USA Women Participating in Friendly International Tourney in South Korea

Busan International Friendly Tournament: USA Women to take on 3 club teams and 2 national team sides.

The USA Women are in Busan, South Korea where they are 1 of 6 teams participating in an International Friendly Tournament.  Korean club teams are sponsored by companies and the Busan Infrastructure Corporation (BISCO) sponsors a club team that plays in Korea’s top league.  Other teams participating including ERD HC from Hungary, EH Aalborg from Denmark and the national teams from Taiwan and Australia.

Based on pedigree ERD and hosts BISCO should be the two top teams.  ERD HC placed 3rd in Hungary’s top league and qualified for the EHF Cup (Europe’s 2nd level competition below the Champions League).  EH Aalborg finished 7th last season in Denmark’s 2nd Division and should be a notch below those 2 teams.  As these clubs are professional or semi-professional they will likely present stiff competition for the U.S.

The two other national teams participating, Taiwan and Australia, however, should be teams the U.S. can match up with as neither side has performed particularly well recently in International competition.  Taiwan’s most recent Asian Championships appearance was in 2012 where they placed 7th out of 12 participants.  I’m not very familiar with Taiwan handball and it’s not clear as to why they haven’t participated since then.

Australia has been the dominant team in Oceania and regularly qualified for the World Championships until their automatic slot was eliminated in 2015.  That being said, they never won a match at the World Championships and often lost the 23rd place match to the weakest Pan American side participating.

The tournament is scheduled to take place over 5 days and will be a full round robin with 3 matches played daily.

USA Match Schedule (Korea is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time)

Saturday, 19 Aug 1700 (Local) / 0400 ET USA vs Busan BISCO (South Korea)
Sunday, 20 Aug 1500 (Local) / 0200 ET USA vs ERD HC (Hungary)
Monday, 21 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs EH Aalborg (Denmark)
Tuesday, 22 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs Australia
Wednesday, 23 Aug 1400 (Local) / 0100 ET USA vs Taiwan

2017 Pan American Championships Review (Part 2): The Best Performance in Years- A Sign of Progress or More of the Same?

Which projected trend line makes more sense for the USA Women?

In Part 1, I provided a summary of the results, questioned some coaching decision and highlighted the average age of the women’s team.  In Part 2, I take a look at what this recent result portends for the future.

The Best Performance in Years.  The Beginning of an Upward Trajectory?

The 5th place finish at the 2017 Pan American Championships was the best performance since the women finished 4th in 2003.  In those intervening 14 years the results can only be described as disappointing with several “Did Not Qualifies” or near the basement finishes.

If we simply plot out these results one could possibly surmise that after 3.5 years of Residency Program training at Auburn the hard work is starting to pay off.  That things are looking up for Team USA and that if we were just to add a couple of more quality players we could soon challenge Argentina and Brazil for Pan American titles.

A Better Performance than 2015 (How Did that Happen?)

For sure the 2017 performance and final placement was way better than 2015’s 10th place flame out.  But, if you’ve been following the Women’s program it should have you scratching your head a bit as to how that happened.  Here’s why:

  • It’s essentially the same team, just a couple of years older. 10 players returned from the 2015 roster and while the U.S. added Nicole Andersen as a scoring threat they were missing Karoline Borg (2015’s leading scorer) due to injury.
  • Many of the players have been training in subpar circumstances. The U.S. still has a residency program, but I’ll diplomatically state that it hasn’t been very “robust” for the past 2 years.   Many players, and even the coach, departed Auburn in 2015, leaving just a handful of players to train in less than ideal circumstances.  Best I can tell the women’s roster featured only 4 players who had been training at Auburn, 4 U.S. based players that weren’t practicing regularly at all, 6 dual citizens and 1 stateside developed player practicing with a club team in France.  So, over half of the team wasn’t scrimmaging on a regular basis, let alone honing their play with regular competition.  And, I don’t care how hard you are working individually and in small groups, if you’re not playing 7 on 7 regularly you are not in a good training situation.
  • It continues a puzzling trend of better performances when the team isn’t practicing together on a regular basis. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the residency program model, but I still think it should work better than nothing.  Bizarrely, however, that hasn’t been the case.  When the program was in full swing in Cortland, NY the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2007 PANAM Games.  Then four years later without the benefit of a program the team managed to qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games.  And, most recently in 2015 with a solid year of training, competing and living together as a group the U.S. Women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed a disappointing 10th at the Pan American Championships.  And, now with essentially the same team they have their best performance since 2003.  Huh? Go figure.  The available data points even suggest that a robust residency program is somehow detrimental to performance.

