Friday, October 31, 2008

Spelunkers


Kate Bennett and Courtney Verloo in Arunui Cave

The U.S. team actually visited two caves in Waitamo, the first was Aranui Cave, a limestone masterpiece literally crammed with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. This cave is a magical and mystical place steeped in Maori myth and legend, and contains a large chamber that has famous acoustics.

When a request was made by the guide for someone to sing something, Cloee Colohan stepped forward and gave a very presentable version of the Star Spangled Banner. By the end, all of her teammates had joined in and yes, it sounded pretty good.

Then it was on to the glowworm caves which was a visual experience so stunning that it seemed almost like Disneyland, 'cept these glow worms -- the Arachnocampa luminosa -- are real. In the interest of full disclosure, the glowworms aren't actually worms, they are the larvae of bug that looks sort of like a mosquito. When they are larvae (and they do look like warms the size of a matchstick), they drop down spider-web type "fishing lines" to snare bugs that are attracted to their luminescence. Ok, enough Discovery Channel. Just know it was pretty cool.

Afternoon Excursion

The U.S. U-17s went on its first extended excursion in New Zealand this afternoon, driving an hour to the Waitamo Glowworm Caves, which were exactly as advertised...caves that contained the rare glow worm. It was good for the team to get out of the hotel for some R&R as they re-focus for a hugely important game against Paraguay on Sunday in Hamilton. Driving through the New Zealand country-side, it was clear that while this country certainly has a vast population of sheep, there is no shortage of cows, horses and even a few ostriches. Viewing the rolling hills, quaint homes and varied collection of trees and ecosytems this country has to offer are certainly worth the long flight down under if you happen to be someone who appreciates nature...or glow worms.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scary Day

They don't really celebrate Halloween in New Zealand (proved by the mostly fruitless search for some Halloween decorations by U.S. team administrator Amy Colquhoun), but that doesn't mean that you can't adapt. Several U.S. players brought Halloween costumes to New Zealand (several wore them to breakfast) and there will be some Halloween festivities this evening. There is also a huge scary Maori carving out in front of the team hotel, although Morgan Brian and Mandy Laddish certainly don't look afraid of this ghoulish guy.

The Day After

While the first U-17 Women's World Cup certainly did not start how the U.S. wanted it to, give full credit to the Japanese who played a fantastic game. Actually, the World Cup did START how the U.S. wanted it to with a goal from Vicki DiMartino less than three minutes into the match, but Japan out-shot the USA 20-11 and scored three excellent goals to earn the win. Each team had seven shots in the second half, but Japan buried two of theirs to one for the USA and now the U.S. team has a hill to climb to make the quarterfinals, but with two group games left, anything can happen. A fact head coach Kazbek Tambi and his players were quick to cite, taking stock in the U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team's run to the gold medal after losing its first game of the 2008 Olympics. The team will not train today, but instead will watch some video and then go on a short jog and stretch before getting out of the hotel for a yet-to-be-confirmed excursion of some sort after lunch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

That Did Leave a Mark


Ouch!
This much we know: They grow'em tough in Washington state. U.S. midfielder Kate Bennett received what we in soccer like to call a "rake" of a cleat across her thigh in training on Oct. 28, producing a bloody gash that surely would have attracted sharks had she been diving at New Zealand's Gisborne coast, a place known for big makos. But since she was actually on a soccer field, the only thing she had to worry about was Samantha Mewis, who was more than apologetic for her inadvertent spiking of her teammate, as you can see in this unique YNT Blog Video.

Note: After writhing in pain on the ground for a few moments, Bennett walked it off and finished training.


video

A journey of a thousand miles begins...

...with a single step. The U.S. U-17s stepped together onto the field at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand, for the first time at Noon on Oct. 29, exactly 24 hours before they begin their historic journey, facing Japan in the Group C opener at the first FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. It was a symbolic step, of course, but one representative of a team united in their quest to be world champions...and heck, it's a pretty cool picture too.


Walk Through at Waikato

The U.S. team held its pre-game stadium training today at Noon at the 20,000-seat Waikato Stadium, running through a brisk 45-minute session to put the final touches on its Women's World Cup preparations. The USA opens its World Cup in Match #5 of the tournament against Japan at high Noon on Oct. 30. A light rain fell during the entire training, but it didn't bother the U.S. players, who were excited to finally see the venue for their first two Group C matches. The field is wide and pool-table flat, which should make for an entertaining match between two teams who like to keep the ball on the ground. Of course, fans can follow the game as it happens on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and watch highlights of the game on FIFA.com after its completion.

