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DURBAN, South Africa – February 8, 2020 – Perfect playing conditions and a full crowd set up a competitive opening test series match between the No. 24 U.S. Men’s National Team and No. 14 South Africa at Ashton International College in Durban, South Africa. Down early in the contest, USA tied the game in the second half to set up an exciting final quarter of play. The home team was able to convert twice in the last 15 minutes to claim a 4-2 victory over the red, white and blue.
South Africa looked to start off quickly as they gained a circle entry in the opening moments but USA’s defensive unit was swift to halt. Kei Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany) responded with two penetrations on the team’s first offensive opportunity but could not find help on either try. In the 10th minute, South Africa’s Nqobile Ntuli lifted the ball just past USA goalkeeper Jonathan Klages (Berlin, Germany) for the first goal. Adam Miller (Panama City, Fla.) was given a green card in the 13th minute which put USA on defense to round out the first quarter.
USA threatened with another circle entry in the 18th minute set up by Miller and Ajai Dhadwal (Agoura Hills, Calif.) but could not find an open teammate to finish the play. South Africa continued to pressure on offense and forced Klages to make back-to-back saves. Maintaining possession, Clinton Panther found a hole in front of the goal in the 23rd minute to put South Africa up 2-0. Late in the half Matthew Guise-Brown was given consecutive green cards to set USA up with a two-man advantage in the 29th minute. Gerald Cutone (Reading, Mass.) scored on the team's ensuing possession to put USA back within a goal at the half.
South Africa looked to regain their two-goal lead early in the third quarter on another penalty corner but was stopped by a diving Klages. Both squads continued to dual back and forth late into the frame when South Africa aimed to capitalize on a green card issued to Michael Barminski (Ventura, Calif.) in the 39th minute but could not take advantage. Back to 11 players, USA set up for a penalty corner in the 43rd minute where a drag flick by Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany) tied the game,2-2. The team nearly took the lead moments later on their next offensive chance but was denied by South Africa goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse.
USA rapidly moved on offense to start the fourth quarter but could not find room for a clear shot on goal. Play was evenly matched until South Africa was given a penalty stroke in the 53rd minute. Nicholas Spooner successfully converted to put South Africa up 3-2. An additional goal on the team’s final penalty corner made the final score 4-2.
Today’s game marked three milestones for USMNT athletes as Cutone, Michael Mendoza (Monument, Colo.) and Jatin Sharma (South San Francisco, Calif.) earned their first international cap.
"It was an exciting hard fought match today," said Rutger Wiese, USMNT Head Coach. "We could not be more proud of Cutone, Mendoza and Sharma getting their first cap and also with Cutone scoring in his debut match. Our young team is more than holding their own and gaining valuable experience against South Africa who are preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games."
Both USA and South Africa wore black bands on their sleeves and took part in a moment of silence prior to the start of the match. USA did this to honor and remember U.S. National Teams Manager Larry Amar while South Africa honored Jesse Coetzee-Turner, child of Pietie and Roxy Coetzee-Turner, and Harry Suckert, a long-standing member of the KZN Inland hockey community and life long custodian of South African Hockey.
The USMNT returns to the pitch tomorrow at 8 a.m. ET for the second match of the team’s test series against South Africa. Fans can watch the live stream on the Shoott South Africa's Facebook page. For more information, visit the USMNT vs. South Africa event page by clicking here.