How did it happen?  Answer:  Too few data points and a whole lot of parity

I’ll take a stab at answering my own question.  Here’s why the results look a little backwards:

  • The USA Women haven’t played enough competitive matches to establish a definitive trend. In terms of official tournaments the USA Women are pretty much limited to World Championship qualification tournaments every two years and Olympic qualification events every 4 years.  Teams don’t always perform on the same even keel and they can have good tourney and bad tourneys.  And, if you don’t have enough data points it’s hard to know what’s a fluke (bad or good) and what’s to be expected.  Personally, I think that the 2015 performance was on the bottom end of the scale and that 2017 might have been average.  Those are just educated guesses, though, because there’s just not enough games.
  • Once you get past Brazil and Argentina there’s a whole lot of parity in Pan America. If one looks at the results from the past few Pan America Championships and throws away Brazil, Argentina and the Central American entrant you’ll notice that the match scores between those teams are remarkably close. That the gap between the 3rd best team and the 11th best team isn’t very great.   It’s possible in any one tournament that a team can exceed expectations (Paraguay this year) or fail to meet expectations (USA in 2015).  Generally the best team wins, but luck, injuries, matchups, group placement all factor into the actual result.  Because these teams are so closely matched it doesn’t take much to have wild swings in performance.  Maybe some side will emerge to challenge Argentina, but right now it appears that teams are just taking turns in WC qualification.

And, keep in mind that for the past several World Championships that the 3rd or 4th place team which joins Argentina, Brazil (and sometimes Cuba) at the World Championship has been consistently non-competitive.  Puerto Rico was thrashed by double digits in all of its matches except its surprising win over Kazakhstan.  Argentina’s only victories were over Congo and Puerto Rico.  Cuba could only manage a win over the Congo.  Going to a WC is a great opportunity and experience, but right now and for the past several years it’s basically been a participation award.

What does it mean going forward?

Back in 2015 after the U.S. women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed 10th place at the Pan American Championship I wrote a commentary that it was time to reassess the future of the Women’s Program and look for a new coach and a new High Performance Manager.   Well, needless to say if there was any assessment done by USA Team Handball, it concluded everything was just fine and that staying the course was the best option going forward.  And, if that’s what was decided in 2015 with totally disastrous results one can only assume that with better results now 2 years later it’s unlikely there will be any changes this time around.

So, if past is prologue one can assume similar results going forward the next few years.  In 2015 several athletes left the Residency Program.  There have been periodic tryouts, but it has yet to repopulate the program there.  Best I can tell is that in the past 2 years the U.S. has added just one new stateside athlete to its player pool, 26 year old Maria Vallone.  That’s pretty dismal recruiting especially when one considers the publicity boost that the 2016 Olympic TV broadcasts should have provided.  And, while it’s always smart to take advantage of dual citizens competing in Europe, there’s only a small, finite number of such athletes available. Perhaps recruiting will start to pick up, but even if it does it’s hard to see any newcomers having a significant impact in time for the next series of qualification tournaments in 2019.

In terms of World Championship qualification the U.S. will get another crack at qualifying.  As discussed, if they play well they will have a shot at one of the 3 WC slots for Pan America.  For the Olympics there’s only one Pan American slot and that will go to the winner of the PANAM Games which will be staged in Lima, Peru.  Last time around the U.S. failed to qualify for the PANAM Games, losing a two game series to Uruguay. This time around the U.S. will play Canada and as they are an easier foe qualification for the final tournament is more likely, but by no means guaranteed.   And, of course, Brazil and to a much lesser extent Argentina will stand in the way of Olympic Qualification.

To sum up, not surprisingly, I pretty much see the U.S. Women getting similar results for the next couple of years.  We should qualify for the PANAM Games and with a bit of luck maybe we’ll see a WC qualification.  Hopefully, we’ll add a few more players that can contribute to the team for years to come.  I know such projections of mediocrity aren’t what people what to hear, but I just don’t see much right now to support a different conclusion.   And, as always, don’t interpret this to be a critique of the hard working, dedicated athletes making big sacrifices to represent the U.S. International competitions.  To a player they are all athletes that we can be proud of.

That sums up my review of the most recent qualification tournament.  In the coming weeks I’ll have a commentary that assesses the prospects for future Olympic qualification and whether a change in national team development strategy makes sense.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti with a Reference to Team Handball on National TV/Radio:

Long Beach Arena: The planned venue for 2028 Olympic Handball

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was interview on the Dan Patrick Radio Show yesterday and during the interview he referenced Team Handball
 
“If we just get over having 15,000 people watch team handball you can have 2-3 thousand in a great arena that probably exists in great cities and then you don’t have to build things.”
 
Essentially Mayor Garcetti was pointing out that big arenas are not really necessary for every sport. So, if cities aren’t expected to build so many arenas than more cities would sign up to bid. That being said, 2-3 thousand capacity, though, would under serve handball, even in the U.S.
 
Have no fear.  Handball is planned for the Long Beach Arena which has an 11,200 seat capacity for Ice Hockey and 13,600 for basketball.  For sure, not the fanciest arena in Southern California, but there should be plenty of seats available. More likely than not it will be one of the cheapest tickets available and should have decent crowds.  Many in attendance will be newcomers to the sport looking to attend an Olympic Event at a reasonable price.  This was the case in 1984 and to get a sense of that type of fan, watch actor Ty Burrell, the real estate agent father on Modern Family, talk about his family road trip to attend the Olympics when he was a kid.
 
