July 5, 2006
Story courtesy of U.S. Soccer
CHICAGO - U.S. Under-21 Women's National Team head coach Jillian Ellis has named the 18-player squad that will travel to Norway for the 16th Annual Nordic Cup being held July 16-22 in five small venues in and around Stavanger, Norway, in the southwestern part of the country.
The U.S. team will assemble on the east coast to train for a few days before leaving on July 11 for Norway, which will be hosting its third Nordic Cup, but first since 2001. Held in Northern Europe every summer, the Nordic Cup is the top competition in the world for U-21 women and the focus of the USA's oldest youth national team during its six-month run-up to the prestigious tournament. The USA has won eight Nordic Cup titles, including a dominating 6-1 championship game win vs. Sweden in Norway in 2001.
Ellis will bring a relatively inexperienced squad to Norway this summer with just four players who have previously played in the Nordic Cup, and just three from last year's squad, defenders Rachel Buehler and Kendall Fletcher and midfielder Sarah Huffman.
"I think we've done a good job of getting the team some international games, so we've exposed them to that type of play," said Ellis. "At the end of the day, I am hoping they learn as they go, because in this tournament, you must start fast out of the gate. There is a really good energy on this team, they are excited to play for their country and to represent the USA in a prestigious tournament."
While the unavailability of players currently in preparations for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship has affected the depth of the U-21s for the Nordic Cup, Ellis will have midfielder Angie Woznuk and defender India Trotter on the team, both of whom have been training with the full WNT in Residency Training Camp this summer.
Buehler and Woznuk are among the most experienced players on the roster, having played in both the 2002 and 2004 FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. Buehler had 30 caps for the U-19s and has seven with the U-21s.
Woznuk, who last fall helped lead the University of Portland to an undefeated season and an NCAA title, was one of the stars of the U.S. team that finished third in the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. She won the Silver Ball as the second most outstanding player and the Bronze Boot as the third leading scorer in the tournament. Both Woznuk and Trotter have one cap with the full Women's National Team. On last year's Nordic Cup side, there were eight players with full Women's National Team caps.
Ellis was able to call up two players from head coach Tim Schulz's U-20 World Championship roster in goalkeeper Val Henderson and midfielder/forward Danesha Adams. Cori Alexander, who anchored the NCAA champion Pilots in the nets, joins Henderson to form the goalkeeper corps on the roster.
"Our work ethic will have to be very good," said Ellis. "We will have to work very hard in every game as we are not going to roll over any of these teams. The strength of this team is how they play together. They are all very good players, but there are no superstars, so it will be very much a collective effort. Team play is what is going to win this tournament for us."
The USA will definitely bring some hardness to the tournament, as Buehler, Fletcher and Trotter are all top-class ball-winners in the air and on the ground. The experienced U.S. midfield features Woznuk and Huffman, playing in her third straight Nordic Cup, and the speedy Sheree Gray, who has battled injuries of late but started for the USA in the 2004 FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship and played on the 2003 Nordic Cup team. The forward line will rely on Adams, who has scored 14 goals for the U-20s this year, and the crafty Tiffany Weimer, who leads the U-21s with six goals on the year.
Other Nordic Cup debutantes include: Notre Dame forward Amanda Cinalli, whose late run to make the roster paid off; athletic UConn defender Brittany Taylor, who saw considerable time with the U-20s this year, mostly at outside back; feisty Colorado forward Katie Griffin; skillful Duke midfielder Rebecca Moros; the versatile Bristyn Davis from UCLA; former Virginia star midfielder Noelle Keselica and Jennifer Maurer from Boston College. The youngest player on the roster is 18-year-old defender Lauren Wilmoth, who heads to UCLA in the fall.
The USA will face a tough challenge in Group A, taking on Denmark, Iceland and host Norway. Group B features England, Sweden, Germany and Finland. The top two finishers in each group will cross over to play for the championship on Saturday, July 22, while the two second place finishers will play for third, the third place finishers for 5th and the last place finishers in the groups will vie for 7th place.
The USA opens the tournament against Denmark on Sunday, July 16, in Randaberg, and then faces Iceland on Tuesday, July 18, in Algard. The U.S. will finish first-round play with a clash against Norway on Thursday, July 20, in Sandnes. All four placement matches are set for Saturday, July 22.
"We met Norway last year in the final and they were a young team so they will have a lot of their top players returning," said Ellis. "As the host nation, they will have some good support as well. All the teams in our group are very strong and very physical so we are going to have to match up with that. Denmark gave us a great game last year, I believe it was 0-0 at halftime, so we will have to play very well to get out of our group. When you have to win the group to get to the championship game, goals help a lot, so we have to score and score early."
The USA has won an amazing eight out of the last nine Nordic Cups, and seven in a row, since winning its first in 1997 over Norway in Denmark. The USA fell the next year to Norway in the final. Since then, the USA has reeled off seven straight titles under four different coaches, defeating Sweden three times while topping both Germany and Norway twice in title games. This will be the third Nordic Cup for Ellis, who led the USA to 1-0 victory against host Germany at the 2000 Nordic Cup when Jena Kluegel scored the winning goal, and to the title last year, when current full WNT players Lauren Cheney, Heather O'Reilly, Carli Lloyd and Lori Chalupny scored in a 4-1 win vs. Norway.
"We'll definitely look for leadership from Buehler, Huffman and Fletcher," added Ellis. "They have been terrific leaders for us since January. I think some positive things came out of our last trip (to Maryland), in how well we can play if we are organized.
"We have a lot of versatility in this team as well. Trotter can play up front, Huffman might be our starting left back, and Fletcher could play in the midfield. We will be relatively young in the back. Brittany Taylor or Lauren Wilmoth could start there, so with that much versatility on the team, we can put together some different looks, and with 18 players, that's a nice option to have. I think it's great getting these kids international experience which is only going to help our National Teams program overall."
Age eligible players for the 2006 Nordic Cup are those born on or after January 1, 1985, but Ellis has the option of including five "over-age" players on the team, which are players born on or after January 1, 1982. The "over-age" players on the 2006 Nordic Cup Team are Fletcher, Huffman, Weimer, Keselica and Griffin.
2006 U.S. Under-21 Women's National Team Nordic Cup Roster
(A Detailed Roster is Available at ussoccer.com)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Val Henderson (UCLA), Cori Alexander (Portland);
DEFENDERS (5): Rachel Buehler (Stanford), Kendall Fletcher (UNC), Brittany Taylor (Uconn), India Trotter (Florida State), Lauren Wilmoth (UCLA)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Bristyn Davis (UCLA), Sheree Gray (Penn State), Sarah Huffman (Virginia), Noelle Keselica (Virginia), Jennifer Maurer (Boston College), Rebecca Moros (Duke), Angie Woznuk;
FORWARDS (4): Danesha Adams (UCLA), Amanda Cinalli (Notre Dame), Katie Griffin (Colorado), Tiffany Weimer (Penn State).