With its World Cup opener against North Korea looming, veteran forward Kristine Lilly and other members of the U.S women's soccer team got down to business this week in Shanghai.
"We're getting there. We're still a little sluggish. That's why we're here early, to get our legs ready," Lilly told reporters after the team's second day of practice in Shanghai.
"The more time we're here the better we're going to feel. That's the good point," said 36-year-old Lilly, one of only two players along with goalkeeper Briana Scurry, to have played for the U.S. during the years when it won World Cup titles in 1991 and 1999, and Olympic golds in 1996 and 2004.
For the Americans _ ranked No. 1 in the world _ the three-week, 16-team tournament begins with its Sept. 11 showdown against fifth-ranked North Korea in Chengdu, an industrial center in western China.
"This is our chance to prove ourselves on the world stage," said coach Greg Ryan.
"Potentially, this is the toughest team in the tournament. It's going to be a tough start for both of our teams," said Ryan, who is unbeaten in 46 games (39 wins, 7 draws) since taking over the U.S. team in early 2005.
After a cloudy, wet practice on Wednesday, the team enjoyed balmy, sunny weather Thursday _ a good antidote to jet lag as the team adjusts to the 15-hour time difference.
Lilly, who has played with the Americans for 20 years, said retirement was something to consider "in the near future."
But for now she's focused on avenging the Americans' 2003 semifinal World Cup loss to Germany, and savoring the triumph the team felt with its last World Cup title, in 1999.
"I remember in 2003, how that felt," Lilly said. "We want to win that back."
Also in Group B with the United States and North Korea are Sweden and defending African champion Nigeria, making it the toughest group in the tournament. The top two teams go onto the second round.
The final of the tournament is Sept. 30 in Shanghai.