Garcetti references handball around the 6 minute mark. Earlier in the interview he talks up funding for youth sports which he indicates will start be used next year.  Video: Link

Podcast: Americans Qualify for Olympic Handball for the First Time in Over 20 Years!***

American Samoa’s U17 Beach Handball Team: Headed to the Youth Olympic Games next summer in Argentina.

While this title sounds like epic news there are a few asterisks that have to be explained.  Still really great news, just not epic.

Asterisk #1:  The handball in question is “Beach Handball”
Asterisk #2:  The Olympics in question is the Youth Olympic Games
Asterisk #3:  The Americans in question are American Nationals from the U.S. Territory of American Samoa

Yes, the American Samoa Women’s U17 Beach Handball team has qualified for the Youth Olympic Games to be staged next summer in Argentina.  With only 55,000 inhabitants and, believe it or not, not enough sand on the islands to play beach handball properly, American Samoa was able to put together a team in a few short months to first win the Oceania championships and participate in the U17 Beach Handball Word Championships.  While they were beaten soundly by some of the game’s traditional powers they still qualified for the Youth Olympic Games by defeating Australia twice and thus securing the Oceania slot to the Youth Olympic Games.

To find out more about handball and beach handball in American Samoa I spoke with the U17 Women’s coach, Carl Sagapolutele Floor.  Carl fills me on the challenges of starting a handball program on a remote Pacific island, learning how to play beach handball without sand, and the road from no program to the Youth Olympic Games.

References:
Curt Flood (not to be confused with Carl Floor): Link
60 Minutes video on American Football in American Samoa: Link
American Samoa Handball Association Facebook Page:  Link

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

2017 Pan American Championships Review (Part 1): Women Bounce Back to Take 5th; but Did Coaching Decisions Cost the U.S. a Chance at World Championship Qualification?

2017 Pan American Championships (The Numbers)

Tournament Review

Heading into the tournament I assessed (as did probably anyone else who follows Pan American Handball) that it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Brazil and Argentina would take 1st and 2nd in the tournament.  True to form, both sides dominated their groups and waltzed to the final where Brazil again showed their total dominance with a 38 – 20 pasting of Argentina in the gold medal game.  Brazil is simply in a class by itself with no other team posing a serious threat.  Argentina has also created some separation between itself and the rest of Pan America, but it is at least conceivable that they could lose to another team besides Brazil.

As far as the prediction that at least 6 other sides had a legitimate shot at taking 3rd place it wasn’t too far off the mark.  I figured that Uruguay and Puerto Rico were the strongest of the little 6, but it was Paraguay that seized the opportunity and qualified for the World Championships.

The USA Women had their best Pan American Championship placement since 2003, finishing 5th overall in the field of 10 teams.  The tournament started out poorly for the U.S. as they were first blitzed 42-10 by Brazil and then suffered a 29-25 goal loss to Puerto Rico.  They rebounded after an off day with a 31-17 victory against Colombia and then saw Paraguay beat Puerto Rico giving them a chance to qualify for the semifinals with their last Group Play game against Paraguay.  The U.S. needed a 5 goal victory to advance, but ended up battling from behind most of the game to an eventual 29-25 loss.

To the U.S. Women’s credit they didn’t hang their heads, but finished the tournament strong in consolation play.  They first had a relatively easy 27-20 win over Chile and then got some revenge against Puerto Rico (27-26) to finish up in 5th place.

The team had some solid individual performances.  Kathy Darling led the team in scoring with 30 goals.  It’s clear that playing in France has helped her understand how to best maximize her size and strength advantage.  Sarah Gascon played a key role on defense and as a utility player on offense.  Together, those 2 veterans continue to provide leadership for the team when some (myself included) would have figured they would have been retired from international play a few years ago.

Nicole Andersen, just 20 years old, added some very welcome scoring punch in the backcourt.  Jence Rhoads has developed into a solid center back and did a good job of distributing the ball.  Wings Julia Taylor and Zoe Lombard were reliable scorers on the wing and fast break.  Finally, Sophie Fasold had a good tournament in goal and her steady play helped keep the U.S. in contact with the opposition when the score might have gone further south.

All in all, this is a team that from all appearances stuck together through some tough situations.  No superstars, just some hard nosed women battling together and playing to the best of their abilities.  Coach Christian Latulippe deserves credit for bringing them together as a group despite just a couple of opportunities for the team to train together prior to the tournament.  And, for keeping them motivated to finish strong in consolation play.

Official Tournament Website: Link

 

Now here’s some further reflection on the Women’s Team performance and future. (Yeah, time for some analysis that’s less warm and fuzzy.)

