A double-edged sword for hopeful American holders
With the second instalment of the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship only days away in Thailand, pressure is mounting on the U.S. youngsters hoping to make it two trophies in a row. But despite a stumble in the CONCACAF championship, questions about their attacking prowess and over 24-hours of travel ahead, U.S. boss Mark Krikorian assured FIFA.com that all is calm in the camp.
"There will be some pressure going into the tournament as defending champions," said the former WUSA coach. "It can work in your favour, but it can also get your mind working in strange ways. We are just going to do our best and try to get the best results we can one game at a time."
Sharing the goal burden
And though there has been some speculation as to a comparative lack of attacking fire-power with the loss of current senior team standouts Lindsey Tarpley and Heather O'Reilly, Krikorian is confident the goals will come when Group C action gets underway in Thailand's tropical southern tip of Phuket.
Though it will be a tall order to match the 26 goals in six matches notched up by the U.S. in Canada two years ago , the coach is a picture of confidence in his current squad. And with Kerri Hanks - hands-down top scorer in June's continental qualifiers - why should he worry?
"Frankly we have a lot of weapons and our goals will come from different spots on the field - not specifically one goal getter," he continued.
Fiery skipper and keeper
Another formidable weapon in the boss's arsenal is veteran captain and net-minder Ashyln Harris. A regular from the team that took the laurels in Canada , she is the glue that holds this young team together.
"Ashlyn is our captain and the emotional leader," the coach, who took over from current senior team assistant Tracy Leone last year, told FIFA.com. "She has a fiery personality and is a great anchor for the team. She has big-game experience, and it will be a big asset for us."
But as any great lieutenant, Harris is feeling the pressure too. "There's more pressure on us knowing what we did win in 2002," said the Florida native, all-time caps leader for the U-19s with 33 and one of four players who also featured at Canada 2002. "A lot of teams will come straight at us because they know about our tradition, but everyone is so excited to go to Thailand. We've been training for so long, and you can see the excitement in our eyes. Everything is coming together at the right time."
And one of 14 players who passed up playing in their University leagues to focus on the World Championship ahead, Harris' devotion is not in question. "We gave all the eligible players who are in college the choice to either play at their university or focus on the World Championship and the mini-residency camp," Krikorian said. "All the players in the team who are college students chose to commit to the World Championship. It was a tough choice, but it shows their desire."
The team has been in and out of what the coach calls a 'mini-residency' camp at the Home Depot Center in LA for most of the autumn months. With the finishing touches taking place currently, ahead of the team's departure for Siam in early November, the boss still has some things on his mind.
"Throughout the fall these ladies have been working really hard," the coach and devoted father remarked." And Krikorian is not unduly worried that his side failed to make it to Thailand as Champions of CONCACAF - losing out to northern neighbours Canada .
"When we went into regional qualifying, our goals were clear," he remarked. "We wanted to get a spot at the finals in Thailand. And we did that. It would have been nice to finish up as champions, but our objectives are in front of us. We are looking forward, not backward."
Tough early tests ahead in Thailand
"All of the teams in our group will pose a serious challenge," the coach admitted, expecting a tough time from Spain, Korea, and Russia. "Spain are not just great individually, but a great unit on top of that, beating Germany in the European final says a lot. Russia are also talented and tough physically…and Korea are a real threat as well with strong players all over the pitch."
But stiff challenges aside, the coach's plan is plain - as are his expectations. "It's a tough group, and we know we won't have any days off in the first round. We have to show up and compete to the best of our abilities -- we are in for a real fight if we want to win."