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Aug. 17, 2008
Kai explains it, well kind of

By Michael Lewis Editor

Natasha Kai has some unusual goal celebrations.
Natasha Kai has some unusual goal celebrations.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Beijing, China -- OK, for those of you who are still trying to figure out Natasha Kai's goal celebration -- the one after her score lifted the United States to a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Canada -- here's Kai's and her teammates' take.

After she tallied in extra time Friday night, Kai celebrated with a dance with Shannon Boxx, who had set up the goal.

And what was that dance about?

"It's a long story," Kai said.

Hey, we've got time.

Kai said it was from a comedy routine from Eddie Murphy.

"I've got some ice cream and you ain't got it," she said.

Then Boxx is supposed to come over and knock the imaginary ice cream out of Kai's hands.

"And she picked it up," goalkeeper Hope Solo said.

Uh, OK, we think.

Well, that's Kai for you, unpredictable.

"She's a different breed," Solo said. "I don't know how they do it in Hawaii. She's a ball of energy, so people thrive off of it. . . . She's kind of a character for us."

On and off the field.

"She's always playing pranks on people," Solo said, "stealing their and leaving them outside your door. She's dancing in her room all night long."

And as it turns out, on the field as well.

Will she pair them up?

Through her team's first four games of the tournament, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage has yet to start Amy Rodriguez and Kai together. They each have a goal. Since she benched Kai after the 2-0 opening loss to Norway, Angela Hucles (team-high two goals) and A-Rod have been on the starting 11. Rodriguez and Kai each have a goal.

Asked if she was considering starting those two against Japan in Monday's semifinal vs. Japan at Worker Stadium, coach Pia Sundhage did her best to deflect the issue.

"That's an option of course," she said. "But its nice to look over your shoulder and see a bench of good players. That's why its important to play everybody. First of all and the fact we have a strong bench. Tasha, Lauren [Cheney] and [Tobin] Heath all three of them did a great job [against Canada]."

That was a 2-1 extra-time victory in the quarterfinals in Shanghai Friday night.

A dirty dozen

Because there are only 12 teams, and not 16, in the women's tournament, you can get some premature match-ups in the later rounds. For example, both semifinal confrontations are rematches of opening-round games. That's the U.S.-Japan here and Brazil and Germany in Shanghai.

If the tournament was 16 teams like the men's tournament, those teams would not meet until the gold-medal match.

Asked about having more teams in the women's competition, Sundhage replied, "Yeah. Fortunately it would be more fun and it would work for women's soccer to have another four teams, of course. But today I am happy with 12 to go to the semifinals."

Slowly, but surely, women's soccer is getting there.

Four years ago in Athens, Greece, 10 women's teams competed in an uneven and embarrassing three groups (two groups of three and one group of four). Eight of the 10 sides qualified for the quarterfinals, which allowed teams with sub .500 records to advance. It certainly hurt the integrity of the competition.

Crediting the defense

While the goal-scorers usually wind up in the spotlight and the defenders make news when they allow games or make mistakes, Heather O'Reilly praised the American backline that played the entire way against Canada. That included central defenders Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone and outside backs Lori Chalupny and Heather Mitts.

"We have to give a lot of credit to our defenders, who played 120 tough minutes against a Canadian team that constantly trying to get behind our backline," she said. "So the amount of sprints, 50 sprints that the backfield [did] was amazing."

This Hope doesn't want to float

Solo said that she would rather be part of the action than sit back and watch her teammates dominate a team.

"I like games where I have to do a lot," she said, adding that she wants "to stay focused. These things are hard, but it's a goalkeeper's life. I'd rather be making saves."
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