Inahara, Goodreau, and Hines Spark Home "Last Chance" Victory for Team USA Men

March 08, 2015, 11:58 p.m. (ET)

Greg Inahara led the U.S. Men to a 25-21 home "Last Chance" victory over Uruguay

By: Maurice M. Godwin
USA Team Handball Communications Specialist
maurice@usateamhandball.org

AUBURN, Ala. – After an underwhelming start, Team USA gave the home crowd a show in the second half to capture the first win of the Men's "Last Chance" Series.

The U.S. Men last competed against Uruguay in the 2014 Pan American Championships (Montevideo, Uruguay), where a trip to the 2015 World Handball Championships in Qatar was at stake. Team USA did not perform very well in the first half of the match against the host team, and were down 10 goals (15-5) by halftime.

After employing an all-out pressure defensive scheme in the second half to put Team Uruguay on their heels, the U.S. was able to trim the deficit considerably. However, the first-half hole was too deep to climb out of and Uruguay eventually held on for a 27-23 win over the visiting team.

Saturday, in the first half of the rematch between the two teams, the U.S. Men did not seem as urgent to return the favor against their Pan American rival. In fact, there was no clear sense of urgency by either team, and except for a few special plays here and there by the U.S. (including a Serbian alley-oop wing connection from Djordje Radovanovic to Vladimir Andjelic), the first half largely came and went.

Team USA again went into halftime down against Uruguay, though this time by only two goals (12-10). Radovanovic, the New York City THC wing and also the newest addition to the Men's team, led the U.S. with five first half goals as his international experience and deft left-handed shooting kept Team USA afloat.

Fortunately, the game is played in two halves, and again Coach Javier Garcia Cuesta inspired his squad to play harder after intermission.

The final period began with Team USA at a disadvantage due to captain Jordan Fithian serving a two-minute suspension earned just before halftime. However, Uruguay did not capitalize much during the power play and USA was able to remain in striking distance. 

Instead of veteran Danny Caparelli, Coach Cuesta elected to go with goalkeeper Gabe Goodreau in the second half to give the defense a necessary boost. Goodreau, who was originally left off the "Last Chance" Men's roster, had a rough outing in the 2014 Pan Am Championships in Uruguay. But after an impressive week of practices leading up to the home Repêchage match, he was inserted into the lineup and did not disappoint. 

With Goodreau in goal, Team USA switched to a 3-3 pressure defensive scheme (three defenders playing at about or beyond the 9-meter line, with the other three behind), the same tactic that ignited the would-be comeback from the 2014 Pan Am Championships. Uruguay again struggled to advance the ball against Team USA's defense, and the U.S. went on a 4-goal scoring streak (Chris Morgan, Radovanovic from 7 m, Morgan again, and Inahara) to tie the game at 17 and force Uruguay to call time-out. 

After trading a few more goals with Team USA, Uruguay finally ran out of steam. With Inahara's active arms and legs leading the way, Team USA was able to force Uruguay into poor passes and outright turnovers. Even when pivot Vladimir Bicvic was given a second two-minute suspension (much to the dissatisfaction of the home crowd), Goodreau was immediately able to make up for the defensive disadvantage with a save which led to an Inahara fast-break goal and a 21-19 USA lead. 

Following another Goodreau save with 10 minutes to go, Oregon-bred Inahara and Georgia-native Gary Hines led the defensive and offensive charges, respectively.

With a defender in his chest on a half-court play, "Hangtime" Hines rose up and fired a rocket into the back of the net from nine meters. On the ensuing possession, Inahara (5'10"), giving up at least three inches in height to the opposing left back, delivered two timely fouls to disrupt Uruguay's offense before Bicvic and Goodreau together blocked and saved a 10-meter shot.

Shortly after, Goodreau timely and masterfully saved yet another goal from the Uruguay left wing which led to an eruption on the Team USA bench and in the stands. Then, again due to the pressure of Team USA's 3-3 defense, Carsen Chun stole a pass and raced down the court to deliver a bullet past the Uruguay goalie, putting USA up 23-19.

To finish the job, Hines caught a pass after another USA steal, faked a pass to running-mate Inahara and drove home the fast-break dagger which led to a final Uruguay time-out and another roar from the spectators in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Team USA went on to win 25-21 (outscoring Uruguay 15-9 in the second half), to the sound of "USA! USA!" chants from the visitors in attendance. A few of those visitors were handball Olympians, who were recognized at halftime and were honored by choosing the Most Valuable Players for both teams.

Diego Morandiera was chosen as Uruguay's MVP, while Inahara was selected for the U.S. team.

After the match, stand-out goalie Goodreau credited the crowd for his inspiration and said he knew he had to "come in and give the team a boost."

A relieved Coach Cuesta mentioned that he was "very happy [Team USA] was able to turn it around in the second half." He added, "we weren't playing very well in the first half and the goalkeeper of the other team did a good job. But in the second half, thanks to our 3-3 defense, they got a little confused and we were able to get some goals."

This event was the largest team handball event held in the Beard-Eaves stadium to date, and Cuesta believed the raucous crowd had an impact on the outcome. "It was great," he exclaimed. "The excitement that I saw [from the crowd] was exciting for us too. We need that support. This is a great sport to watch and to play."

The Men's and Women's National Teams will travel to Montevideo, Uruguay, to compete in the second and final match of the "Last Chance" Series. If the Men's Team wins again (or loses the second game by less than four goals), they will qualify for the 2015 Pan American Championships in Toronto.

FINAL SCORE: USA – 25, URU – 21

Goals – USA: Hines (7), Radovanovic (6), Inahara (3), Morgan (3), Chun (2), Andjelic (2), Fithian (1), Bicvic (1)
Goals – URU: Morandeira (5), Velazco (3), Ansolabehere (2), Botejara (2), Gamba (2), Gamiz (2), Lees (1), Mendez (1), Rubbo (1), Chaparro (1), Fabra (1)

Red Card – USA: Bicvic (3 two-min. supsensions)

Referees: Julian Lopez Grillo (ARG), S. Lenci (ARG)
Visit USATeamHandball.org regularly for updates on Team USA and the Pan American Games "Last Chance" Series