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Four Nations Tournament

Mar 1, 2012, 10:32 AM EDT

Women’s soccer head coach Randy Waldrum, who is currently serving in a similar capacity with the United States Under-23 Women’s National Team, checks in  from La Manga, Spain … from Feb. 20-March 2 the team will compete in the Four Nations Tournament that also features the U-23 sides from Sweden, England and Norway … Waldrum has named a team for his first international matches at the helm of the USA’s oldest youth national team that features four players with experience playing in WPS and an additional five players who were high draft picks this past January … the roster is rounded out with some of the top collegiate players in the country … for more pictures of Waldrum’s experience in La Manga, click here!

Thursday, March 1 – Four Nations Cup Champions! USA defeats Norway 5-0 in what proved to be the championship game to capture the title in La Manga. I’m so proud of the way this team responded to the loss to England on Tuesday. We came out today with intensity, focus, and the standard of excellence that is expected from our U.S. National Teams.

We couldn’t ask for a better start with early goals coming from Sinead Farrelly and Amber Brooks. Then as halftime neared Sinead scored once again to give us a 3-0 lead at the half. The only thing to do then was to make sure we kept our intensity high, not turn the ball over in dangerous areas, and add to our lead if possible. It was a great exercise in learning how to manage the game at the international level when you have the lead. Morgan Marlborough scored a great goal to put us up by four in the second half, and then Taylor Lytle scored to put the game more than out of reach with our 5th goal of the day.

Interesting tournament as Norway opened the tournament up coming from behind to defeat England 2-1. We then knocked off Sweden 2-0. The next round saw Sweden defeating Norway 3-0, and England defeating the US 2-1. So going into today’s final round every team had one loss and one win. The first game today pitted Sweden against England, and that game ended in a 2-2 tie. Therefore as long as there was a winner in our game, whomever won was going to be the Champion. Luckily for us our team came out to play right from the start, learning from the slow start of the England game.

Amber Brooks was named the tournament MVP and she is our captain. The funny thing is they called her up first to receive the tournament MVP trophy which was this nice glass trophy. She accepted the trophy and brought it back to where our team was. Then with all four teams and the fans around the center circle, she was asked to come up again as the captain and accept our championship trophy which she did. Then when she got back to the team, she bent over to set it on the ground and the top fell off of it and it landed on her MVP trophy breaking both of them … the other three teams plus our own could not stop laughing … it was hilarious! I teased her that she was Sergio Ramos the captain of Real Madrid who while celebrating a recent championship on top of a bus as it drove through the parade downtown, dropped the championship trophy and the bus ran over it!

Guess you would have had to been there, but trust me it was so funny! Hopefully U.S. Soccer is not mad!

La Manga and the resort was a great host, it was an incredible week for all of us, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to coach. They worked hard, played well for the most part, and represented the USA the way I want them to. Our staff was amazing and contributed greatly to our success. Special thanks to assistants Bryan Blitz of Missouri, and Phil Wheddon of Syracuse. Also to the support staff of Ryan, Phil, Doc, and Ryan for their work behind the scenes keeping us healthy, organized, and taken care of in every way.

It was a great experience too for both myself and Jazmin Hall who I hope now understands what it takes to continue to compete at the highest level possible. I think she will return to campus newly focused and pushing herself and her teammates to achieve even more. Thanks to all of you who have tweeted, emailed, and followed this journey of ours, and I’m so proud to represent Notre Dame with this USA team!

Until the next trip to Norway in June …

Go Irish!

Tuesday, Feb. 28 – Today did not go as I had hoped, losing 2-1 to the England U-23’s. The first half it was all England. Their speed of play and mobility were a huge problem for us, and we kept dropping deeper and deeper in defense which allowed them even more space on the ball. I was fearful of this due to the time they have been together as a team vs. the minimal amount of time we have been together. You don’t develop this type ball movement and movement of the players off the ball in one ten day camp. They have been together for quite some time now, and it is very obvious with their organization. The game was 1-0 at halftime, although we created very little offensively. They didn’t have a ton of great scoring opportunities, but they really possessed the ball well.

In the second half we made some player adjustments and corrected our pressure at halftime. The second half was a completely different game. We took England out of their rhythm and began to establish our own. Unfortunately we fouled outside of our penalty area and England scored off a free kick which put us down 2 with about a half an hour to play. However, we played so well and pulled one goal back and missed out on several good chances to equalize. England only had one really good opportunity the whole second half other than the free kick goal they scored on.

I was really proud of our response and the way we fought the entire second half. However, our players have to understand this type intensity must be for an entire 90 minutes at the international level. We’ll learn from this game and make things better for our final game against Norway on Thursday at 4 p.m.

