Late Goal by Cuba Ties USMNT at Pan American Games

July 14, 2015, 6:20 a.m. (ET)

TORONTO, Canada – July 14, 2015 – On the first day of pool play competition for the men’s division at the 2015 Pan American Games, the U.S. Men’s National Field Hockey Team tied 48th FIH World Ranked Cuba 3-3 in a hard fought physical game. Just last week in Boston, Mass. Team USA met Argentina for two preparatory test matches. These games were a solid starting ground in anticipation of the level of play they were guaranteed to encounter in Toronto.

Winning the opening possession, the USMNT acknowledged the need to maintain organization throughout the entire pitch and capitalize on all possible chances. While holding defensively strong to eliminate a threatening circle entry against Cuba, Team USA stopped the play and quickly transitioned it up the field earning their first penalty corner in the 9th minute. Although Will Holt’s (Camarillo, Calif.) initial shot on the corner was stopped by Cuba's flyer, Mortiz Runzi (Boston, Mass.) found the rebound and fired off a drag flick to put Team USA up 1-0.

Cuba responded by quickly transitioning play to their attacking end and sending fast shots on cage. Still under pressure, USA’s goalkeeper Chris Rea (San Diego, Calif.) made a spectacular glove save to deny an aerial ball and keep Cuba off the scoreboard.

Physical play continued as both teams struggled for possession. In the 23rd minute, Team USA gained momentum and earned their second penalty corner. The stick stop was bobbled, but the ball found a Cuban foot awarding Team USA another penalty corner. On the second attempt, the plan was executed perfectly and Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Ger.) buried the ball into the lower left corner of the cage to establish a new score of USA 2, Cuba 0.

The scoring continued five minutes later when Holt blasted a backhanded shot from close range to lift Team USA to a score of 3-0 just before the half.

"We played very, very well in the first half and it obviously showed on the scoreboard," said U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach Chris Clements. "However, we weren't quite up to par in the second period, and it made life on the pitch difficult for us. The result is what it is, and we'll move forward from this in a positive fashion." 

Coming out of halftime strong, Cuba sped into their attacking end to secure their first penalty corner of the game in the 32nd minute. The opportunity translated into a goal as Cuba’s Maikel Tritzant found the back of the cage from the right side of the circle to create a score of USA 3, Cuba 1. 
Team USA was quick to react as they applied high pressure on Cuba’s defense to turnover the ball and earn their fourth penalty corner in the 39th minute. The shot was turned away by Cuba's goalie. 

The fourth quarter started with back and forth action as both teams attempted to gain possession. Cuba was able to grab ball control in the 51st minute to record a second goal courtesy of Yoandy Blanco who beat Rea and netted the ball near the stroke mark to make the score USA 3, Cuba 2.

Team USA’s defensive unit dug deep and showed grit in the final match minutes but were unable to keep an equalizer off the scoresheet. Cuba's tying goal came off a penalty corner in the final minute of play by Blanco on a low drag flick.

"Our ultimate tournament goal is to win a medal," said Kaeppeler. "We can accomplish this by consistently playing strong like we did in the first half of today's match. We made a few unacceptable errors that conceded three goals. We'll continue to grow and improve as a team as we shift our focus to the next game."

The U.S. Men’s National Team will be back on the pitch Thursday, July 16 at 11 a.m. EST against familiar opponent Argentina in their second pool play game. For all information regarding USA Field Hockey at the 2015 Pan American Games, including the full schedules, check out the event page and be sure to follow on Twitter @USAFieldHockey for live Team USA game updates.