USMNT Fights Back From Game Long Deficit to Tie Mexico

Images Taken by Andrés Mallen

June 09, 2018, 9:41 p.m. (ET)

SALAMANCA, Mexico – June 9, 2018 – Following two major victories to open up the Hockey Series Open, the U.S. Men’s National Team went head-to-head against FIH Hero World Ranked No. 39 Mexico. The darkened overcast evening set the tone early as the top two teams in the tournament thus far exchanged possessions and goals as quick as the ticking clock. Despite a hard fought contest, USA was forced to battle from behind early and could never fully recover until late in the game when they scored two unanswered goals to tie the host nation 5-5 at the Cancha de Hockey Siglo XXI in Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico.

“What happened was Mexico played a fantastic game, especially in the attacking 25 and defensive 25 yard line,” said Rutger Wiese, U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach, after the game. “They were ahead of us the entire game and scored a few really nice goals, so congratulations to them.”

USA once again emphasized clean set ups and unforced errors as just a few team goals for Saturday’s matchup. Among the most important was figuring out the momentum of the host nation early and often. The beginning of the match saw the red, white and blue nearly made that a reality when the first penalty corner of the game was awarded to them in the 5th minute. While this attempt was mishandled, USA nearly capitalized on a second opportunity when Mohan Gandhi (Ventura, Calif.) hit the post on his shot. Still dominating ball control in the opening quarter, USA nearly got on the board again in the 9th minute when Alex Grassi (Brookeville, Md.) connected with Christian De Angelis (Doylestown, Pa.) but the ensuing shot was blocked by Mexico's goalkeeper Jose Hernandez. Back the other way, Mexico pressed hard along the far side as Francisco Aguilar entered the circle, beating a falling Adam Miller (Panama City, Fla.) to shoot and score a field goal to take a 1-0 lead. With the home crowd warmed up, Mexico kept the pressure toward the end of the first quarter, when their first penalty corner of the game was successfully converted to make it 2-0. Up against the clock USA quickly countered downfield after the reset. On the near sideline Tom Barratt (Greensboro, N.C) fed a long sweep to Deegan Huisman (Almere, The Netherlands) who penetrated the circle and delivered a field goal strike to make it 2-1 in the 15th minute.

USA tried to keep the late momentum flowing as the second quarter got underway. While they had several chances inside their attacking half, USA struggled to find each other on passes. Another penalty corner chance in the 20th minute gave USA a good look to tie, but Mexico's goalkeeper Hernandez answered once again to keep the ball out of the net. Moments later, Mexico capitalized on a broken down play by USA deep in their own end. The ball took an awkward bounce at the feet of Gandhi, where a waiting Aguilar was able to take control, shoot and score to extend Mexico’s lead to 3-1 in the 21st minute. With the deficit back to two goals, USA responded swiftly on another penalty corner try. This time, the team’s efforts proved worthwhile when Grassi tipped in a mishandled trap by Johnny Orozco (Ventura, Calif.), bringing the score to 3-2 at the half.

However, Mexico came out of the break  with another scoring opportunity in the 33rd minute. Luis Villages got ahead of a defending Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany) in front of the net to tip in their fourth goal of the contest. Finding themselves in familiar territory, USA responded on their next penalty corner which was perfectly timed by JaJa Kentwell (Spring City, Pa.) to pull the squad back within one. Seconds after the reset, Mexico would jump right back to a comfortable lead when Aguilar was left unchallenged in front of USA's goalkeeper Jonathan Klages (Berlin, Germany) for the field goal. With the score now 5-3, Ajai Dhadwal (Agoura Hills, Calif.) made it a one point game once again after beating his defender and getting the shot off just as he entered the circle to bring the score to 5-4 in favor of Mexico in the 39th minute. William Holt (Camarillo, Calif.) would follow up on USA’s next penalty corner to tie the game in the 40th minute. Immediately following the goal, Huisman was given a yellow card for sliding into Mexico's goalkeeper Hernandez, sending USA down a player for the remainder of the quarter.

The final frame tested both teams as rain began to drench the pitch. After swapping control of the ball and each team having a scoring opportunity, Villegas was given a yellow card in the 53rd minute to give USA the man advantage for a large portion of the remainder of the game. Mexico’s defense stood strong in the middle to keep the score at a 5-5 tie at the final horn.

Wiese was quick to comment after the game that allowing a goal seconds after their own was inexcusable as he shifted toward the team’s plan heading into their final match.

“I was not surprised about Mexico,” added Wiese. “Certain areas we didn’t execute. If you don’t execute, I don’t care who you’re playing, you paid a price. We’re going to review a few things and get ready for tomorrow because we can still win the tournament.”

The U.S. Men’s National Team wraps up their round robin tournament against No. 73 Panama on Sunday, June 10 at 4:00 p.m. ET. Watch USA’s final match of the Hockey Series Open on live stream by clicking here.