All four teams (Norway, US, England, Sweden) now have 1 loss and 1 win. So the tie-braker is goal differential between the teams in question that are tied on results after Thursday’s game. So as it is, there will be two teams tied on Thursday at the end of the competition, and the champion will be declared by goal differential between those two teams. Provided we take care of business and win against Norway, we are one goal better than England or Sweden right at the moment. So, we need to win, and score as many goals as possible to lock down the championship. It’s all about winning this game first and foremost.

Tonight we head out of the resort to have some dinner at a local Italian restaurant. We hear it’s very good, so we’ll see. Then the staff gets to work to prepare for Norway. I’m already ready to play the next game.

Go Irish!

Monday, Feb. 27 – This morning it was quite cool when we went to train. Up until today, the weather has been great, but at least the sun came out and it warmed up by the afternoon. Training was short but intense, very competitive for the day before a game. I like that due to the fact that I know the team is serious and not just going through the motions. After training our trainer Paul took them through a great “cool down” with the foam rollers and lots of stretching.

Later in the afternoon we took the team away from the resort where we are staying and went into Cartagena which is about 30 minutes away. It’s the first time we’ve been away from the training facility, so it was nice to spend some time walking around the shops and restaurants. Having said that, the shops in Spain close from 1-5 p.m. in the afternoons for the afternoon siesta! So we actually only had about 30 minutes of actual shopping which was fine with team. I’ve included some pictures including one of our very own Jazmin Hall with her teammates out in front of a little coffee shop and outdoor seating. These shops were nestled in the long alley type streets and right off the harbor which had a Burger King on it.

Tonight the team had our pregame meeting which was conducted by our assistant coach, Bryan Blitz, and out goalkeeper coach, Phil Wheddon. I had to attend a head of delegation dinner, or tournament dinner where I had the chance to meet the other coaches and administrators. I spent some time with Goril Kringen who is the head coach of Norway. She was the captain of the 2000 Norwegian team in the Sydney Olympics when Norway defeated the U.S. 3-2 in overtime. It was great to hear a bit of what she is now doing in Norway. I found all the delegations to be extremely friendly and so focused on developing women’s football in their respective countries.

One thing that I found is that all the teams have their U-23’s active all year around. As I mentioned yesterday, most of the players here are pros, and most of the teams have been training on a regular basis. We are at a disadvantage with our kids as I’ve had them only for one training camp, and we have our team only for a total of 6-7 months out of the year. But the U.S. mentality and quality of our players will continue to keep us at the forefront, but after watching these teams it’s clear that the rest of the world is catching up!

Game day tomorrow versus England. It should be a really good game as they have a team of pros and four players who are close to being pushed forward to their full national team!

So, I’ll get the result to you as soon as I can tomorrow! Until then,

Go Irish!

Sunday, Feb. 26 – The morning started with a team breakfast at 9:30 am. I always try to watch the players and see if I can sense anything about their demeanor which may help me understand their mindset on game day. Since this team is new to me, I really couldn’t get a feel for where they were mentally. I didn’t take long to find out though!

We started the game with a lot of energy and intensity, and it’s exactly the start we needed and wanted from the team. It was important that we had the right mentality, and we certainly did. The Swedish team is a very good team. You could tell by their organization that they have had some time together. In fact all 20 of the players on their roster are under contract with a professional team in Sweden. Four players play for Umea IK, four players play for Linkopings FC, three play for Djurgardens IF DFF, and the rest are scattered out amongst the other pro teams in Sweden. I was very concerned coming into the game for that reason. They have a wealth of experience. Eight of their players played in this competition last year.

As for our U.S. team, we had five players who played in this competition before and only four WPS pro players on our roster. The rest of our players are U.S. college players! I guess this says it all about the quality of the U.S. college system as far as developing our women’s players. It’s a pretty good training ground I’d say, if these kids can compete and play against the pro’s like they did.

I was really proud of the intensity and level of competitiveness that we displayed. We had periods of time during the game that we played extremely well. However, we also had some periods of time that we were not sharp enough, and turned the ball over in some very dangerous situations. We won the game 2-0 with a goal by Amber Brooks in the 24th minute, and a second by Zakiya Bywaters in the 58th minute. So in the end we got the result that we were looking for.

England will provide another difficult test. They too have a roster of all professional players except one who is the goalkeeper at University of Georgia. Even though they lost to Norway 2-1 today, they looked to be the better team. Norway came back with two second half goals to win. England are organized and very technical. Their movement without the ball is excellent. This should be another very big test for us.

The players will have the rest of the day off, and the coaches will burn the midnight oil working on the game plan for England! Tomorrow morning the team will train in the morning and then an afternoon out to shop a bit! Look out La Manga!

Go Irish!

