The U.S. women’s soccer team will start the World Cup year with a six-day training camp and two January friendlies in New Zealand, where it will open defense of its world championship in July.
The two matches — Jan. 18 at Sky Stadium in Wellington and Jan. 21 at Eden Park in Auckland, site of the Americans’ World Cup opener — will be the first matches in New Zealand for the USWNT.
During the World Cup, the U.S. will face Vietnam and a team to be determined in a February playoff in Eden Park, sandwiched around a match with the Netherlands in Wellington.
“Everything about this trip is a positive for our team ahead of the World Cup,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We will get some quality training time together and have two tough matches against a great opponent that is hosting the World Cup. We also get to experience the long travel and familiarize ourselves with the host cities, the stadiums, the training grounds and the culture. And hopefully we’ll play in front of some big crowds supporting the home team.
“It will be a great way to start the year.”
The USWNT has played New Zealand 19 times — going 17-1-1, but none of those matches were held in New Zealand.
New Zealand is coached by Jitka Klimkova, former coach of the U.S. under-20 women’s national team, and its captain is Ali Riley, who hails from Pacific Palisades and plays in the NWSL with Angel City.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.