Erin Matson competes during the women's field hockey semifinals against Canada at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 6, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
The U.S. field hockey team moved a step closer to knowing its Olympic fate on Friday, and it’s not great news.
Playing the first of a two-game, winner-take-all Olympic qualifying series against India on Friday in Bhubaneswar, India, the 13th-ranked Americans fell 5-1 to the ninth-ranked hosts. Team USA will now have the monumental challenge in Saturday’s rematch, which is also in Bhubaneswar.
Should the U.S. win by more than four goals, it would clinch the Olympic berth due to goal differential. A U.S. win by four goals would result in a shootout to determine which teams goes to Tokyo. Anything else, and the U.S. hopes of returning to a fourth consecutive Olympics and seventh Games overall would fall short.
Despite a strong first half in which the U.S. was arguably the better team, it was India that carried a 1-0 lead into the break.
Kat Sharkey, Ali Froede, Lauren Moyer and Alyssa Parker were among the U.S. players who figured into scoring opportunities as the offense forced India to keep on guard throughout the first half, but it was India’s Lilima Minz who scored after a penalty corner chance breakdown just before halftime.
U.S. goalkeeper Kelsey Bing made a big stop in the third quarter to keep India from getting even further ahead, but three minutes later Sharmila Devi scored from close range and put India up 2-0. India scored one more in the third quarter, again 30 seconds into the fourth and took a 5-0 lead in the 51st minute.
Erin Matson scored the lone U.S. goal on a penalty stroke in the 54th minute, but it was not enough, and the U.S. is now in real danger of missing the Olympics for the first time since 2004.
Team USA is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, which matched the team’s best result since winning a bronze medal in the nation’s Olympic field hockey debut in 1984 in Los Angeles.
The two-game Olympic qualifying format is new this year. Teams earn three points for a win and one for a tie. If the two teams are tied in points as well as goal differential after Saturday’s game then it will go to a shootout to determine who wins the Olympic berth.
Seven teams will win their spots through this method to join the nations that already qualified: host country Japan plus continental championship winners the Netherlands, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. China, Australia and Spain have already qualified through the two-game format heading into this weekend’s games.
In addition to the U.S. and India, Chile is at Great Britain, Italy is at Germany and Canada is at Ireland, all trying to become one of the 12 qualifiers.