Saturday, Feb. 25 – It’s Saturday afternoon here in La Manga. I believe we are six hours ahead of the ET zone, so it’s early Saturday morning for you guys. I got up this morning to another beautiful day of sunshine, so I included a picture of the view from my balcony. If you look close you can see the soccer fields at the base of the small mountain which is literally across the street.

We went out this morning and trained very lightly for about an hour as we play Sweden tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. our time. The attitude of the players has been great, and I’m really excited for the game. We have a great mixture of college and pro players on this team.

photo.JPGAt the end of training our trainer Paul Ziemba took the player through a long stretching routine using the foam rollers.

This afternoon the coaches met to prepare for our roles and responsibilities for the game tomorrow, and discussed our opponent Sweden. We know that they will be a very good team, and that they have an extremely experienced team. We will have to respect their ability, and be prepared for a very competitive game. I love the ability of our players, and what each one brings to our team. So it should be a great opening game!

This afternoon the players are resting, and I’m heading to a coaches meeting with Ryan Maxfield who is our team administrator. He’s done a fabulous job on this trip along with all our support staff including Paul Ziemba our trainer, Roger Chams our team doctor, and Ryan Allen our equipment coordinator.

Now it’s time for us to go out an perform! Be back tomorrow with the result!

Friday (evening), Feb. 24 – It’s Friday night here in Spain, and we just finished a team meeting to review our set pieces, etc. We canceled the afternoon practice today, as it was going to be light anyway. I just felt after watching this morning, that physically and psychologically it would do us more good to rest and relax. We’ll go out tomorrow morning and work on our set pieces again prior to Sunday’s game against Sweden.

The weather here has been sunny and warm, I’m guessing in the mid 50’s. It’s been great to train in, and a little cool at times, especially at night. The food has been amazing and it’s not all that different from what we have (when we eat healthy) back home. The apartments we are living in have individual rooms with a bathroom, then they are adjoined with another room and a big shared living room area. They all have refrigerators, washing machines, and a dishwasher in them. So, we are actually living pretty well here!

The coaching staff met up with Kyle Berger, whom I met in Germany last summer at the World Cup, and he took us out to a supermarket this morning, and then to the small beach which is right up the road from us. It was so quite and only one elderly gentleman was on the beach, reading his kindle. When I finally ride into the sunset, that is exactly what I’d love to be doing! Kyle is here looking for players for Moenchengladbach … both their men and women’s professional team. It’s been good catching up to a new friend.

All the teams have arrived now. England got in yesterday afternoon late, and Norway last night. Sweden arrives shortly. I’ve met a few of the coaches from both England and Sweden, and they seem like great people. It’s refreshing to be in a soccer environment where you see people around the world who generally want to see the women’s game grow.

We had a fun finishing day at the end of practice, pitting the college players against the pro players. Phil, our goalkeeper coach, took them through this shooting exercise that was spirited and fun. He referred to one team as the “college players” and the other as the “grandma’s” … the college players won! Great way to end practice.

Though I’d like to have had more time coaching and preparing this team (we only had one ten day camp in January), my hope is that we’ve done enough to have some organization and ideas of how we want to play. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in training, and I believe in these players and know they will come out and compete the way we expect them too. In the words of Bart Scott … “Can’t Wait” for the game on Sunday!

Friday (morning), Feb. 24 – We’ve been in La Manga, Span, for four days and things are going pretty well. We traveled from Miami on Monday night all night to Madrid, caught a second plane to Alicante and then had an hour and a half bus ride to finally reach La Manga on Tuesday afternoon.

The actual facility is a resort with apartments and hotels surrounding all the soccer fields and sitting nestled in amongst some hills. It is a very beautiful view from our apartment, and looking out one can see the fields at the bottom of the hills, the housing areas all built into the sides of the small mountains, and even a body of water nearby which I have no idea what it is … I’ll find out!

We trained very lightly on Tuesday afternoon once we arrived to get all the jet lag out from the long travel. From there we’ve practiced two times on Wednesday, twice on Thursday and we’ll train this morning with a very light walk through of our set pieces this afternoon.

I’m really anxious to see what we actually have with this team. The players have worked really hard and they are an amazing group of young women. I couldn’t ask for a more polite, respectful group of players. I brought in a few new players that were not in our January camp, and I’ve been very happy with those players so far.

I’ll be able to talk more after the first game on Sunday against Sweden about our individual players and how they are doing. Our very own Jazmin Hall is doing well and I hope the level and the commitment of these players is something she can bring back to our Notre Dame team! It’s a great experience for her.

My staff has been fantastic! I’ve brought in Bryan Blitz from University of Missouri as my assistant and Phil Wheddon from Syracuse University to be my goalkeeper coach. Both have a wealth of experience, and have been very helpful.

That’s all for now, check back in later!

Go Irish!

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