LILLE, FRANCE – The USA Men’s National Team took on Ireland today in the fourth match of the Champions Challenge II. Though the score line reflected a final of 6-2 for the Irish, the game itself felt closer and the Americans showed that they are starting to close the gap between themselves and their European counterparts.
As the game opened the US looked to disrupt Ireland’s style of up-tempo pressing designed to break a team early on in the game. And though the Irish would take a 1-0 lead in the 4th minute when Conor Harte scored off of a penalty corner, the US would settle into the match and keep it scoreless until the waning seconds. The US would miss an equalizer goal of their own when Will Holt’s (Camarillo, CA) deflection touch from a Jarred Martin (Albany, NY) pass into the middle was narrowly saved by a diving Irish defender in the latter minutes of the period. However, Ireland took advantage of the miss and used quick passes to move the ball up field. Catching the US defense off-guard, Irish forward Gareth Watkins would send a ball past goalie Tom Sheridan (New York, NY) with four seconds remaining in the first half to give Ireland a 2-0 lead going into the break.
“Having missed that chance for our goal and to have them score right before the half ended was really tough,” US midfielder Kevin Barber said. “We felt we still had a chance, absolutely, but going into the half with a two goal deficit just made it feel like the mountain we had to climb was a little higher.”
The second half opened with a similar feel to the first with both teams taking chances and attempting to thwart the other’s attack. In the 44th minute, the Irish would win back-to-back penalty corners that resulted in a third goal from flicker Chris Cargo and immediately instilled a sense of urgency in the US. With a three-goal deficit staring at them, the Americans would start to take riskier chances and an experienced Ireland team would capitalize on US turnovers with balanced counter attacks. Two quick field goals in the 45th and 51st minutes would give Ireland a 5-0 lead that seemed simply too much to overcome.
But where in the past the game would have been lost, today’s US team showed signs of life and went back on the attack. When the US won a penalty corner in the 53rd minute it would be Tyler Sundeen (Simi Valley, CA) that would be ready for a rebound shot that put the US on the board. Carrying the momentum, the US would strike again in the 56th minute when Pat Harris (Moorpark, CA) would convert on another penalty corner. Though there was suddenly hope for the match a three goal deficit was simply too much as Ireland punctuated the match with a field goal from forward Peter Caruth in the 62nd minute to seal the 6-2 victory.
“We had to start taking chances in the second half and some of those were a little careless and they [Ireland] took advantage of our turnovers,” Coach Nick Conway commented afterwards. “However, we definitely played some of our best hockey against a European side in a very long time and we have to be pleased with those pieces.”
While the US men are obviously disappointed with today’s loss there are still games to be played. This coming Saturday they will face a rematch with the Czech Republic and look to find their way owards the 5th/6th match. Keep checking back for updates and following on facebook to remember to keep cheering for Red, White, and Blue!
Both Kevin Barber (Camarillo, CA) and Steve Mann (New York, NY) received their 50th international caps today.