JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – July 8, 2017 – On a chilly afternoon at the Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand, known locally as Wits, the U.S. Women’s National Team took on FIH Hero World Ranked No. 20 Chile in their first pool match of the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals. USA struggled to find their rhythm early in the match but a high press shift and smart defense fell in favor of USA as they earned a 1-0 win.
“Sometimes waiting for the first game to begin you kind of come out flat,” said Janneke Schopman, USWNT’s Head Coach. “They played with high pressure and we played right into what they wanted. It was a shift in momentum in the first two quarters but I think the second half we played more like us, exposed their weaknesses and were able to get some good opportunities.”
Off the starting whistle, Chile used their fast pace and quick possession passes to threaten USA’s circle. A series of penalty corners were awarded to Chile but USA’s defensive unit led by goalkeeper Jackie Briggs (Robesonia, Pa.) kept the score at zeros.
Struggling to work the ball forward, USA applied a half-field press to help close midfield channels. The strategy proved to be successful as USA intercepted the play to earn their first penalty corner in the 14th minute. After the initial shot hit a Chile foot, two consecutive re-awards came in the final seconds of the first quarter but no results would come.
USA started the second quarter looking to translate the same momentum as the first, quick and with speed. Possession switched hands for a period but a glimpse came for USA in the 23rd minute when Jill Witmer (Lancaster, Pa.) found space and got a backhand shot off but Chile’s goalkeeper Claudia Schuler made the glove save. Control maintained with USA as they continued to show aggressive attacking chances. Chile earned a penalty corner with one minute remaining in the quarter but could not convert and the halftime score stood at USA 0, Chile 0.
One minute into the third quarter, Chile grabbed a penalty corner. The insert was skewed allowing USA to grab the ball and work possession down field. A close chance came in the 33rd minute when Melissa Gonzalez (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) drove the right baseline and dumped it across and back to an awaiting Witmer. Witmer’s shot was saved and the rebound fell to Michelle Vittese (Cherry Hill, N.J.) but nothing translated. Just two minutes later off a similar build up, this time Vittese showed exceptional individual skills breaking into the circle from the right and centered a pass to Witmer who calmly capitalized at close range with a one-time ball into the net to give USA a 1-0 lead.
USA continued to apply high pressure on Chile as they patiently swung the ball from sideline to sideline. A few more circle penetrations came for USA as the third quarter came to close.
The final 15 minutes saw no let up from USA as the same pressure and ambitious mentality was present. Being patient, USA’s defense consisting of Katelyn Ginolfi (Lewes, Del.), Ashley Hoffman (Mohnton, Pa.), Caitlin Van Sickle (Wilmington, Del.) and Julia Young (Yorktown, Va.) swung the ball in the back waiting for the precise chance to threaten forward. Young earned a 5-minute yellow card for an aggressive foul in the 49th minute. A player down USA played smart, maintaining possession as they looked to close out the game.
With four-minutes remaining, Kathleen Sharkey (Moosic, Pa.) was threaded the ball forward and found herself in the middle of the circle in a 1v2 situation with one of Chile’s defender and goalkeeper and she ultimately earned USA’s fifth penalty corner. Searching for the equalizer, Chile pushed until the very end earning a penalty corner in the 58th minute but USA’s defense held strong and the final score would stand at USA 1, Chile 0.
“All in all, it is good to have a win,” added Schopman. “I know we can play a lot better and I know we can grow for the second game.”
A top four finish in the women’s competition will guarantee Team USA a place in the FIH Hockey World League Finals in Auckland, New Zealand at the end of the year. A top five placement at this event will ensure a place at next summer’s women’s Hockey World Cup in London, England.
A career milestone was reached in today’s match as lone goal scorer Witmer secured her 100th international cap with Team USA. An integral part of USA’s offensive line, Rio Olympian Witmer has been on the USWNT since 2013 and has achieved a handful of international experience at various test series and events such as the Pan American Games, Rabobank Hockey World Cup, Champions Challenge, Champions Trophy and FIH Hockey World League tournaments.
The U.S. Women’s National Team will face India on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 12 p.m. EST in their second pool play match. For more information on the event including schedule, results and live stream, visit the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals event page on usafieldhockey.com.