The Importance of Goal Differential and Some Very Debatable Coaching Decisions

While finishing 5th is our best performance in years I can’t help but think that a semifinals berth and a chance to play for World Championship Qualification was well within reach for the taking.  It’s easy to sit back in the comfort of your own home and yell at the screen, but not so easy to make the actual decisions.  But, one thing I kept yelling over and over was:

“OMG.  Please stop playing with 7 offensive players and no goalie!  It’s not going to work… Can’t you see that it’s not working. Put your goalie back in.  Just stop it. Stop it.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I actually love the 7 player offensive strategy and the dynamic it has added to the game since being introduced last summer.  Why, I even wrote a nice ode to Belgium’s use of it against France.  With the right team and the right situation it’s a strategy that should be implemented more often than it is by risk adverse coaches.  It speeds up the game, creates more possessions and can help a team catch up quicker.

While it arguably may have been the right situation at times to implement, the USA Women, quite frankly just don’t have the right personnel.  They are too prone to turnovers on offense and they don’t have the team speed.  The USA Women, as currently constituted, play better when the game is at a slower pace and they can set up defensively.  Doesn’t mean they can’t fast break, just means that it needs to be done when the opportunity presents itself in a controlled manner.

The U.S. used this 7 vs 6 strategy towards the end of the Puerto Rico match and it resulted in a couple of empty net goals for Puerto Rico.  Maybe, it was a wash, but my assessment is that it didn’t really help the U.S. offense that much and it took away the opportunity for the U.S. to shut down Puerto Rico defensively.  In the end I think it cost the U.S. a few goals and turned a 1 or 2 goal loss into a 4 goal loss.  And, that 4 goal deficit would later have a huge impact in that it necessitated a 5 goal victory vs Paraguay instead of perhaps 2 or 3 goal margin.

In the Paraguay match the U.S. used the 7 player strategy pretty much the entire game.  I counted 3 empty net goals and 3 empty net misses (whew).  Again, I don’t think it helped that much on offense and that the strategy played right into the hands of the quicker and younger Paraguay team.  Further, the U.S. decided to defensively mark Paraguay’s Center Back most of the game.  This had the effect of the U.S. essentially playing 5 vs 5 handball defensively against Paraguay.  While Paraguay’s Center Back is a quality player it was pretty clear to me that the other 5 players were more than able to compensate for her absence.  This is because the smaller, quicker Paraguay team had more room along the 9 meter line to operate and score on breakthroughs.  Honestly, the hallmark for the women the past decade or so has been their solid 6-0 defense.  It’s a wall that hardly anyone in Pan America can shoot over and requires a lot of side to side movement for the offense to find holes that can be penetrated.  And, if you turn a 6-0 defense into a 5-0 defense those holes just get bigger.

Combined, the 7 player offensive strategy and the defensive marking really played up Paraguay’s strengths and the U.S. weaknesses.  Again, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, but I would love to see the U.S. play Paraguay straight up and see what happens.  Unfortunately, we likely won’t get that opportunity for another 2 years.

USA vs Paraguay:  Video Link

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number (A Very Important Number)

I’ve written on numerous occasions that for the past several years the U.S. Women’s teams have been populated with far too many athletes that are mismatched in terms of age and technical skills.  That essentially we have a developmental team that runs the risk of losing too many players due to “life issues” prior to them becoming world class athletes on a competitive national team.  Here’s a closer look at some of those age numbers.

  • U.S. Side Gets Younger (with the help of Dual Citizens). I’m pleased to report that the U.S. actually fielded a team with a younger roster (26.9) than it has had at the previous 2 Pan American Championships.  The caveat, however, is that this is due to the addition of some dual citizens.   Nicole Andersen (20) and Ashley Butler (19) not only bring that average down, they also have potential.  As with any player, they may or may not pan out in terms of further development, but time is on their side.
  • Our Comparative Rivals are Still Quite a Bit Younger. The average age of the Paraguay and Puerto Rico rosters were 22.8 and 23.4, respectively.  Again, who knows which players will pan out, but time is on our rivals’ side.  Brazil is around the same age, but their older players are also full time professionals.

So, that’s a top level overview.  In part 2, I’ll take a big picture view and assess whether this “better” performance can be interpreted as a sign of progress.

Can the USA Qualify for the Semifinals?  Yes, the Math Allows it, but Can the Team Meet the Challenge.

Team USA picks up their first win vs Colombia. A 5 goal win tomorrow vs Paraguay would let them sneak into the semifinals.

Earlier this evening Team USA got the exact results they were looking for.  First, they took care of business easily beating Colombia 31-17 to pick up their first win in the tournament.  The U.S. played their most complete game playing solid defense and scoring readily on the fast break.  Then afterwards, Paraguay handed Puerto Rico its first loss of the tournament to set up a possible 3 way tie on points for 2nd place in Group A.

Assuming Brazil beats Puerto Rico tomorrow, Puerto Rico will finish with 4 points.  And, if the U.S. can muster a win over Paraguay tomorrow, both Paraguay and the U.S. will also have 4 points.  And, those 3 teams in head to head competition will each have 2 points a piece with 1 win and 1 loss, meaning that tiebreakers will come into play.

Here’s the current standings.

