Author Topic: U.S. women's soccer team preps for World Cup  (Read 965 times)

Offline David

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U.S. women's soccer team preps for World Cup
« on: June 08, 2007, 09:34:34 AM »
Bret Hall doesn't let the defenders on the U.S. women's soccer team take it easy.

He does, however, occasionally take them to lunch.

"It's like being a lion tamer," the assistant coach says. "Sometimes you have your head in the lion, and you don't want them to snap down on you. These girls are tough."

U.S. opponents over the last two years have discovered just how tough.

In their 40 matches under head coach Greg Ryan, who took over in 2005, the U.S. women have given up 16 goals while posting an undefeated record (33-0-7). Only nine of the goals have been scored during the run of play; the others have come off set plays.

The USA hopes to continue its stingy ways in this fall's World Cup, Sept. 10-30 in China.

"We have a goal that we want to be the best back line in the world," defender Cat Whitehill says. "When you look at the reason why Italy won (the 2006 men's World Cup), it's because they were the best back line in the world."

The U.S. women wrapped up a residency camp at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., last week. It was their last training session before a six-game World Cup "Send-Off Series" that begins with a June 16 match against China in Cleveland.

The camp has been especially important for the back line, which lost veteran Heather Mitts to a knee injury during a May 12 match against Canada. Mitts, a member of the USA's gold medal team in the 2004 Olympics, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She is expected to be out six to eight months.

"That's a big loss," defender Kate Markgraf says. "She was someone that could play anywhere on the back line — right, left and center. So you lose that versatility."

Stephanie Lopez, a 21-year-old from Elk Grove, Calif., is the early favorite to replace Mitts. But several other young players, including Marian Dalmy, Tina Ellertson and India Trotter, could compete for playing time.

"They've got to get that grit, that real mental grit," Hall says of the young players, "so we're not out there just trying to survive and hang on, we're going after it and pushing it for 90-plus minutes."

Hall, a former professional teammate of Ryan's, is a grit guru of sorts. "Bret brings a hardness," Markgraf says. "If you don't come to train, if you 'coward' out of a head ball because you know you're going to clash heads, if you flinch when they're shooting at you — you will hear it.

"Honestly, I really, really like his training because it's what you face in the games. There were times in the past where I'd be scared in certain situations. Now it's almost like we've taken so much (from him), that fear, he's taken that away."

Now the U.S. defenders take away any hope opponents have of posting gaudy scoring totals. The U.S. women shut out all nine opponents they played in 2005. Only three times in the Ryan era have teams scored more than one goal against the USA.

The defenders claim they don't keep track of such statistics. They also don't claim all the credit.

"A lot of it has to do with the whole team defense," White-hill says. "Our forward line makes it really easy for us to predict where the (opposing) offense is going to go."

Hall also deflects any kudos, saying, "All I'm doing is implementing Greg's concept."

In between picking up a few lunch tabs.