• Friday Mar 30, 2012

    U.S. takes incentive into U-20 women's finals



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    The memories of 2010 still flicker - at least for the United States.

    Denied a berth at the Under-17 Women's World Cup despite outscoring their opponents 38-0 at the CONCACAF championship, the Americans carry at least some sense of unfinished business heading into this week's 2012 CONCACAF U-20 Women's Championship.

    "It's certainly a motivating force, and for team in general," U.S. coach Steve Swanson said, reviewing the United States' loss on penalties to Canada in the 2010 U-17 semifinals. "I don't want them to dwell on it. I don't want them to look too far forward, or too far back.

    "I want them to focus on what we can control, what's in front of us. To the extent that it's a little flame in their backside, that's nice. It would be a problem if it wasn't there."

    Six members of the U.S. 2010 U-17 team have graduated to this year's U-20 side. They will be united with four members of the 2010 U.S. team that won the CONCACAF U-20 crown and are coming back for a chance at a second title.

    It's a similar recipe with several other teams: Mexico will return six veterans of the U-20 side that finished runner-up to the United States in 2010; Canada will have five from its team that finished fourth two years ago and missed out on qualifying for the World Cup; and Guatemala will draw its experience from six players who competed at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in January in Vancouver.

    Experience likely will be a key factor among the eight qualified teams that will get underway Thursday in Panama City's Estadio Rommel Fernandez. Besides the CONCACAF trophy, each team will be seeking one of three berths in the World Cup in Japan August 19-September 8.

    "That's absolutely vital to give our player as much international experience as possible," said Canada coach Andrew Olivieri. "It's a good starting point, definitely a good foundation."

    Only four different countries have ever qualified for the U-20 Women's World Cup from CONCACAF in the five editions of the confederation championship: Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. Of the 14 berths earned by CONCACAF teams, Canada, Mexico and the United States have accounted for 13 of them.

    And this year, Costa Rica didn't qualify for the CONCACAF finals.

    Of the teams outside the automatic North American qualifiers, Caribbean sides Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica had to play at least five matches to reach Panama. But that isn't enough to satisfy Jamaica coach Vin Blaine, whose scheduled training camp in Florida for his team was replaced with a local gathering due to budgetary concerns.

    "My concern as always is the lack of games against opponents similar to those who come up against at the CONCACAF level," Blaine told the Jamaica Observer earlier this week.

    Of the Caribbean contingent, Haiti won all five of its qualifiers but is making its first appearance in the CONCACAF finals since 2002. Jamaica, on the other hand, is making its sixth straight appearance, having won only one of its last six matches in the finals. Cuba, likewise, is making a third straight appearance, but has never won at the finals.
    Among the favorites, Mexico is relying on its returning core of goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago, midfielders Nayeli Rangel, Natalia Gomez-Junco and Olivia Jimenez, and defenders Ashley Kotero and Bianca Sierra to challenge the United States and Canada.

    "We know that there are two rivals to beat: the United States and Canada due to the structure of their program are important teams in our region and on the world stage," Mexico coach Roberto Medina said.

    "We've always had the goal in mind to keep on progressing and each time we have a new competition we have to show a growth in our program. The team is mentally ready, we know what we playing for. The ticket to the World Cup is the objective."

    Canada has prepared itself by heading to Costa Rica for the two weeks prior to the championship, looking to adjust itself early from its relatively normal winter arctic climate to the more tropical conditions expected in Panama.

    "It's the closest to Panama as possible," Olivieri said, noting that he was generally pleased with the fitness of his players due to the conditioning they receive while in college and their off-season programs. "Generally I have a good feeling about the team."

    The United States' preparation included an early February jaunt to Spain for the La Manga Four Nations exhibition event, where it beat World Cup qualifiers Switzerland, Germany and Norway by a combined 13-0.

    "I feel very confident in this group, they're coming together as a team," said Swanson, who took over the U.S. U-20 side in August after 12 years as coach of the University of Virginia's women's program. "From the early analysis of games, of where we were last year, we've come a long way in short time.

    "Pamana will be a tough test. The environment is going to be difficult. But even though (the La Managa games were) friendlies, they were good games. They tested us and stretched us. We were able to look at some things."

    And there is still the motivation from two years ago.

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