Yesterday, while watching the USA – Canada Men’s match I was elated to see the U.S. jump all over Canada at the beginning of the 2nd half, extending an 11-9 halftime lead to 19-11 deficit. Keep this up, I thought and the return trip to Montreal might be academic. My elation turned to deflation, though, as Canada chipped into the lead, including a goal in the closing seconds for a final score of 25-21. In a two game series where the winner is based on goal differential in both games, every single goal counts and the U.S. could have won by more. I expressed this as much in the chat room, and a few folks didn’t like my negative Nellie attitude. Sorry, for saying so, but I’ve got a few data points to suggest it was warranted.
It’s been awhile, 18 years in fact, but my brief National Team career includes playing a couple of friendly matches in Montreal back in 1992. The U.S. was preparing for the World Championships in Lake Placid and the matches were scheduled as a warm up before the team headed to Europe. At that time the U.S. still had a resident program and the National Team was practicing on a daily basis. Meanwhile, I think the Canadian team was pretty much thrown together at the last minute. And I don’t mean to insult any Canadian that played in that friendly, but I would assess that not a single player on the Canadian roster would have cracked the U.S. starting lineup. Despite those advantages both matches were close and we needed a 9 meter play goal by current U.S. Men’s team coach Darrick Heath to eke out a draw in one of them. The environment of those matches was also significantly different from the cavernous practice facility in Lake Placid where last night’s match was played. I can’t remember where we played, but it was a relatively small gym with a vociferous crowd. (For all, I know it could even be the same gym) I’m guessing it gave the Canadians back then a 5 goal advantage.
But, even if the U.S. had ended up with an 8 goal victory as I think they could have I’d still be preaching about the dangers of the return leg because anything and I mean anything can happen. Long time readers know that I’ve mentioned Flensburg v. Montpellier several times as the penultimate example of this. In 2005, Montpellier gave Flensburg a 14 goal, 36-22, shellacking in the first leg of a Champions League Quarter Final. An almost unheard of margin of defeat that I daresay would only occur 1 out of every 100 matches between two top teams or relatively equal talent. Yet, in the 2nd leg Flensburg returned the favor and was up by 14 goals with no time remaining when Gregory Anquetil somehow cut it to 13 for Montpellier. Trust me if 14 goals isn’t safe for Montpellier in Flensburg, a 4 goal lead isn’t safe for the U.S. in Montreal. Heck, such a sequence of events should even give the USA women hope of turning things around.
It remains to be seen what will happen tomorrow night in Montreal. The U.S. with a game under its belt could very well make the necessary adjustments and use their athleticism to take control of the game early on. Or the more experienced Canadian side could grind out a 3-5 goal lead that has everyone holding their breath until the final buzzer. I’m hoping for the former, but fear for the latter.
Video: Gregory Anquetil last second 9 meter throw vs. Flensburg: