as Ying Dong Stadium was the site of the USA first-ever Women's World Cup match against Sweden on Nov. 17, 1991, a game the USA won, 3-2. The USA also faced Brazil in its second match at Ying Dong, winning, 5-0. A hard, bumpy filed, on which grass was an aberration rather than the norm, was not ideal for the first training session for the heavy-legged Americans, but a spirited practice nevertheless ensued, consisting mostly of possession games. Only four of the 18 players on the U.S. roster had traveled to China prior to this trip, with three -- Tiffeny Milbrett, Christie Pearce and Lorrie Fair --- playing in the four-team tournament in Guangzhou in 1998, and one - Mary Frances Monroe -- having traveled to China as a senior in high school. As the USA warmed up before training, the U.S. national anthem burst forth from the loudspeakers, perhaps just a test for the match on Thursday, or perhaps a welcome for the U.S. team. Either way, it brought back memories for U.S. head coach April Heinrichs, who captained that team in that first game.
HEINRICHS AND LEONE STAGE THEIR OWN 10-YEAR REUNION
In fact, the team stayed at this same hotel during the 1991 Women's World Cup in which they are currently housed - conveniently named "The Panyu Hotel" -- and while much has changed as the city has been built up considerably, much has stayed the same. The bus on which the USA traveled from Guangzhou to Panyu had a "1991 Women's World Championship" sticker on the driver's side sun flap (perhaps giving some insight into the age and comfort level of the vehicle), and both U.S. coaches swore that it was the same bus driver that had carted them around almost 10 years ago. At the first team meal, Leone, who was then Tracey Bates, was immediately recognized by a hotel worker who exclaimed, "You were here in 1991!," perhaps giving some insight (along with the longevity of the bus driver) into job security in China. At dinner on Tuesday night, the cook produced a soccer ball signed by the entire 1991 Women's World Cup Team that had both Heinrichs' and Bates' signatures on it. Among the many memories that the hotel and city have evoked from Heinrichs and Leone was a prank the players pulled on then head coach Anson Dorrance, hanging the head of a dead pig in his shower for him to find in the morning.
U.S. midfielder Lorrie Fair, the daughter of a Chinese mother and an American father, proved highly popular with the Chinese media, who were interested and intrigued by a player of Chinese decent playing for the USA. Fair's mother was born in Shanghai and recently helped the WUSA in facilitating Chinese legend Sun Wen's transition to the United States where she underwent successful knee surgery, and then was taken first overall in the inaugural draft by the Atlanta Beat.
SRO at PRESS CONFERENCE
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs, defender Kate Sobrero and forward Tiffeny Milbrett participated in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, held in the USA's hotel. About 40 media members and others attended the event, which also featured Chinese head coach Ma Yuanan and midfielder Liu Ying, who will captain China in the two matches. It was Ying whose penalty kick was saved by Briana Scurry in the historic shootout at the 1999 Women's World Cup Final. While the Chinese media seemed most interested in why U.S. forward Mia Hamm, who underwent shoulder surgery in late December, was not on the roster, Heinrichs explained that she replaced several veterans who could not attend with young, up-and-coming players and players from the WUSA teams. Heinrichs made the point of wanting to send a message to the WUSA that if players play well in the league, that they have the chance to be called-up to play for their country. China will also be without several of their veteran players for these games at Sun Wen, midfielder Liu Ailing, defender Wen Lirong and goalkeeper Goa Hong will not play.
Said Liu Ying: "Some of the best players have left the team and some young players have joined, but it does not matter who is there, all the players will try to their best to achieve the former glory that the previous teams achieved."
Said Chinese coach Ma Yauna when asked about his goals for the matches: "The process is more important than the results right now as we prepare for the 2003 Women's World Cup and 2004 Olympics, so we will focus on that."
Ma on the USA's Olympic performance: "It was a great pity that the USA lost in extra time at the Olympic final as they are the best team in the world."
Milbrett was asked about her friendship with several of the Chinese players, who she has faced on the battlefield over the years and will now play with and against in the WUSA. Said Milbrett: "We too were saddened by China's loss in the Olympics as we fully expected a USA-China final. We feel the Chinese players are the best in the world and we are honored and excited to have them play in our league. It makes the WUSA complete. I will be playing with Goa Hong in New York and I have great respect for he as a person and player. I've known her since the 1995 World Cup in Sweden."
