Saturday’s match will mark the first in a series of friendlies and send-off matches during the coming months in preparation for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China, which will take place in September.
While the team was flawless in last month’s Algarve Cup (4-0-0), one player who unquestionably made a name for herself during the tournament was midfielder Carli Lloyd. The 24-year-old New Jersey native, previously held to one goal in 24 caps, went on a goal-scoring rampage by tallying four goals in four games, helping her team capture its fifth Algarve Cup title, and in the process, earning herself the tournament’s Top Scorer and MVP awards.
In anticipation of her first game action since last month’s remarkable performance, I posed a few questions to the acclaimed midfielder.
BRIAN: Is the mental approach different with respect to these friendlies different than the approach taken toward major tournaments like the recent Algarve Cup?
CARLI: “Not in my eyes, because I prepare for every game like it’s an important game. At tournaments, you know that you are playing to win a group, or the tournament, and maybe have several games over a period of days, but the approach to the individual games should not change.”
BRIAN: During your second career game with the US WNT, you broke your wrist vs. this Mexican team. Will that incident enter your mind at all when facing them again on Saturday?
CARLI: “We’ve played Mexico a few times since then so it won’t cross my mind. When it happened, I just wanted to hit that shot so hard that I lost my balance. I think I hit a few birds in the trees behind the goal. It was just a fluke thing, but it sure hurt.”
BRIAN: You had one career goal prior to the Algarve Cup, then scored four in the course of four games during the tournament. How are you able to explain the sudden flurry of goals?
CARLI: “I wasn’t doing anything different to prepare for the Algarve Cup. I’m kind of young and new to the team and it just took a little time getting used to the speed of the play and the whole National Team environment. It takes everyone different amounts of time to adjust and to break through. I had confidence in myself and stayed focused, and kept working hard, and I felt that I would find success scoring at some point, hopefully sooner than later. Now, I just have to keep it going.”
BRIAN: Besides the World Cup, which international tournament is the most exciting to you and your teammates?
CARLI: “I haven’t played in that many tournaments, but the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament last fall was pretty exciting. I just remember the way I felt, I was a bit nervous, and it was a big deal. We had to qualify for the World Cup, then play for the regional title. We also like the Algarve Cup because of the level of competition.”
BRIAN: The team was recently given the number 1 ranking in the world by FIFA. Do you think that ranking kind of puts a bull’s eye on the team as opponents now have that extra incentive to beat the best team in the world?
CARLI: “I think it does, but even if we were not ranked number one we would still be the team everyone wants to beat. It’s always difficult for the USA. Teams are getting better, the competition is tougher and everyone wants to take us down. As a country, around the world, everyone wants to beat America in every sport, but we like that challenge.”
BRIAN: Given the recent news of the WUSA's return next year, how excited are you about the prospect of a top tier women's professional league returning to the scene?
CARLI: “I think it’s really exciting, especially for all the players who don’t have the opportunity to play for the National Team right now. For young kids to be able to watch a women’s league can only continue to increase the popularity of the women’s soccer and we can continued to serve as good role models. It will also create opportunities for new players to play for the National Team, which will only make us stronger. I am especially excited as I didn’t get a chance to play in the WUSA.”