U.S. WOMENS SOCCER
The USA's Kristine Lilly, left, was fouled by Mexico's Monica Ocampo during the first half of the Americans' 2-0 victory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer semifinal game in Carson, Calif., on Wednesday.
Kicking it up a notch
The United States women's soccer team intends to put America back on top
CARSON, Calif. » Some teammates call Kristine Lilly "Grandma." One of those young teammates, former University of Hawaii star Natasha Kai, sports 15 tattoos and a lip ring.
There's definitely a generational mix in U.S. women's soccer.
"It's always something new," the 35-year-old Lilly said with a chuckle. "It keeps me young. They keep me alive and I keep them in line."
Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett -- stars of the Americans' triumph in the 1999 World Cup -- have retired.
A wave of new players are kicking around with a diminishing crew of veterans on the national team.
The Americans clinched a spot in the 2007 World Cup when they blanked Mexico 2-0 in a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal Wednesday night.
Mexico and Trinidad play this Sunday in a quarterfinal match.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Former University of Hawaii soccer standout Natasha Kai is not afraid to show off all her tattoos.
The only players remaining from the squad that created a national sensation in the 1999 World Cup are Lilly, who seems to have gained new spark with a switch from the midfield to forward; goalie Briana Scurry, also 35; and defenders Kate Markgraf, 30, and Christie Rampone, 31.
The 23-year-old Kai, a free-spirited forward from Hawaii, and Carli Lloyd, a 24-year-old midfielder out of Rutgers, are among the youngsters.
"It's just a great mix. We've got mothers with babies, we've got young players like Natasha," said coach Greg Ryan. "It's a really, really fun mix of players, and they enjoy the diversity."
Scurry feels the vibe the young players provide.
"They're invigorating," she said. "It's definitely a different team. The overall quality of players is at least as good, if not better."
Scurry smiled and added, "They're the technology generation, always wireless, always on the Internet."
Lloyd still feels a bit in awe of her older teammates.
"We've grown up with posters of them on our walls, so it's kind of weird now playing on the same field as them," she said.
Kai, like many in her generation of youth soccer players, was inspired by the Americans in the 1999 World Cup.
"It was my dream to play on this team. Now, I'm living it," she said.
The glory of that World Cup finale in the sold-out Rose Bowl, when the United States beat China on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie, seems to have dimmed with time. The Americans lost to Germany in the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup, but beat the Germans on the way to winning a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Rather quietly, this new-look U.S. team has been on a roll.
The United States was 25-0-5 dating to a 5-0 victory over Mexico on Dec. 8, 2004.
That was the final game for Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett, but the team really hasn't missed a beat.
The Americans boasted the longest unbeaten streak in the 21-year history of the women's national team after they won their first match in the CONCACAF tournament.
"This young group is really achieving some incredible things in terms of going unbeaten in almost two years, and just game after game going out and performing at such a high level," Ryan said.
"We're real pleased, but we're not worried or concerned about the win streak. We're just going to focus on winning this next one and getting into the World Cup."