Strong Start by USMNT with Opening Win Over South Africa in FIH Series Finals

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June 06, 2019, 2:22 a.m. (ET)

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BHUBANESWAR, India – June 6, 2019 – In the first game of the FIH Series Finals, No. 25 U.S. Men’s National Team took to the pitch at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India against No. 16 South Africa. Although it has been six years since these Pool B teams met, USA produced a well-executed game plan to keep South Africa’s pressure under control. Scoreless after three quarters, the red, white and blue tallied two in the fourth and used smart possession hockey to secure a 2-0 victory.

“It is always great to win the game but winning the opening game usually provides momentum and growing confidence moving forward,” said Rutger Wiese, USMNT Head Coach. “We are very happy with the result.”

After winning the opening push back, USA knew that a half-field press was critical in maintaining South Africa’s pressure. A close chance came for South Africa in the 3rd minute after a free hit taken quickly followed with Austin Smith sending a ball to Richard Pautz who just missed a reverse deflection on goal. Midway through the first quarter USA earned their first circle penetration after Patrick Harris (Moorpark, Calif.) dumped it back to Kei Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany) who attempted a turning shot, but it was well defended. Higher ranked South Africa held much of the possession for the remainder of the quarter as USA’s defensive effort kept the game scoreless.

The second quarter was action-packed as both teams produced more scoring opportunities. Deegan Huisman (Almere, The Netherlands) registered USA’s first shot after quick touches found him with space but his shot was saved by South Africa’s goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse. Down the other way, South Africa produced another close chance as Nicholas Spooner deflected a backhand out of the air that hit the crossbar. This was followed shortly after by a succession of four penalty corners in a row for South Africa. The first three attempts were read well by flyer K. Kaeppeler as the fourth saw South Africa recover from a missed trap at the top and Spooner get a backhand shot off. The halftime score remained tied 0-0.

After trailing in all statistic column, the third quarter saw USA come out of halftime with a fighting mentality. The red, white and blue produced five shots to South Africa’s three while also earning two penalty corners. The frame started with South Africa earning three consecutive penalty corners but USA goalkeeper Jonathan Klages (Berlin, Germany) denied the chances. Positive offensive movement started to connect for USA as they were rewarded in the 38th minute with their first penalty corner of the game after Johnny Orozco (Ventura, Calif.) sent a hard ball into the circle. Aki Kaeppeler’s (Stuttgart, Germany) drag was saved and P. Harris followed up and scored but the whistle blew before issuing another penalty corner. Not outcome came as the game headed into the final quarter still scoreless.

With continued determination, it took USA only one minute into the fourth quarter to earn another penalty corner after a long-threaded ball. A different variation on the top saw Paul Singh (Simi Valley, Calif.) send a hard push toward goal and inserter Christian DeAngelis (Doylestown, Pa.) got a touch on it behind goalkeeper Pieterse to finish and give USA a 1-0 lead. Trailing one goal fueled South Africa as they continued to impend forward with chances, but they were continually met by Klages and a collective USA defensive effort. In the 57th minute, a run down the right side of the field through Huisman found Michael Barminski (Ventura, Calif.), was bumped through K.Kaeppeler and strongly finished off a support run by Singh to extend the lead. USA used smart possession hockey and passes in the final three minutes to keep control and secure a 2-0 victory.

With eleven saves and part of the unit that denied nine penalty corners, USA goalkeeper Jonathan Klages (Berlin, Germany) was named Man of the Match following the game.

“I’m extremely happy with this result,” said Klages, following the game. “It was the first game of the tournament and we did a lot to prep for it. Of course, we can’t get comfortable and we need to continue to build upon this.”

“We needed the first half to really grow in the game,” commented Wiese on takeaways from this game. “The second half we played well especially the third quarter when we created some chances and penalty corners. Now are focus will shift to the next game against Mexico.”

The U.S. Men’s National Team will return to action on Saturday, June 8 at 7:30 a.m. ET for their second game in Pool B against Mexico. For more information, including results, full schedule, rosters and more, check out the FIH Series Finals event page by clicking here. #FIHSeriesFinals