Matt Simpson shoots against Lithuania during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 03, 2021 in Chiba, Japan.
TOKYO — Friday afternoon’s game between Team USA’s men’s goalball and the defending champions, Lithuania, was a game that had played out before. In Tokyo — where Lithuania beat out the Americans with a score of 13-3 in the final preliminary round game — and at the last Paralympics.
Playing against one another in Rio in 2016, the teams faced off in the fight for gold. Ultimately Lithuania would finish victorious 14-8.
But Team USA was hoping today’s outcome after 10 days of play at Makuhari Messe Hall would be different.
In an agonizingly hard-fought battle between the two powerhouses, Lithuania would walk away with the bronze after a steady-scoring game with the outcome of 10-7.
For Daryl Walker, who was one of the four guys on the team in Rio, it felt great to get the team’s first goal after 12 minutes in and down 2-0. A straight shot into the back of the net is a move Walker has become known for.
“Anybody who knows me, they know that I’m that guy that loves throwing that shot. It’s clean, it’s fast, and it’s smooth.”
“It felt really good to plug that in,” Walker said. “Five years ago, when I played in the gold medal match against Lithuania — which was cool that we were playing for the bronze this time — I scored one goal in that game. And to be able to get that early in the game —and even starting that game — was amazing.”
Earlier in the tournament, the team was able to come back from a devastating blow when their team captain, Tyler Merren, was injured.
“We lost our team leader, our best player, we lost him in the first half of the first game,” Matt Simpson said, who was responsible for a pair of points in today’s game. “Losing Tyler as we did and for us to end up in the top four was a real win for us.”
The team was also down first-time Paralympian Zachary Buhler, 24, who was sitting out the medal match as a form of strategy should the game go into extra throws.
It quickly became a team effort for the remaining four guys, with everyone putting up two points. John Kusku was the sole scorer, getting in the first point in the second half.
The game started fast and furious when Walker threw a ball that landed long, giving Lithuania their first point with less than 15 seconds in.