Milbrett was also asked about her respect for China that she showed after the Chinese had been knocked out of the Olympics. For that, we take a look back at the Olympic Notes:
USA BIDS BITTERSWEET FAREWELL TO CHINA
Sept. 22, 2000 --- The USA arrived in Canberra to find China still at the hotel. Eliminated by Norway the night before, a sullen Chinese team boarded the team bus as they left a world championship tournament before the semifinal stage for the first time since the 1991 Women's World Cup, ironically held in China. Intertwined in women's soccer history, the USA and China share a mutual respect for each other that crosses over vastly different cultures and languages, making it all the more unique. Like the U.S. team, China has several of the world's greatest players who were participating in what was probably their last world championship tournament. That unspoken respect, and it must be unspoken as very few of the Chinese players speak even a little English and no U.S. players speak a word of Mandarin, was always evident even as the teams went to war over the past decade. Legendary Chinese goalkeeper and long-time U.S. nemesis Gao Hong did not even start playing soccer until late into her teens, but went onto to play so many spectacular games for her country. She was in goal for the 1996 Olympic Final and historic 1999 Women's World Cup Final, and played perhaps one of the finest games of her career against the USA on Sept. 17 in the first round. The U.S. team was leaving for its afternoon pool workout as China boarded its bus, when Gao spotted U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett, who scored the winning goal against her in the 1996 Olympic Final. Gao got off the bus and came towards Milbrett. The two players hugged, then China headed back to Bejing and Milbrett headed to the pool.
Said Milbrett: "I didn't know China was going to be here today. When their bus was almost ready to depart, I was standing outside waving, and I made eye contact with Gao. She actually made her way out of the bus and came up and gave me a hug. It was just so hard. Looking into her eyes, she was fighting back tears. It made me really emotional. I was tearing up - I'm tearing up now. For me, sporting aspect aside, I feel really bad for them, because they are truly and incredible team and a team that was capable of winning the gold medal."
MR. KOALA COMES TO CHINA
U.S. midfielder Jenny Benson received a stuffed Koala Bear toy for her 1st birthday. She still has it. It has traveled with her on soccer trips since she started playing. The soon-to-be 22-year old Koala, named "Mr. Koala," while showing definite signs of wear and tear, is in pretty good shape for a two-decade old teddy bear and will hopefully bring good fortune to Benson, who is looking for her first cap.
FLORANCE TO TIE THE KNOT
U.S. forward Meredith Florance traveled to China wearing a rather large engagement ring. Florance's finace, Ryan Beard, proposed to her on a beach in Carmel, Calif., the day after the NCAA Final in which she scored the tying goal in North Carolina's 2-1 victory over UCLA. They have set a date for February of 2002, between what will be her first and second seasons for the Carolina Tempest, of which she was a high pick in the recent inaugural draft. The 21-year-old Florance racked up an amazing 28 goals last season as she finished her career with the Tar Heels.
FOUR PLAYERS LOOKING FOR FIRST CAP
Four U.S. players are looking for their first cap in defender Lauren Orlandos, midfielder Jenny Benson and forwards Meredith Florance and Stephanie Rigamat. Seven U.S. players have 11 or less caps, led by Michelle French on down to goalkeeper Jaime Pagliarulo, who has one appearance. Jena Kluegel, Mary-Frances Monroe and Hope Solo have three apiece.
If either of the two matches are tied at the end of regulation time, they will go directly to penalty kicks to determine a winner, potentially setting up some of the same drama (on a much smaller scale) as the USA-China clash in the Women's World Cup. The official result of the game will be the score at the end of regulation. None of the U.S. players who took penalty kicks during the Women's World Cup Final are on this roster.
Chinese officials have predicted a sell-out of all 16,000 seats at the Ying Dong Stadium for the match that kicks off at 8 p.m. local and 7 a.m. ET, which no doubt will make for a festive and raucous atmosphere.
All U.S. players are healthy and ready to play.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT
The U.S. roster features two players who have scored winning goals in U-21 Nordic Cup Championship Finals: Lauren Orlandos in 1999 against Norway in sudden death overtime and Jena Kluegel against Germany in 2000.
STAT OF NOTE
With 83 career goals, Tiffeny Milbrett has 65 more goals than the entire U.S. roster combined.
The USA is 11-6-8 against China all-time, but could not beat them in 2000, going 0-1-2, including a tie at the 2000 Olympics. While both teams will use young players, China will have seven of the 12 players that played in the 2000 Olympic match available while the USA will have five of the 13 available to play.