Head to Head Standings (Current)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Paraguay 1 0 0 2 4 28 24
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 0 1 0 0 -4 25 29

First the simple math:  If Paraguay wins or draws with the U.S. it’s all over.  Paraguay takes 2nd place.

But, here’s the more complicated math and the possible scenarios.  Keep in mind Puerto Rico is done as far as this head to head competition goes since they’ve already played their matches against the U.S. and Paraguay.

The first tie breaker is head to head goal differential

USA wins by 5 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
USA (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 -1
USA wins by 3 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
Paraguay (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
USA 1 1 0 2 -1

If, however, the USA were to win by 4 goals, there would be a tied Goal Differential, meaning the next tiebreaker, Total goals head to head would break the tie.

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 29 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 54 54
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 27 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Puerto Rico (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 1 1 0 2 0 52 52
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 51 51

And, finally, if the U.S. were to win by the score of 28-24, there would be a tie in total head to head goals

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 28 (exactly)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 52 52

And, while you might think that Paraguay would drop out since they can’t match the 53 total goals, that’s not how the tiebreakers work.  Even if a tie is just between two teams the other teams don’t drop out, but continue to the next tie breaker which Goal Differential in all matches where Paraguay has a sizable lead.

Forget the Math Lesson, Can the USA win by 5 goals tomorrow?

Well, the answer to that question really depends on which USA team shows up tomorrow.  If it’s the team that got run out of the building by Brazil 42-10 the answer is clearly no way.  If it’s the team that was inconsistent against Puerto Rico, again, no chance.  But, if it’s the team that played solidly earlier today against Colombia, there’s a chance. Sure, Paraguay is a better side than Colombia, but the Paraguay team I saw today against Puerto Rico, while athletic is pretty young and inexperienced.  Their set offense is anything but fluid and a solid defense effort could fluster Paraguay and create some turnovers and fast break opportunities.  Create a little lead that could be expanded upon.  The U.S. has dug themselves in a bit of a whole, but it’s possible they could dig their way out.  Game time tomorrow is 1330 ET.

Preview and Analysis: Women’s Pan American Championships

USA Women celebrating their 2nd Place NORCA result. Can they take 3rd and qualify for the World Championships at the Pan American Championships?

The Women’s Pan American Championships start on Sunday with 10 nations from North, Central and South America participating.  This tournament held every two years also serves as the qualification for the World Championships and the top 3 teams will be awarded tickets to the 2015 in Germany.

Analysis

It’s a real good bet that perennial favorites Brazil and Argentina will each win their groups, win their semifinal matches and then play each other in the final.  Brazil will then be favored, but with the home crowd Argentina might have a shot of an upset.  But, thanks to Cuba’s decision to not participate in the tournament that battle for third place could be real interesting and at least 6 teams can realistically talk about making the semifinals and taking the 3rd World Championships qualification slot.

I’m a huge fan of the website fivethirtyeight.com and their statistical projections for a variety of sports.  The model they use relies on past results, but because there simply are not enough matches between the teams involved it wouldn’t make sense to run it through their algorithm.  That being said, here’s my assessment based on relevant recent results for each team reaching the semifinals and qualifying for the World Championships (3rd Place or higher)

Group A Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd place)
Brazil >99+% >99+%
Puerto Rico 40% 20%
USA 30% 15%
Paraguay 25% 10%
Colombia 5% 2%

Group B

Group B Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd Place)
Argentina >99+% >99+%
Uruguay 50% 25%
Chile 30% 18%
Dominican Republic 20% 10%
Guatemala  <1%  <1%

 

U.S. Prospects

It’s a bit of déjà vu for the U.S. as the situation for the 2017 Championships somewhat mirrors what took place in 2015.  In 2015, the U.S. performed well at the North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championships and we’re given a favorable draw that set the table for them to qualify for the World Championships.  Alas, that didn’t happen as Greenland and Puerto Rico, two teams the U.S. had beaten at NORCA turned the tables on the U.S. and they ended up finishing in a disappointing 10th place.

Now two years later the U.S. has had another strong performance at NORCA, winning all their group play matches and just narrowly losing in the final to hosts, Puerto Rico.  And, the draw is again favorable with all of their group matches winnable with the exception of its first opponent, Brazil.  For the USA, its 2nd match of the tournament against Puerto Rico will be pivotal.  A win there will put one foot in the door to the semifinals.  On paper, the U.S. and Puerto Rico are very evenly matched having split their last 4 matches in qualification competitions with no side winning by more than 4 goals.  I give Puerto Rico the edge as they stepped up in 2015 to take the last qualification spot available, but the U.S. surely can field some confidence having beaten Puerto Rico recently in Puerto Rico.  Also, not to be dismissed is Paraguay which beat the USA 23-20 in 2015 and played Puerto Rico close, losing 33-29.  Even Colombia, which hasn’t played recently in qualification events shouldn’t be discounted.

