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U.S. Is Next on Mexico's Rough Road

September 07, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — Leonardo Cuellar, coach of Mexico's women's national team, is putting his players through a trial by fire in an effort to help them reach the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Mexico narrowly missed qualifying for this month's Women's World Cup, finishing third behind the United States and Canada in CONCACAF qualifying and then losing a home-and-home playoff series to Japan.

Cuellar wants the team to learn from that disappointment.

So he took his players to World Cup-bound Canada for a two-game series last week, and today they face the world champion U.S. team in a rare 10 a.m. game that U.S. Soccer has jokingly dubbed "Breakfast With Brandi."

Brandi Chastain and the rest of the U.S. squad will not be taking it lightly, however, and will hope to follow the lead of World Cup dark horse Canada, which twice routed Mexico -- 8-0 in Edmonton and 6-0 in Vancouver.

"We want to play quickly, to put Mexico under pressure and to finish our chances," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said Saturday after a training session on the narrow and uneven Spartan Stadium pitch.

The Americans' opening match in the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup is two weeks from today, against Sweden, and the Mexico game offers Heinrichs the final chance to fine-tune her players in a competitive match.

Her objectives are clear.

"We want to get all these players playing time and build confidence," she said. "If we can play like we did against Costa Rica [a 5-0 victory at the Home Depot Center Monday] I'd be extremely pleased because there was a lot we gained."

Meanwhile, Cuellar, whose roster includes UCLA striker Iris Mora as well as defender Monica Gonzales of the Boston Breakers and forward Maribel Dominguez of the Atlanta Beat, is looking ahead to February, when Mexico will host the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for Athens 2004 and is hoping that today's losses turn into tomorrow's gains.

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