U.S. field hockey returned to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1996 with a 2-2 draw against Argentina at the Olympic Green Hockey Stadium on Sunday.
The USA looked to be outmatched early by the number two team in the world as Argentina charged to a 2-0 lead in the first eleven minutes. But the Americans persevered and orchestrated a dramatic rally, capped by Angie Loy’s goal in the 64th minute to tie the game and pick up one point in the standings.
The draw is an tremendous momentum boost for the eleventh-ranked USA, hoping to reclaim their spot as one of the world’s top field hockey teams. Argentina is the top-ranked team in the USA’s pool. The two teams dueled in the 2007 Pan American Cup final, with Argentina taking a 4-2 victory and the automatic bid for the 2008 Olympic Games.
“To play the world number two in the world in your first game in the Olympics and come away with a 2-2 draw, we are, to a degree, satisfied,” said USA head coach Lee Bodimeade. “We knew that we had to bring our best game and we thought after defending so well on the penalty corners that Argentina were getting, maybe we could’ve caused an upset. Yes, we will take the point, but we have some work to do.”
Argentina striker Carla Rebecchi was in prime form early, scoring quickly for Las Leonas, tipping a penalty corner shot from Noel Barrionuevo into the corner of the goal. Six minutes later, she knocked in a field goal to put Argentina ahead 2-0 and looking to dominate.
““We knew coming in we were going to have to be on our game from the beginning,” said USA team captain Kate Barber. “I think we were a little on the back foot to start, and Argentina made us pay for that.”
The Americans quickly regrouped. Keli Smith’s deflection from a Rachel Dawson shot on a penalty corner gave the USA their first goal in the 18th minute, as well as a boost of confidence.
“Our team is known to persist and persist throughout the game regardless of the time. I think we dug deep,” said Barber. “I think once we got into the flow of the game, and the speed and the intensity, we were able to string some passes together.”
The defense consolidated. Argentina forced 11 penalty corners and only converted one.
“Our defense really held us together,” said Barber. “We missed some opportunities on the attacking end, but overall, with our persistence, we knew we were able to get to a higher level, and once we were at that point, we executed.”
Amy Tran, making her 100th international appearance, was impenetrable in the second half, denying several Argentina scoring opportunities with brilliant saves.
“Amy never needs any motivation to play,” said Bodimeade, “but I think the moment of her hundredth game and her first game in the Olympics and knowing she’s worked extremely hard to get to this point – it’s come to fruition today.”
Even more remarkable for the U.S. defense was the fact that both Kate Barber and Kayla Bashore were both separately sent off for yellow card fouls, leaving the Americans with only ten players for almost twenty minutes of the second half.
In weather conditions that ranged from a dull drizzle to a steady downpour, the USA chipped away at the Argentine defense.
With six minutes remaining, Kelly Doton launched a shot from above the scoring circle. Angie Loy picked up the pass and scored the second goal for the U.S. to tie the game. The heads of several Argentina players dropped.
“We had it won five minutes before the end of the match,” said Argentina team captain Magdalena Aicega. “The number of penalty corners and penetration into the attacking circle – we had more than the USA. That’s why I’m not happy. We made some mistakes in the defense.”
The USA had the opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds with a penalty corner goal, but Argentina successfully blocked the shot.
The U.S. Olympic Team for Women’s Field Hockey returns to competition against Japan on Tuesday, August 12. Japan, ranked number six in the world, defeated New Zealand, 2-1, in play earlier in the day. The United States is slotted in Pool B with Argentina, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and New Zealand.
For media and interview requests in Beijing, contact Jeff Gamza at 13910824442.
For more information about the U.S. Olympic Team for Field Hockey, visit fieldhockey.teamusa.org.
For more information on USA Field Hockey, visit www.usafieldhockey.com .