U.S. Soccer: Women's schedule makes for long summer

World champions could play more than 40 international games this year, shattering old record

The year 2000 is turning out to be busier for the United States women than the World Cup year of 1999 was.

The world champions will probably play 37 games this year, the most ever for the 15-year-old womenÆs national team program. ThatÆs not counting a possible victory tour in the fall if the U.S. repeats as Olympic champion. Last yearÆs 29 games is the current high mark.

The women have already played 13 games (including two closed-door matches) in 2000. They will play another 19 before they leave for the Olympics in Australia, where they would play five games if they reach a medal match.

U.S. coach April Heinrichs says her team can handle the congested schedule.

ôYou have to look at the positive side of it,ö she said. ôWe have quite a few games. It is taxing to travel. But weÆll try to balance it out with days off.ö

The teamÆs depth will be tested with midfielder Michelle Akers, defender Carla Overbeck and goalkeeper Briana Scurry injured. Akers is out until July while she rehabilitates her injured shoulder, Overbeck is out for two months with a minor knee injury, and Scurry is out four to six weeks with shin splints.

ThereÆll be more playing time for everyone at the Pacific Cup, including goalkeeper Jenni Branam, who was added to the tournament roster when Scurry was a late scratch.

All three veterans will miss the tournament, which will run May 31-June 11. Then thereÆs the WomenÆs Gold Cup June 23-July 3, a domestic friendly July 9, a tournament in Germany followed by the first U.S. trip to Norway and, in August, three more domestic friendlies before the team leaves for Melbourne on Sept. 4.

U.S. Soccer says it didnÆt want to plan so many games for the world champions.

ôIt certainly is a rigorous schedule,ö said Tom King, U.S. SoccerÆs chief operating officer. ôThe adding of the CONCACAF WomenÆs Gold Cup made for a very busy summer. But [competing in the Gold Cup] is the right thing to do. ItÆs important we take part in that tournament, since itÆs in our region and we are the host.

ôBut when the schedule was put together, it didnÆt contemplate a five-game tournament in the middle of the summer.ö

The Football Confederation and U.S. Soccer will be watching closely to see if the American public renews its interest in the U.S. women, who have yet to draw World Cup-type crowds in 2000. The attendance was disappointing at the Nike U.S. Cup in Portland, Ore., which drew crowds of 6,517 and 7,659.

ôYes, we were [concerned],ö King said. ôThere were a lot of factors in the market over that weekend. There was a lot of soccer activity, and the [NBAÆs] Portland Trail Blazers were playing. That we canÆt have any control over. The weather didnÆt help either.

ôImmediately following the Olympics, if weÆre successful, weÆre anticipating the attendances to go up again.ö

Before the U.S. women left for the Pacific Cup, they wrapped up their residency camp outside San Diego. While the players donÆt have to move out of their apartments until the end of June, the camp is over. The national team will return to California for a couple of days at the end of August before they leave for the Olympics.

HereÆs a look at the long summer:

PACIFIC CUP. Heinrichs hopes to work on various aspects of her teamÆs play, notably ôflank play, serving balls in the box earlier, finishing, defending in midfield and defending at the back,ö she said. The trip will also give Heinrichs her first of perhaps three looks at China this summer. The U.S. could play the World Cup runner-up in the Gold Cup final on July 3 and will play the Asian champion on July 19 in Germany.

The five-game Pacific Cup will give the U.S. women the chance to get acquainted with Australia, although they will not play in Melbourne, where they will be based during the first round of the Olympics.

Only five players on the Pacific Cup roster ù Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton, Nikki Serlenga, Christie Welsh and Siri Mullinix ù were on the U.S. squad that played in the Australia Cup in January, when the regulars were in the midst of a contract dispute with the Federation.

ôItÆs going to be a learning experience with regards to travel, with 16-17 hours on the plane and how quickly we will adapt to the time,ö Heinrichs said. ôWeÆre getting a sense of what that the tripÆs going to be like, and weÆll be playing in a few of the stadiums weÆll play in in the Olympics.ö

The United States will be in Sydney for the Olympic draw on June 3 when it will find out who its three group opponents will be.

GOLD CUP. On June 23, 11 days after the Pacific Cup final, HeinrichsÆ team plays Trinidad & Tobago in Hershey, Pa., to open the WomenÆs Gold Cup. To ease the wear and tear on her players, Heinrichs had thought about sending the under-21 national team to the inaugural event, but that was before she knew China and Brazil were in the tournament. Now the U.S. will send its best.

ThereÆs also prize money involved ù a rarity for womenÆs tournaments. The WomenÆs Gold Cup will pay the eight womenÆs teams the same prize money it offers the menÆs teams: $150,000 to champion, $100,000 to the runner-up, $75,000 to the third-place team, $50,000 to the fourth-place team and $37,500 to the fifth- through eighth-place teams.

EUROPEAN TOUR. The United States will leave July 10, the day after a friendly against Italy in the New York area, for a three-week European tour. It will play in the DFB Centennial tournament, commemorating the 100th birthday of the German federation, where it will face Norway, China and Germany.

The Americans then fly to Norway for two friendlies. That means six games against Norway in one year ù a seventh could come in the Olympics.

OLYMPIC TUNEUPS. The European trip will be the last audition for Olympic hopefuls, because Heinrichs wants to name her 18-player roster by early August. SheÆll fine-tune her squad in three more friendlies ù Russia Aug. 13 in Annapolis, Md., Canada Aug. 20 in Kansas City and Brazil Sept. 2, probably in Los Angeles ù before the trip to Australia.

Heinrichs had hoped to name her squad earlier.

ôI was just getting a sense of what we had going on with the roster, four players plus or minus,ö Heinrichs said. ôNow three veterans, starters in the World Cup, are injured. ThatÆs a tough position to be in.ö

by Soccer America associate editor Dean Caparaz

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