The U.S. Women's national soccer team is kicking off a two week series of games before heading to China for the Women's World Cup. VOA's Jim Stevenson reports the United States begins the so-called Send-Off series in Cleveland, Ohio against China.
While the U.S. Women's national soccer team is ranked No. 1 in the world, it is a very different team from the one that defeated China in the final of the 1999 Women's World Cup. Gone are well-known players like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, who have since retired.
Kristine Lilly, one of the world's elite players, remains. In her 21st season, Lilly is the second all-time scorer in the world with 122, goals. Hamm has the record with 158. Lilly credits her longevity to physical fitness. "I think after a certain amount of time you learn what it takes to be professional. And you learn how you take care of your body and you know what you need to do on and off the field to be ready. And through the years I have learned that. I have taken a lot of pride in my fitness to make sure I am always in shape. And I think that is something that has helped me have a long career," she said.
U.S. head coach Greg Ryan is entering his first World Cup. He will be naming 18 players for each of the six exhibition games as he assesses which players will be among the 21 who will play in China. Just nine of the 24 players on the preliminary roster have previous experience in Women's World Cup tournaments. So Ryan has set a simple philosophy for his team.
"We know expectations are high. We know everyone is shooting at us. So let us just embrace that and go out there and give everything we got. We have not worried about the pressure. We do not worry about losing. We just go out and play to win. And so far it has worked pretty well," he said.
China is currently ranked 11th in the world, having tumbled down the FIFA rankings following a string of poor results.
China is now coached by Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who previously coached her native Sweden for over a decade. Sweden was the runner-up to Germany in the 2003 Women's World Cup. Domanski-Lyfors says this Chinese team has the ability to move back up in the rankings. "They are very young. They are inexperienced. But there are potentials. So I think it is a good team to work with. You can see the improvement all the time. I like that," she said.
Five of the six teams (China, Brazil, Norway, Japan and New Zealand) the United States plays in the "Send Off" series will also play in China. The 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup will run from September 10 through the 30 in China.