Sweden on the mind
McLEAN, Va. -- On the eve of the U.S. National Team's first match of the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup, U.S. coach April Heinrichs joked that the priority of the day was pedicures and manicures for the 20 American players.
In other words, they're not holed up in the team hotel watching endless game tapes of their first-round opponents, or working themselves into a nervous frenzy before the three-week tournament begins.
Actually, Saturday will represent a day for family, as the players will be allowed to spend some time with their loved ones in the afternoon, before a gathering for the entire U.S. squad with their families in the evening.
Once the team is back at the team hotel, Heinrichs and her assistants will go over the scouting report.
What the team will be looking at is one of the few opponents in this tournament that has had positive results against the Americans over the past three years, as the Swedes have gone 1-0-2 against the U.S. since early 2001, which has garnered the players' attention.
"Sweden is gonna be true, true test for us," said Mia Hamm on Saturday morning to echo what she said on Thursday afternoon after a training session when she called Sweden "one of the best teams in the world" having "one of the best organized defenses out there."
Heinrichs will obviously spend plenty of time discussing Sweden's prolific striker Hanna Ljungberg, who is considered by many to be the best goal-scorer in the world right now. The 24-year-old has the speed and the intensity to disrupt the U.S. backline, who will have to count on supreme organization and communication in picking up the 5-foot-3 striker out of their four-man zonal system.
"She's a world-class goal scorer," deadpanned Heinrichs
If Ljungberg was the only player the U.S. had to worry about, it'd be a much easier task. But Sweden has several players who could give the Americans fits tomorrow, including four in particular who Heinrichs pointed out on Saturday:
1. Malin Mostrom -- "She's the playmaker," said Heinrichs. Mostrom plays for Umea along with Ljungberg and four other of their teammates in their home country. Her presence in the center of the midfielder could call for Shannon Boxx to get the call for the U.S.
2. Victoria Svensson -- "One of the great goal-scorers," said Heinrichs about the 26-year-old striker who will pair with Ljungberg.
3. Malin Andersson -- "Their Kristine Lilly," said Heinrichs, pointing out how Andersson leads the Swedes in caps and is a steady influence on her teammates in the midfield.
4. Jane Tornqvist -- The 28-year-old center back organizes the defense, wins balls in the air and even roams into the attacking third several times throughout the game in true Franz Beckenbauer fashion. "All of a sudden, you'll see her on the end of a cross," said Heinrichs. "And she's their target on all set pieces."
Once the scouting report is over, Heinrichs will post the starting lineup for her squad.
"That's been our policy the last four years," said Heinrichs.
The U.S. lineup could very well look like this: Briana Scurry in the goal. Christie Pearce, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett and Kate Sobrero in defense. Kristine Lilly, Shannon Boxx and Julie Foudy in the midfield. And Cindy Parlow, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach up top. That's the lineup that was used against Mexico in the team's last friendly two weeks ago.
Heinrichs did mention that several different combinations could be used as strikers, including the duo of Shannon MacMillan and Tiffeny Milbrett. While it may seem unlikely to start the match, the U.S. coach did admit that this twosome was the best attacking pair when the team scrimmaged the University of Virginia men earlier in the week.
No matter who starts, it's unlikely that we'll see one standard starting unit throughout the first round of the tournament, due to the versatility and close competitions she has at nearly each position.
Heinrichs said that all 20 players will be available for the U.S. on Sunday. But there are a few players who might not be at 100 percent. Defender Danielle Slaton is suffering from pain in her knee that she had arthroscopic surgery on earlier in the year. Chastain has also been experiencing pain in her right foot. Even though she went to the doctor as a precautionary measure on Friday, she said that on Saturday it felt "the best it has in weeks."
No help from Pia
The greatest player in the history of women's soccer in Sweden is Pia Sundhage, who starred for the Swedes in both the 1991 and 1995 Women's World Cups. The past few years she's been coaching in the WUSA -- first for the Philadelphia Charge, and last year for the Boston Breakers. She has also been more involved with helping young Swedish players either getting into U.S. colleges and universities or professional leagues all over the world. And there might not be a more well-connected person in all of women's soccer than Pia. Yet, she wasn't about to give any pointers to her star midfielder Kristine Lilly when the draw for the tournament was announced.
"She won't say anything," joked Lilly, who earned her third straight all-league honor playing under Sundhage this year for the WUSA regular season champions. "She's always like, 'Of course I want for you guys to play very well in the World Cup -- just not against Sweden."
Lady in red
If you don't recognize Brandi Chastain at first glance, it's because she's changed her hair color. Gone are her familiar blond locks, and in place is a brownish-red color.
"Perhaps people will take me more seriously," joked Chastain on Saturday.
Actually, the U.S. defender was looking to change to a chocolate sort of color that she saw in a magazine. Despite bringing it into the stylist, it came out a little more red than she was hoping for.
"It's not even close to the color I wanted," she said.
No worries, Brandi. Thumbs up.
It's not a surprise to see the U.S. roster littered with players from traditional powers such as the University of North Carolina, Santa Clara and Portland. But one small college that has a mighty representation in this World Cup is Robert Morris College in Chicago. The school which plays in the NAIA has the following players in this year's tournament: Alberta Sackey, Elizabeth Baidu, Basilea Amoah-Tetteh and Adjoa Bayor, who all play for the Ghana National Team, as well as Patience Avre, who is one of Nigeria's top players.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org..