Call Guinness

It's a widely known fact that soccer players burn a lot of calories. And while they get three square meals a day while on the road with the WNT, the inevitable snacking still occurs. In fact, snacking is one of the favorite pastimes of the U-17s WNT (heck, any WNT). But did we think that Alexa Gaul, Kristie Mewis and Vicki DiMartino could devour and entire box of Reese's Puffs cereal in a matter of minutes? No we did not. While it cannot be confirmed, we think it was a world record in the three-person Reese's Puffs eating category.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hitting the Books

Yeah, they are some of the best young players in the United States. Yeah, they made the U-17 Women's World Cup Team. And yeah, they are getting ready for a huge test on the world's stage. But that doesn't mean they are excused from homework. The U.S. players have almost nightly study halls in which they make sure to keep up with with their school work. Math books, history books, civics books, English books. They are all cracked open in the team meeting/meal room. With the many teachers and school administrators showing flexibility with the frequent travel of these talented young women, it's a requirement that they keep up their end of the academic bargain. So hit the books they do...(Wait, that's bad English. Maybe the WNT Blog should attend study hall).





Docents in Training

With the tournament's welcome reception at a museum, the U.S. players had the chance to take in some art work as well. Hey, it's not just soccer here in Hamilton, it's about culture too.

Samantha Johnson and a colorful painting of a Maori.


Kristie Mewis, Vicki DiMartino and Alexa Gaul soak in a painting as they ponder college majors in art history.

Who knew Samantha Mewis would find a picture of herself as a baby?

Welcome to Waikato


Samantha Mewis and Hayley Brock make some new friends.

The U.S. team attended a Welcome Reception with the other three teams in the Group C at the Waikato Museum this afternoon and it was an excellent event. Waikato is the name of the region of which Hamilton is the hub, as well as the longest river in New Zealand that runs through the city. It is also the name of the stadium where the U.S. will play its first two matches.


The reception was highlighted by a performance from a Maori dance group which showed the players a bit of the famous Haka, but the U.S. team also mingled with the other countries, had some tasty finger food (Salmon skewers, fruit with chocolate fondue and sushi), received small gifts and were welcomed by the deputy major of Hamilton. The casual yet warm reception lasted only about an hour, giving the players time to get back to the hotel for dinner and watch the opening game of the tournament on TV.


The USA and Japanese players pose for a pic.

Canada Wins Opener

The 2008 U-17 FIFA Women's World Cup kicked off in Auckland tonight as Canada downed plucky host New Zealand, 1-0, in a hard-charging match. The two teams both fired 12 shots, but Canada's Rachel Lamarre scored tournament's first-ever goal in the 53rd minute and it held up despite an excellent second half from the Kiwis, who saw two chances come agonizingly close in what was eventually six minutes of stoppage time. A crowd of 13,123 watched the historic first U-17 Women's World Cup match at North Harbour Stadium. Tomorrow, the tournament continues as Denmark takes on Colombia, Costa Rica faces Germany and North Korea takes on Ghana.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Passport Check

On Oct. 27, the U.S. U-17 Women's National Team went through the usual administrative processes before a Women's World Cup, getting their passports checked, signing official forms and in a nice little surprise, got $100 cash American each from FIFA as per diem. The only issue was that a few players were not too enamored with their passport photos, as you will see on this YNT Blog Video.

video

Cliff Notes

At the USA's orientation meeting with FIFA referee instructor Sandy Hunt, defender Erika Tymrak was diligent in taking some notes. We snuck a peak at them after the meeting.

One note that Tymrak made to herself: No cleats up tackles. Good reminder for the feisty midfielder from Florida.

World Cup Time

The U.S. players met with FIFA officials today to get their passports and birthdays checked (gotta be born on or after Jan. 1, 1991 to play in this tournament) as well as sign the FIFA Fair Player Charter. The players also heard a 45-minute presentation on refereeing and the laws of the game from former U.S. FIFA ref and current FIFA referee instructor Sandy Hunt. All of this means that it's almost go-time here at the U-17 Women's World Cup.

Adding Friends?

There are just a few computers to share in the players' lounge, which certainly creates a log-jam for computer time with four teams of teenage girls staying at the hotel. U.S. forward Courtney Verloo was checking her Facebook page earlier this afternoon when a group of Paraguayan players gathered around her and started reading over her shoulder. Not wanting to give up her prized computer time, Verloo kept reading, "but after five minutes it got too awkward so I got off." We hope this story has a happy ending and Verloo ends up "Friending" a few of the Paraguayans.


Patriotic Manicures

With the opening of the U-17 Women's World Cup just days away, several members of the U.S. U-17s have adopted a long-time tradition on the U.S. Women's National Team, painting their nails red, white and blue for a world championship. While it's a small thing, the YNT Blog thinks it's pretty cool to put your hand over your heart, and the U.S. Soccer crest, during the National Anthem with the red, white and blue nails showing.

U-17 WWC Kicks Off: Kiwis vs. Canucks

The 2008 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup kicks off tomorrow (Oct. 28) in Auckland as the host Kiwis take on Canada in Group A action. New Zealand is certainly a slight underdog, but the hosts will no doubt be looking for a crackling start to the tournament. In such a small nation (NZ has just over four million people) the U-17 FIFA Women's World Cup has gotten a decent amount of media coverage and surely the home fans in such a great sporting country as this will be vocally supporting their team.


