Author Topic: Shackford and U-20 team take on Mexico  (Read 655 times)

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Shackford and U-20 team take on Mexico
« on: March 01, 2007, 09:04:20 AM »
 Truly acting "in the nation's service," women's soccer head coach Julie Shackford traveled to Mexico last week to help coach the U.S. Under-20 women's national team.

    The Americans took on the full Mexican national team in exhibition matches on Feb. 20 and 22 — not the U-20 Mexican team, but the top-level World Cup squad.

    After dropping the first game, 1-0, in controversial fashion, Team USA fell 4-2 in the second match. The games served as early preparation for the U-20 Women's World Cup, which will take place in the fall of 2008.

    The appointment was the latest in a series of personal successes for Shackford.

    Following the 2004 season — in which she led the Tigers to the NCAA Final Four — she was named Coach of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches of America Association. This year, on the heels of her 11th winning season in 12 campaigns at Princeton, she earned the New Jersey Intercollegiate Soccer Association's Spirit of the Game award for character and sportsmanship.

    Shackford's latest honor stems from a pair of relationships she forged during her All-American playing career at William & Mary. One of her college coaches, April Heinrichs, was a member of the first U.S. women's national team and went on to serve as an assistant head coach for the squad.

    Shackford's teammate and best friend at William & Mary, Jillian Ellis, coached at UCLA before getting a national-team job with Heinrichs.

    Now coaching the U-20 team in addition to the varsity team at UCLA, Ellis decided to turn to a familiar face when she needed to add an assistant coach.

    "She was pleased with what I did," Shackford said. "She has a comfort level with me. She knows what I can do."

Ellis invited Shackford to join the U-20 team on its trip to Mexico, where both the U.S. team and its host earned crucial experience.

    The Americans got an opportunity to practice together and, just as importantly, practice at altitude.

    The Mexican national team had a chance to face quality competition before making a run at the 2007 Women's World Cup.

    One thing Shackford and her players didn't have much of was time. While the U.S. players were all assembled on the same squad, they could hardly be considered teammates.

    "The training sessions were not overly tactical," Shackford said. "They were mostly short. We worked on set pieces, but mostly it was just talking."

    Few of the women had played on the same field before, and even fewer had been on the same team. Only a small handful had any experience in international play.

    "Jillian is trying a number of new things," Shackford said. "It'll be a while before the roster is set."

    By contrast, the streaking Mexican team had been practicing together since Jan. 8.

    Mexico failed to qualify for three of the first four Women's World Cups and failed to get out of the first round in the fourth. Since then, however, the team has hit its stride. Led by Barcelona's Maribel Dominguez, the team has made a steady climb up the FIFA rankings.

    Once a cellar-dweller, the Mexican team is currently ranked No. 22 in the world, up three spots from its previous ranking.

    "This is probably the best team they've ever had," Princeton assistant coach Scott Champ said.

    The American team, however, was undeterred. After only a few days of practice, the two teams played in a full friendly at altitude. In the first match, Mexico was nursing a 1-0 lead when an apparent American goal was called back in the 78th minute due to a questionable foul committed near the box.

    "We've asked to see the video," Shackford joked.

    After a short rest following the opening 1-0 loss, the women were back on the pitch. In the first half of the second match, the high altitude took its toll.

    The Americans surrendered three quick goals in the first half before buckling down. After the break, they came back firing, scoring two goals to cut Mexico's lead to 3-2. Their hopes were dashed in the 80th minute, however, when Mexico came back to score the clincher.

    Shackford was very impressed by the team's overall performance.

    "It's a youth team playing against the full Mexican national team," Shackford said. "Some of these women [on Team Mexico] were in their thirties."

    Shackford still managed to help the U.S. squad to a competitive performance, adding to a legacy of getting the most out of her players that's already made her successful here.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/archives/2007/03/01/sports/17520.shtml