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US Women's National Soccer Team Travels to Mexico for Olympic Qualifying Tournament


The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is in Juarez, Mexico this week for the region's Olympic qualifying tournament. New head coach Pia Sundhage is preparing the 2004 Olympic champions for Friday's first round match against Jamaica. VOA's Teresa Sullivan has more.

The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team must earn a spot at the Beijing Olympics despite winning the gold medal in Athens four years ago. After the Americans finished a disappointing third at last year's Women's World Cup in China, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided there should be a coaching change.

Pia Sundhage was hired last November to coach the team, but only through the 2008 Summer Games, presuming the Americans would qualify. The 48-year-old native of Sweden is the first foreigner, and only the second woman, to coach the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. She previously was an assistant coach for China's national team during the 2007 Women's World Cup.

With a number of star players from the last Olympics now retired, Sundhage has been aiming to get this group to play to its strengths.

"I think the biggest thing is to find the style we want to play, so it is more about us to prepare for the qualificationm," said Pia Sundhage. "We talk a lot about the attacking style. We talk about the rhythm of the game, to keep possession more, to find the right moment to penetrate. And I think we have done a great job so far, but there is still a lot of work to do before we can take this attacking game to the next level."

But new captain Christie Rampone believes the U.S. team is adapting to the new style of play.

"You know, we have been preparing hard, and the team is looking better each day," said Christie Rampone. "I think we are prepared, but we are definitely not over confident."

Six teams from the North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region are separated into two groups for the Olympic qualifying tournament. The United States, Jamaica and Mexico play in Group A. Canada, Costa Rica, and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago comprise Group B.

The United States opens its campaign Friday against Jamaica and then plays host Mexico on Sunday.

The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals next Wednesday. The two semifinal winners qualify for the Beijing Olymmpics in August.

First round action begins with Mexico taking on Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago taking on Canada.