In the other pool, Uruguay is the favorite having beaten Chile twice in 2015 competitions and having placed 3rd at the 2015 PANAM Games.  They also beat the U.S. twice in the 2015 Last Chance Qualification matches and had a convincing 21-15 victory over the U.S. in a friendly match played just this past Thursday.  It would be a sweet, sweet revenge opportunity for the U.S. should they meet in a 3rd place bronze medal game, but let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves.  There’s a lot of handball to be played in the coming week.

Results from Recent PHF Competitions

2017 NORCA Championships
April 3 (Gold Medal) Puerto Rico 28, USA 27
March 30 (Group Play) USA 28, Puerto Rico 26

2015 PANAM Games Qualification
March 7 Uruguay 30, USA 25
March 14 Uruguay 24, USA 22

2015 Pan American Championships
May 22 Paraguay 25, USA 24
May 23 Puerto Rico 23, USA 20
May 24 Puerto Rico 33, Paraguay 29

2015 NORCA Championships
April 2 (Group Play) USA 33, Puerto Rico 29

 

USA Women’s Schedule

Sunday, 18 June USA vs Brazil 1915 (Local), 1815 (ET)
Monday, 19 June USA vs Puerto Rico 1330 (Local), 1230 (ET)
Tuesday, 20 June
Wednesday, 21 June USA vs Colombia 1500 (Local), 1400 (ET)
Thursday, 22 June USA vs Paraguay 1430 (Local), 1330 (ET)
Friday, 23 June
Saturday, 24 June
Sunday, 25 June

Official Tournament website: Link

Live Streaming

All of the matches will be live streamed by TyC Sports in Argentina.  If the quality of the video matches what was recently provided for the Argentina – USA friendly match, fans around the world are in for a real treat.

TyC Sports Play: Link

USA Falls to Argentina 33-20 in Preparatory Friendly Match

USA’s Kathy Darling draws a crowd as she shoots on goal vs Argentina

Argentina beat the United States, 33-20, yesterday in a friendly match yesterday in Buenos Aires.  Argentina, the second or third best team in Pan America (behind Brazil and possibly Cuba) dominated the match from the start building a comfortable 7-2 lead in the first 12 minutes.  This lead was gradually extended and the last 5 minutes of the first half got a little ragged with the U.S. playing down 2 players following a debatable Red Card decision given to Team Captain, Sarah Gascon for a foul on wing shot.  The score at the half was 20-10.

The second half was a more even affair as both teams liberally substituted and both coaches experimented with different combinations of players.  The U.S. clamped down on defense and the second half scoreline was a more respectable 13-10.

Overall, the U.S. offense looked more structured and organized than it has in the past.  Argentina played fairly aggressive on defense, coming out high to disrupt the USA offense, but for the most part Team USA did a decent job of controlling the ball, limiting turnovers and resultant fast breaks.  The U.S. 6-0 defense, however, traditionally a strong point for the U.S., was not as effective as it has been in the past.  Argentina was able to consistent break down the U.S. defense for breakthroughs and wing shots.

With the liberal substitution the U.S. scoring was very balanced with 4 players (Kathy Darling, Sarah Gascon, Ashley Butler and Jence Rhoads) scoring 3 goals apiece. Anja Borg and Shani Levinkind added 2 each, and 4 players (Julia Taylor, Ashley Van Ryn, Nicole Andersen and Elizabeth Hartnett) scoring one.

The U.S. plays another friendly match vs Uruguay today and plays its first match of the official tournament against Brazil on Sunday.

On Demand Video of match: Link (Note: TyC’s video quality is outstanding.  If that’s the video quality we’ll see for the tournament, we’re in for a great remote viewing experience)

USA – Argentina Friendly Match Available Live on Direct TV, Fubo TV and Roku

Tonight’s USA-Argentina match can be seen on U.S. TV

The USA Women are in Argentina for the 2017 Women’s Pan American Handball Championships.  The actual tournament doesn’t start until Sunday, but they are playing friendly matches in preparation.  Tonight they have a tall order as they take on Tournament hosts Argentina at 2100 hrs (local) and 20:00 hrs (ET in the U.S).  The U.S. played the Argentina Junior Team to a 27-27 draw earlier in the week, so surely the Sr team will offer stiffer competition.  And, as this could be a potential tournament semifinal Argentina may very well want to send a message to the U.S. side.

The match will be broadcast live by Argentina sports channel TyC which in our ever more connected world is actually available in the U.S.   Here are your viewing options:

Direct TV:  If you have Direct TV (and an international package) you can watch the match on Channel #469.

Fubo TV:   Fubo TV is a digital streaming platform perhaps best known for soccer, but it’s also now rapidly becoming the best option for handball fans in the U.S. as it also carries beIN Sports and Eleven Sports.  And, not just the beIN sports TV channels, but their digital channels as well, which was the only way to watch the IHF World Championships and EHF Champions League live in the U.S.  Eleven Sports is another newcomer on the scene and they’ve already signed up to broadcast the European Handball Championships later this month.

