The U.S. Women's National Team players arrived in Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday, January 8, in preparation for their match vs. Mexico on Saturday, January 12 at 7 p.m. ET (live on ESPN2) and hit the practice field that night at Blackbaud Stadium, site of Saturday's game, for a 7 p.m. training.
The practice was spirited and electric under the lights as the U.S. team played a six-on-six tournament and ended with finishing drills, but the U.S. players HAD to keep moving to avoid freezing to death. Temperatures dipped into the mid-30s, creating small patches of ice on the Blackbaud pitch and after training, the Americans set a U.S. Women's National Team land-speed record for sprinting to the team vans and the warmth of the heaters.
As January in China is generally a chilly month, the U.S. women are facing three weeks of cold weather.
Training featured one scary moment as defender Nancy Agustyniak, who played her college soccer in South Carolina at Clemson, slipped and fell right in front of Abby Wambach, taking a point-blank shot in the face from the powerful forward.
Augustyniak walked off the field under her own power, escaping only with what she described as a "sore face" when she woke up on Wednesday morning.
The U.S. women went twice today, training at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Charleston Battery (A-League) training facilities, and were extremely pleased to train under the sun in temperatures that shot into the 60s, making the California-based players particularly happy and ensuring that no one would need thawing out back at the team hotel.
Temperatures are supposed to drop again tomorrow and Saturday's game-day forecast calls for scattered showers with a high of 59 degrees and a low of 38.
SELL-OUT AT BLACKBAUD
As of Thursday afternoon, there were less than 200 standing room only tickets remaining for the match, which quickly sold out all 5,113 seats. There are likely to be tickets available at the gate on game night.
LILLY, HAMM TO BE HONORED BY FIFA
U.S. women's national team midfielder Kristine Lilly will be honored by FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, before the match vs. Mexico on Saturday for being the world's all-time leader in international matches played by a woman.
Lilly, who should play in her 229th match for the USA against Mexico, has played more games for her country than anyone, man or woman, in the history of international soccer.
FIFA Technical Director Walter Gagg will fly from Zurich, Switzerland to present Lilly with the award. Gagg will also present the FIFA World Women's Player of the Year award, won by Mia Hamm, who was scratched from the U.S. roster due to a leg injury. U.S. captain Julie Foudy will recieve the award on behalf of Hamm, her long-time teammate and friend.
HEINRICHS WILL CHOOSE 18-PLAYER ROSTER ON FRIDAY
On Friday, U.S. head coach April Heinrichs will choose 18 players from the current 24 in camp to face Mexico on Saturday. After the match, the American women will train for three more days in Charleston before Heinrichs picks her 18 players who will represent the USA at the Four Nations Women's Tournament in China, being contested from Jan. 23-27, 2002 and featuring the Germany, China, Norway and the USA.
All the matches in the Four Nations Women's Tournament will take place in the Guangdong Province, in and around the city of Guangzhou.
The Americans depart for the Far East on Jan. 16 and will spend a week adjusting to the time change - 13 hours ahead of East Coast time - before playing three of the toughest matches a wo-men's national team could play, all in the span of five days.
The USA will open the tournament on Jan. 23 vs. Norway at Huadu Stadium, face Germany on Jan. 25 at Panyu Stadium and finish the tournament in grand fashion, taking on China on Jan. 27 at Tianhe Stadium, site of the 1991 Women's World Cup Final.
The tournament will also afford the U.S. women some valuable experience, giving them a sneak preview of the venues, atmosphere and competition they should encounter at the 2003 Women's World Cup in China.
The pre-Women's World Cup seasoning may be most valuable for the younger players on the squad, as this will mark the seventh trip to China for some of the U.S. veterans. The U.S. team last visited China in January of 2001 to play two matches, losing 1-0 in Panyu before tying 1-1 in front of 30,000 fans at the brand-new Dragon Stadium in Hangzhou.
MEXICO vs. USA PREVIEW
The Mexican Women's National Team program is one example of the many positive repercussions of the 1999 Wo-men's World Cup. The tournament jump-started Mexico's Women's National Team, which has seen much-increased activity since that summer when they became the first Spanish-speaking country in history to qualify for a Women's World Cup.
Head coach Leonardo Cuellar, a former NASL player and captain of the Mexican National Team, has energized the program with the goal of qualifying for the 2003 Women's World Cup in China.
The USA played Mexico just twice before 1998, both routs in Women's World Cup qualifying tournaments. Since then, the teams have met four times, most recently in Houston, Texas, on December 10, 2000, where Mexico almost pulled off a major upset, taking a 2-1 lead on the USA before Cindy Parlow scored twice in a six-minute span to give the Americans a 3-2 win.
he two scores, one each by Maribel Dominguez and Iris Mora, marked the first goals for Mexico ever against the United States and was by far the best performance ever for the TriColores against the USA.
Saturday's game should prove a stiff test for the U.S. women who have not played together in four months, as Mexico features 10 Mexican-Americans, including three players from WUSA teams (Gina Oceguera/Spirit & CyberRays, Monica Gerardo/Freedom and Lisa Nanez/CyberRays) and one player likely to be a high draft pick in the upcoming WUSA draft (Monica Gonzalez/Notre Dame).
In addition, several current and former U.S. collegiate players and a handful of talented players groomed South of the border grace Mexico's roster. While the cold and a large field - 72 yards wide - may work to the detriment of the Mexicans, forward Iris Mora is always dangerous against the USA and goalkeeper Linnea Quinones has had several of her best international games against the Americans. She made 16 saves against the USA in a March 27, 1999, match against the USA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in a 3-0 loss that was 1-0 until the last five minutes.