USMNT Primed for Strong FIH Series Finals Performance

June 01, 2019, 12:52 p.m. (ET)

Image courtesy of India Hockey

BHUBANESWAR, India – June 1, 2019 – In less than one week the FIH Series Finals will get underway at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India. The No. 25 U.S. Men’s National Team has been preparing for the upcoming tournament since gaining entry nearly one year ago as the winners of the Hockey Series Open in Salamanca, Mexico. The squad’s ultimate goal of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be one step closer as one of the top two finishers of the 10-day tournament. In their way in pool play is Pan American foe Mexico, as well as Japan and South Africa, two opponents that the red, white and blue have not faced in a few years.

No. 18 Japan
The gold medalists of the 2018 Asian Games have been hard at work since the New Year began. In March the team participated in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, a tournament that head coach Siegfried Aikman stated would be a good test as to where his team stands in terms of international competition. They placed fifth out of six participating squads with one win and four losses. 

Led by 29-year-old captain Manabu Yamashita, who has 174 international caps, Samurai Japan’s roster is a mix of young and veteran talent, with several returning players from the gold medal squad in 2018. Japan played in a five invitation games against China from April 10-16, angainst Korea from May 24-29.

It has been two years since Japan topped USA 2-0 in the semifinals of FIH Hockey World League Round 2 in Tacarigua, Trinidad and Tobago. After going scoreless in the first half, Japan opened up the scoring in the 38th minute before adding on another in the 43rd. Forward efforts highlighted by Tom Barratt (Greensboro, N.C.), Pat Harris (Moorpark, Calif.) Paul Singh (Simi Valley, Calif.) were not enough to break through Japan’s defensive unit as the defeat sent USA to the third place game against Russia.

No. 39 Mexico
It’s been one year since host nation Mexico placed second in the Hockey Series Open where they fought tooth and nail against USA for the top spot in their tournament meeting. Despite dominating control in the first half, USA fell behind early and was forced to rally late in the game to tie 5-5 Both teams finished with 10 points in the standings, with final placement determined by goal differential, giving the edge to USA. Francisco Aguilar led all players in the Hockey Series open with 16 total goals, with Guillermo Pedraza and Luis Villegas bringing up the rear with six and five goals, respectively.

Since Salamanca, Mexico was quick return to the pitch with competition in the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia. After stunning Trinidad and Tobago in the semifinals with a 4-2 shootout victory, Mexico came up short to Cuba in the final. Coming in to Bhubaneswar, they are a new looking team with just nine players on roster that competed in the Hockey Series Open. Among them is captain Roberto Garcia and fellow leader Edgar Garcia.

No. 16 South Africa
Gold medal winners of the 2017 Hockey Africa Cup of Nations, No. 16 South Africa, also sit in Pool B. They recently competed against Namibia in a three-game test series from May 27-30, but earlier in the month they officially lost familiar faces Rhett Halkett and Julian Hykes, who both announced their retirement from international hockey. The recognizable pair played last year in the 2018 Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar, where the team was eliminated in pool play. Now under the guidance of head coach Garreth Ewing, the goal is to lead the team through 2022 and the next World Cup, but will see the FIH Series Finals as a first major test before shifting gears to the continental championships.

The most recent matchup with USA was back in 2013 at FIH Hockey World League Round 2 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where South Africa won 6-1.

No. 25 United States
One year ago, USMNT Head Coach Rutger Wiese said the Hockey Series Open served as a true test to see where the squad stood at the halfway point of their 2018 schedule. Since claiming first place, the team took part in five additional test series to round out the year.

In 2019 the trend continued which has seen new and familiar faces joining the USMNT. Among them is Sean Harris (Moorpark, Calif.) who returned after a six-year hiatus and has played a major part in USA’s defensive unit since returning in the test series against South Korea in April. Joined by brother Pat is another set of brothers, Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany), who led USA’s offense throughout Salamanca scoring 13 goals, and Kei Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany) who joined the USMNT shortly after the Hockey Series Open. Alberto Montilla (Allen, Texas) and Julian Croonenberghs (Tervuren, Belgium) will also see more playing time after they both earned their first international cap against Ireland in May.

USMNT Hockey Series Final Roster:

Michael Barminski (Ventura, Calif.), Tom Barratt (Greensboro, N.C.), Sean Cicchi (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Julian Croonenberghs (Tervuren, Belgium), Christian DeAngelis (Doylestown, Pa.), Ajai Dhadwal (Agoura Hills, Calif.), Mohan Gandhi (Ventura, Calif.), Patrick Harris (Moorpark, Calif.), Sean Harris (Moorpark, Calif.), Will Holt (Camarillo, Calif.), Deegan Huisman (Almere, The Netherlands), Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany), Kei Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany), Jonathan Klages (Berlin, Germany), Alberto Montilla (Allen, Texas), Johnny Orozco (Ventura, Calif.), Paul Singh (Simi Valley, Calif.), Daan Wisselink (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

USMNT FIH Series Finals Schedule:

Wednesday June 5 USA vs. South Africa 11:15 p.m. ET
Saturday, June 8 USA vs. Mexico 7:30 a.m. ET
Sunday, June 9 USA vs. Japan 11:15 p.m. ET

*Per the FIH, all games will be live streamed

The FIH Series Finals include some of the best teams in the world and are one of the roads to reach the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The top two teams from each FIH Series Finals event will secure a place in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers which will be held in October and November 2019 (*).

For more information regarding the FIH Series Finals including the full schedule, rosters, results and more, check out the official event page by clicking here. #FIHSeriesFinals #RoadToTokyo

(*) Note: if Japan, Scotland or Wales finish in the top 2 of their respective pools, they will not secure a place in the Olympic Games Qualifiers. Japan have already qualified as both host and winners of the Asian Games; for Scotland and Wales, the reason is that England are the nominated country for GBR’s qualification pathway. If any of these three teams do finish in the top 2, the team that finishes third does NOT automatically qualify for the Olympic Games Qualifiers. Any such additional place is determined by the FIH World Rankings as at the completion of the continental championships (8 September 2019)