Roku / Amazon Fire / Apple TV:  Another benefit of Fubo TV is that it can also watch it on TV via your connected device (e.g. Roku).  This can be done by first adding the Fubo TV channel to your Roku and then logging in with your Fubo TV account information.  (It took me a couple of minutes so you don’t want to wait till match time.)

Fubo TV offers a free 7 day trial so it won’t cost you to see how well it works with your computer and/or TV.

Fubo TV Trial sign up: Link

VIDEO:  2018 Men’s Euro Qualification

 

It’s often the case that qualification for major tournaments in Europe follow a set pattern.  The favorites secure qualification easily and occasionally there’s a halfway interesting match between a couple of teams that are on the fringes of qualifying.

Not so this time around for the 2018 Men’s European Championships Qualification as they head into the final two rounds of matches.  Ridiculously, out of the 28 teams participating in 7 groups of 4, only 3 nations (Spain, Germany and Sweden) have secured qualification and only 1 nation (Latvia) has been eliminated.  Sure, I’ll be shocked if France and Denmark don’t qualify, but they may be joined by some unlikely nations like Portugal, Lithuania and the Netherlands.  While mainstays of major competitions like Iceland, Russia and Poland are on the precipice of elimination.

The good news is that you can see some of these matches on ehfTV.  (I wish there were more, but I won’t complain).  Below is a summary of what’s at stake heading into each match.  As we head into the summer time doldrums, you might want to hold onto these viewing opportunities.  I will put the Full Match On Demand link from ehfTV, so as long as you avoid scores you watch and enjoy on into July and August.

ehfTV: Link

2018 Men’s European Championships Qualification (Wikipedia): Link

Wednesday, 14 June
Group 4: Czech Republic vs Iceland, 1810 CET

Group 4 has seen no favorite emerge and all 4 teams (Czech Republic, Macedonia, Iceland, Ukraine) in the group are level on points with 4 each.  Every game in the group has been won by the home side so far and the Czech Republic is in first place with a GD of +10, while Iceland is in 3rd with a GD of -5.  So a loss here won’t eliminate either team, but Iceland has more to worry with its current negative goal deficit.

Wednesday 14 June
Group 6: Slovakia vs Russia, 2000 CET

Slovakia and Russia are level on points with 2 each, right behind 2nd place Montenegro with 4 points.  Sweden is leading the group with 8 points and is assured of qualification.  It’s pretty much a must win game for both Slovakia and Russia and the winner will likely be level on points with Montenegro heading into their final match this weekend.

Thursday, 15 June
Group 2: Romania vs Belarus, 1800 CET

Belarus is in 2nd place with 5 points and Romania is in 3rd place with 4 points.  This is virtually a “must win” for Romania as a loss here could eliminate them from qualification.  Belarus will also want a win as Romania will leapfrog them in the standing and they face group leaders Serbia in their final match.

USA – Canada Series Results

Channel 4, WTVY, might have spelled USA Goalie Gabe Goodreau’s name wrong, but they have confirmed what many have suspected for years. Just as Jerry West was the inspiration for the NBA’s logo, Gabe “the Logo” Goodreau is the inspiration for USA Team Handball’s.

The USA Men hosted Canada for a series of 4 matches this past weekend in Alabama.  The series was split 2-2 and the results are below:

Friday, 9 June (at Auburn)
Game 1: USA 32, Canada 29
Game 2: Canada 32, USA 24

Saturday, 10 June (at Dothan)
Game 3: Canada 29, USA 28

Sunday, 11 June (at Auburn)
Game 4: USA 21, Canada 20

The match in Dothan was played in conjunction with the Alabama State Games and it gave an opportunity for the elementary kids participating in the State Games to see the U.S. National Team in action.  The game was close with Canada prevailing 29-28 in overtime.

Channel 4, WTVY, in Dothan did a segment on the games and they have video from the youth tournament and the USA – Canada match starting at 2:42.

WTVY Video: Link

The Dothan Eagle also has a nice story on the match

HANDBALL 101: USA-Canada men’s match creates good first impression: Link

USA Men’s Team

 

Are the Stars Aligning for a 2028 LA Olympics that could Transform Handball as We Know it in the USA? 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “My dream is not so much just to bring the Olympics here, but is to bring youth sports for free to every zip code.” (Did Mayor Garcetti just set in motion the transformation of handball as we know it in the USA?)

Several recent news reports are signaling that the International Olympic Committee will likely be awarding host city rights to both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics.  Initially, reporting indicated that it was a tossup as to which city, Paris or Los Angeles, would host first in 2024 with both cities insisting that they go first.  Earlier this week, however, the Wall Street Journal indicated that the IOC was leaning towards Paris in 2024 and L.A. in 2028.  And, just yesterday LA Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed that the IOC had asked both Paris and LA what it would take to entice either city to consider delaying Olympic hosting to 2028.  Mayor Garcetti’s response:  Funding now from the IOC to develop youth sports in Los Angeles.

