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Young team heading to Portugal for defense of first Algarve Cup crown.

(Thursday, February 22, 2001) -- The United States women have drawn Canada, Portugal and Sweden in the first round of the Eighth Algarve Cup, which will be contested March 11-17 at small stadiums in the scenic Algarve region of Portugal on the southern tip of the country.

The U.S. will field a young team for this event with all members of the U.S. Summer Olympics team busy their teams in the new Women’s United Soccer League which will debut in April.

The eight-team international tournament is one of the world's most competitive events outside of the Women's World Cup and the Olympics, and this year’s field includes Summer Olympics champion Norway, China, Denmark and Finland.

The U.S., which is participating in the tournament for the seventh time, has historically struggled in the competition, but one for the first time last year by edging Norway 1-0 in the final.

The eight teams will be split into two groups of four, with first-round play consisting of round-robin matches within the group. Then, the group winners will play for the championship, the second-place group finishers will vie for third place, the third-place group finishers will meet to decide fifth place, and the two cellar dwellers face off for seventh place.

The U.S. will play a friendly against Italy March 7 in Rieti, about 40 minutes outside of Rome, before traveling to Portugal. It will be the first American visit to Italy since 1988. U.S. coach April Heinrichs was a player on U.S. sides that toured Italy in 1986 and 1988 and she later joined the professional Italian club Prato.

The U.S. will open the Algarve play March 11 against Canada, face Portugal March 13 and finish first-round play with Sweden March 15. The placement games will take place on March 17, making it four games in seven days.

The U.S. is 22-2-1 against Canada, which has a draw and a victory in its last two meetings with its southern neighbor. Canada will not lose its WUSA players to pre-season training camps and will bring the squad that defeated the Americans in Columbus, Ohio, last November.

The U.S. is 5-0 against Portugal, building a 28-0 scoring margin, including a 7-0 decision in the 2000 Algarve Cup. The record against Sweden is 10-1-3, including using a Mia Hamm goal for a 1-0 decision in last year’s Algarve.

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