Said New Zealand head coach Paul Temple:

"We're quietly confident. The first game always sets the tone for a tournament but it will be all the more important for us as hosts because there will inevitably be a lot of nerves and anticipation. New Zealand is known for loving winners, so if we win, it could really get people up for the tournament and kick us on to bigger and better things."

Brock Arrives

Forward Hayley Brock, the USA's replacement for the injured Tani Costa, arrived in New Zealand yesterday, flying by herself from Massachusetts all the way to New Zealand. Since Costa was ruled out of the tournament about 36 hours before the USA departed for the World Cup, Brock couldn't make the team flight. She found out that she had been called in for the World Cup via a cell phone call from her mom, who picked her up a school and took her to lunch.


Brock celebrated her call-up at McDonald's with Chicken McNuggets.

"I didn’t really believe her when she told me," said Brock. "Mentally, I didn’t think I had a chance, so it was more of a shock than anything. It’s really sad that Tani got hurt, but I’m just going to come over here and work as hard as I can to help the team.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Countdown to Japan

The U.S. team had two trainings today, working on some possession and set plays in the morning and then scrimmaging in the afternoon. It's pretty much been eat, sleep and play soccer (and studying their school work) since the team arrived on the morning of Oct. 25, but the young U.S. team is all about business as the U-17 Women's World Cup opener draws closer. The team's official training site at the Diocesan School for Girls has been excellent, with the field in excellent shape and the local organizers eager to make the team's stay as pleasant as possible. It's been raining on and off since the team arrived in Hamilton, but fortunately the off has been during training and the on has been when the team is at the hotel. The players have another full day tomorrow with training in the morning and some meetings with FIFA officials in the afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two x Verloo

When the U.S. team checked into its hotel in Hamilton, it was greeted first thing by some Women's World Cup signage that featured U.S. forward Courtney Verloo playing against Germany from the Future Stars Tournament that was contested in New Zealand last January. Above is a picture of three-dimensional Courtney trying to replicate the moment with one-dimensional Courtney.

Mewis' R' Us

It seems the Mewis sisters - the first sisters to represent the USA at a world championship -- will be an intriguing story line at the U-17 Women's World Cup. Samantha (on the left) and Kristie were the subject of one of the USA's first interview requests in NZ and it's certainly not probably that two sisters (one 16 and one 17) would be on the same team in an FIFA age group competition. However, both have played major roles for the U.S. U-17s this year and ussoccer.com is interested in the story as well, so keep a lookout for an all_access video on the Mewis'.

First Training in The Books

The U.S. team held about a two-hour training in the afternoon on the first day in New Zealand and the players got a chance to get the legs moving after the long flight. Despite some high winds that gusted up to 25 miles per hour (ok, we admit we have no idea what the winds gusted to, but 25 MPH sounds pretty blustery and it did make hitting long balls difficult), the squad had a productive training session and now has just five days before the first game against Japan on Oct. 30. The Japanese and the French have arrived as well (we haven't seen the Paraguayans yet, though) and all the teams are staying at the same hotel. Some of the Japanese players are on the same floor as the USA. Awkward? Perhaps. But the players are being more than cordial thus far when passing each other in the lobbies and a Japanese player even tought Erika Tymrak a bit of Japanese while waiting for an elevator. While Tymrak's claim of being tri-lingual is probably a bit of a reach (she does speak English and Polish), it was still a nice moment of cultural diplomacy between the two first match opponents.

Baaa Baaa

It didn't take long to see the first sheep on the USA's drive from Auckland to Hamilton as defender Amber Brooks had the first confirmed sighting. Of course, there are around 50 million sheep in New Zealand so it was only a matter of minutes until one of those woolly beasts showed itself. Truth be told, though, there were more cows than sheep on the USA's beautiful drive to Hamilton through rolling countryside. There were no Hobbit sightings, but we'll keep you posted if the team takes an excursion to The Shire. It did rain a bit on the bus ride, but by the time the team got to Hamilton, the skies had cleared and the weather for training was actually quite refreshing, although very blustery. The weather is forecast for the high-60s for most of the U-17 Women's World Cup, which should make for great soccer weather as long as the wind doesn't play a factor.

Kia Ora New Zealand

After nine months of preparation this year, the historic 2008 FIFA Women's World Cup is almost ready to kick off and the U.S. team has arrived in New Zealand to put the finishing touches on its preparations. The squad arrived in Auckland early on Oct. 25 after the overnight flight from L.A. and were greeted with an extremely warm New Zealand welcome (see Morgan Brian (L to R), Mandy Laddish and Alexa Gaul above) as well as an efficient escort through customs, baggage claim and onto the bus. The team took a scenic 90-minute drive through the New Zealand countryside (whoever said this was the greenest country you'll ever see was absolutely correct) down south to Hamilton where it will play its first two group C matches. The team checked into the hotel (see Kate Bennett (L) and Jen Pettigrew below), got settled and then had lunch before enduring a tough few hours of staying awake until leaving for training. Oh yeah...Kia Ora is Hello in Maori. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.