Why I prefer a 2028 L.A. Olympics

While I’m generally inclined to take a sooner than later approach to most things here’s why (from a parochial handball viewpoint) waiting 11 years to host an Olympics is greatly preferable:

  • 7 years isn’t enough time to build competitive national teams. If you’ve read a few of my commentaries and analysis this should be painfully obvious.  The current talent pool of available players in this country is ridiculously thin and our grass roots programs are too small to create a talent pool of world class athletes in 7 years.
  • A 2024 Olympics will force spending towards the top of the pyramid. Because the U.S. can’t possibly build a competitive national team through its current talent pool and grass roots in time for the 2024 Olympics an inordinate amount of resources will be spent at the top of the pyramid.  In other words an aggressive campaign will be launched to identify, recruit and train talented cross over athletes in the 22-25 age range.  As, I’ve written ad nauseam this is an outdated, short sighted strategy that is currently working very poorly for USA Team Handball.  A guaranteed Olympics, though, should improve recruiting and change “very poorly” to either “poorly” or “passable.”  The U.S. won’t win any medals, but it’s possible that teams that won’t embarrass too greatly could be built.
  • 11 years provides more time to work grass roots and potentially transform the sport in this country. Eleven years might be just enough time to implement a targeted plan to develop a talent pool, fan base and set the sport on a trajectory of further growth.  Of course, more time will be needed for a soccer or lacrosse expansion across the U.S., but 11 years could set things in motion.
  • The stars may be aligning to push USA Team Handball in the right direction. With near term Olympic qualification unlikely and 2028 qualification guaranteed it becomes even more logical to focus on grass roots efforts that will support efforts to build a quality 2028 team.  Herculean efforts to qualify near term simply won’t make sense.  Further, with the LA Mayor calling on the IOC to provide funding for youth sports in exchange for delaying to 2028 grass roots efforts just got further impetus.

The Outline of an 11 Year Plan

It’s early yet, but I can already see the outline of an 11 year plan to transform the sport in L.A. and eventually the rest of the country.  Here are some elements that might make up such a plan.  (And, if this looks familiar that’s because I’ve outlined similar possibilities before:  The Iceland Strategy)

  • USA Team Handball aggressively moves on Mayor Garcetti’s youth sports dream and a plan to develop youth handball in the Los Angeles area is adopted. It won’t be idle talk to talk up the possibility of LA’s youth eventually making an Olympic handball team for an LA Olympics.
  • IOC support is used as leverage to secure additional funding from the USOC, Olympic sponsors, the IHF and other handball entities
  • Youth leagues are re-established with the Boys & Girls Club of Southern California
  • The LA Unified School District agrees to sanction team handball as an official sport
  • Middle School and High School leagues are funded and established
  • A Southern California college league is funded and established
  • Partial scholarships are awarded to encourage high school athletes to continue playing handball
  • Top players from around the U.S. move to the L.A. area to further their development as players
  • A regional training facility is established in Southern California. Top players from each age group receive additional training to supplement their club/school practices.
  • Top players are given assistance in the placement of clubs in Europe (The first batch of players arrive around 2022)
  • The U.S. Men and Women close the gap with Argentina and Brazil such that they start qualifying for the WC, but fall sort of Olympic Qual for 2024
  • A handful of top players advance toward the upper professional ranks
  • The U.S. fields rosters at the 2028 Olympics with roughly half their athletes as full time professionals

And, I haven’t even included what might be done regarding beach handball…

Yes, this is an ambitious strawman plan for eleven years time. Yes, it can’t be done without substantial funding.  But, I don’t think it’s a pipe dream because thanks to Mayor Garcetti’s dream it just might be doable.

No NBA for your Memorial Day?  No Problem – The HBL’s Got You Covered       

Flensburg hosts Rhein-Neckar in a match that will likely determine the German Bundesliga Champion

I’ve written before about how superior the NBA playoff “Best of 7” format is and how I dream of handball providing the same experience. Link

This year, however, due to the dominance of Golden State and Cleveland the playoff format has been an incredible dud.  Golden State is 12-0 with three 4-0 sweeps.  Cleveland is 12-1.  I’m hopeful for another epic Finals, but we’ve got to wait till Thursday for Game 1.  Not watching hoops on Memorial Day weekend just seems out of place.

Fortunately, the German Bundesliga has got you covered with a clash between 1st place Rhein-Neckar and 2nd place Flensburg.  The match was played on Sunday, but is available “on demand”.

Going into the match Rhein-Neckar was at 27-2-1 with 55 points and Flensburg was right behind at 26-2-2 with 54 points.  Earlier in the season Flensburg beat Rhein-Neckar 21-17, their only home loss in the HBL.  And, Flensburg plastered Rhein-Neckar 33-23 in the semifinals of the German Cup.  With the home court advantage Flensburg will be looking to make it 3-0 against the Lions and leap frogging them in the standings for first place.

The season won’t be over after this match with each team having 3 more matches.  That being said whoever wins will be in total control of their destiny. This is about a close as you can get to a title match for the German Bundesliga Championship

Flensburg vs Rhein-Neckar Video:  Link