Nor.Ca Wrap Up
Taking home hardware my friends is better than not taking home any hardware. Although we didn’t perform as well as thought we could of, we accomplished the most important goal set before heading down to Mexico City last week; qualifying for Pan American Championships in Uruguay this June.
Last update we were halfway through the tourney with Greenland having punched their ticket, three teams at 1-1 with an almost guaranteed spot and Puerto Rico fighting for their Pan Am Championship lives. Our third game in three days was against the most physical and technically most talented team, Greenland. The last time we met Greenland in Argentina we held a five goal lead 10 minutes into the second half before completely shutting down on offense and allowing them to come from behind and beat us. Those of us that were in Argentina remembered that disastrous blow up and how it felt and used it as motivation this time around. It didn’t matter. Although Team USA played a very sound game all around, we missed out on opportunities in the last five minutes and took another L to the friendly guys from the big frozen country. Greenland held a 1-2 goal advantage the entire second half and we just couldn’t get over the hump. Even with a very ill-advised shove and subsequent two minute penalty from a Greenland player with three minutes remaining, Team USA didn’t get the job done. One shot off the post, a travel (that wasn’t a travel, especially not in Europe) and a turnover wasted away the one man advantage. A two minute make up call with a little more than a minute left destroyed any chance we had of earning a tie or a win. Our defense held Greenland to 30 goals, their lowest output of the tournament by far but it wasn’t enough; final 30-27.
The loss put us at 1-2 going into the final night of the tournament and a big match up with the host, Mexico for third place, a .500 record and bragging rights. Mexico had beaten us the last time we played them on their home soil in what remains the most embarrassing loss for me personally in a USA jersey at the Pan Am Games. In Argentina, we redeemed ourselves beating them handily. The rubber match would prove to be a repeat of that Argentina match. The young Mexicans who had put on quite a show all week, pummeling Puerto Rico in game 1 and hanging tough against both the bigger Cuba and Greenland , seemingly didn’t have the gas to keep it up in the fourth match of the week. We jumped to an early lead and never relinquished our hold, winning 29-20 in what turned into a rather anticlimactic yet very solid victory for Team USA. Four games in four days paid a toll on a lot of our guys, Gary Hines and Adam Elzoghby both rested during this game, forcing others to step up on the offensive end.
One area where we were obviously the best team was in between the pipes. Gabe, Ivan and Danny were quite possibly the three best goalies in the tournament and they were forced to split time on one squad. They all played incredibly, keeping us within striking distance of Cuba and Greenland when our offense went stagnant for periods and giving us a clear advantage and utter confidence against Puerto Rico and Mexico. All three made it out of the tournament with noses intact as well. I do not know the numbers, but I am positive their combined save percentage was the best in the tournament by far. Cuba was the only team to give up less goals than we did, but they had the advantage of our poop in the punch bowl 15 goal performance. We gave up less than 100 goals throughout four fast paced games against quality opponents. Danny even made a foray onto the playing surface when Mexico full court pressed us at the end, displaying the ultimate unselfish play; instead of firing a shot and being heralded as the only goalie to score in the tournament, he dropped off a beautiful pass to the circle for a gimmie, before sprinting back to deflect yet another Mexican shot out of bounds. All around great work from the crazies who are willing to have balls launched at them at 70 mph from point blank range. Good work goalies.
Finishing the tournament at 2-2 with a goal differential of +3 put us in sole possession of third place, gave us a spot on the medal stand and some hardware to bring back to the States. It feels good to have won a few games, however we know we could have definitely performed better against Cuba and had chances against Greenland as well. As a team we battled together and for each and kept a positive energy flow even after such a dismal start to the tournament. This team, despite being the most diverse I have been a part of over the years, played together better than any other team in recent memory. Kudos to Coach Cuesta and Latulippe for bringing this squad together and preparing us in such a limited amount of time. Their dedication to the players and the sport mixed with their daily preparation paid huge dividends. Coach Cuesta’s humor and fire are a great combination. He is obviously very passionate about winning and starting a handball tradition in America that mixes knowledge with passion and the one thing almost all gritty and determined Americans have; heart.
I’m happy to report that all parties made it to the bus at 545 Sunday morning. Team USA, at least during my tenure has never left a player behind and we kept that streak alive. Sunday morning wake up was early but I’m pretty sure everybody had crashed early after dinner Saturday night, exhausted from the week of handball. Many had more than 12 hours of airport and flight time, some as many as 24. I believe everybody has arrived back home safely, which is the most important detail.
We must thank Mexico and the Olympic Complex workers and tournament staff. They made us feel welcomed and took care of our needs. The food got the job done, the rooms were cleaned daily and the TP was stocked. The gym was a great venue, well lit, when the power didn’t go out (only happened twice which I feel is average) and the Pan Am staff along with the local Mexican staff were friendly and accommodating. Overall, I was very impressed with the whole production.
Thanks to the USATH for giving us the opportunity to go to the tournament and represent our country. It never gets old donning that jersey and hearing the anthem before every game. Having the chance to go to battle with my brothers is an unbelievable feeling. We have a bigger and better goal to focus on now; it would be nice to ruin some other team’s dreams of visiting Qatar in the summer of 2015. Pan Am Championships, here we come! Jordan, over and out.