The USA Women and Men will be taking on Uruguay in the first match of a two game series tonight in Auburn, Alabama. The Women’s match starts at 5:30 PM (Local) and the Men’s match starts at 8:00 PM (Local). (Auburn is located in the U.S. Central Time Zone which is GMT-6.)
Livestream site: Link
USA Team Handball also indicates that the full match will be posted to Youtube a couple hours after the matches,
Taped Delay: Link
Understanding the 2 Game Playoff Format
These matches are only the first matches of a two match playoff. If a team wins both matches they, of course win the playoff, 2 wins to 0. If, however, there is a split with both teams winning one match, the winner will be determined by overall aggregate goal differential for both matches. For example if the USA Women wins the first match by 6 goals, but loses the second match by 5 goals, the USA Women will still advance due to having a “plus 1” aggregate goal differential.
Another way to look at it, is that the USA and Uruguay are playing a very long game with the first half being played tonight and the second half being played next Saturday in Uruguay. Because of this format it’s very important to note that simply winning the match by a narrow margin at home could be a unsatisfactory result. The goal is instead to win the first match by as many goals as possible. Or to put it another way, there is no “garbage time” at the end of the game as every goal counts in the end.
Finally adding to the home court advantage for both teams is the travel time required to and from Auburn, AL and Montevideo, Uruguay. Depending on the flights taken it could be anywhere from 17-25 hours of total travel time. And, on top of that there’s a four hour time difference, meaning that the Uruguay Men’s body clocks will be on Midnight when their match starts at 8:00 PM in Auburn.
A Closer Look at the Women’s Game
On paper the Uruguay Women appear to have an edge in this contest. This is primarily based on the last match between the USA and Uruguay played in July, 2013 at the Pan American Championships in the Dominican Republic. The match was close for a half (14-12), but Uruguay totally dominated the U.S. in the second half en route to a 30-17 victory.
The rosters, however, have changed significantly for both teams. Notably, Uruguay is missing 7 players that scored 16 of Uruguay’s 30 goals in the 2013 match. The USA is also missing 7 players, but only 1 of them, Stephanie Hesser was a significant contributor in the 2013 match. And, Hesser who is perhaps injured and unavailable appears to have slipped on the depth chart anyway.
Also, the recent 3 game series against Puerto Rico might have been a breakthrough performance for the USA Women. For months the USA Women have struggled to put points on the board usually scoring in the low 20s. This past weekend, however, they scored 29, 30 and 31 goals and if they can match that goal total against Uruguay it may be enough to put them over the top.
On paper, though, Uruguay is a stronger team than Puerto Rico and plays an aggressive 3-3 defense that has given the USA Women problems in the past. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. handles that pressure.
A Closer Look at the Men’s Game
Uruguay and the USA Men have an even more recent match that provides a window of what to expect. This past summer they met in a pivotal Group Play match at the 2014 Pan American Championships to decide which of the two teams would make the semifinals. In that match the USA played very poorly at the start and ended up being down 15-5 at halftime. An aggressive defense surprised Uruguay in the second half allowing the U.S. to catch up and make the final score a more respectable 27-23, but the outcome was never really in doubt.
The rosters for both teams have changed some and both teams are missing a key player due to injuries. The U.S. is missing Adam El Zogby who plays professionally in Egypt and Uruguay is missing Massimo Cancio who plays in Spain’s Professional league.
The U.S. will surely be relying on its 2 veterans playing professionally in Europe, Gary Hines and Martin Clemmons Axelsson to provide the scoring punch, but it will be interesting to see how well coach Garcia Cuesta can integrate those players with his inexperienced residency program athletes. And, the U.S. has also called up several players who play on club teams in the U.S. to include Jordan Fithian, Justin Key and a trio of naturalized players from the former Yugoslavia, Serbians Vladimir Andjelic and Djorde Radovanovic and Croatian Vladimir Bicvic.
Uruguay’s side counts just 1 professional on its roster, Alejandro Velazco, who plays in Spain while 2 other players Gaston Ruddich and Sebastian Abdala play in the Argentine club league which while mostly amateur is fairly well established. The rest of Uruguay’s side plays club handball in Uruguay.
On paper based on last June’s match Uruguay is the the favorite. That one match, however, was played in Uruguay and it seems unlikely that the U.S. will play as poorly as it did last June again. The U.S., however, will have to make up for the loss of El Zogby at Left Back and the Uruguay side may also benefit from the greater familiarity their players have with playing with each other.