USA – Canada Clash: U.S. players presented with an opportunity to make their case

The upcoming USA – Canada “Home and Away” series is a big event for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious reason this two game series is important is that it is the first step towards 2012 Olympic Qualification. The winner advances to the Pan American (PANAM) Games next October in Guadalajara, Mexico and the PANAM Games winner punches an automatic ticket to London 2012. A tough task for either Canada or the U.S., as Brazil and Argentina have totally dominated North American Men’s and Women’s competitions for years. Still, you can’t win if you don’t try.

Secondly, setting aside the Olympic Qualification aspect the PANAM Games are a worthy competition in and of themselves. Even if the North American entrant has little chance of winning the event, competing there will help either program, particularly their up and coming players, as the experience will stand them in good stead for 2015 and potential qualification for the 2016 Olympics.

Finally, for the [b][u]American players[/u] [/b]these matches are easily the most important they have played since the new Federation came into being in 2008. And if you’re wondering why I’ve underlined players it’s because USA Team Handball (the new Federation) has been sending a very mixed message in regards to the importance of this event. On the one hand they are prominently promoting the matches and players on the Federation website. To their credit they’ve acquired new uniform sponsors and even arranged an online video feed for the matches in Lake Placid and hopefully, for the return leg in Montreal. On the other hand, though, the Federation chose not to fund the team’s participation in this event and as “money talks”, this is tantamount to saying that a whole lot of other activities and expenses have been deemed more worthy. Only a substantial grant from the independent USA Team Handball Foundation has allowed U.S. players to avoid reaching into their own pockets to pay for airfare to Lake Placid. This mixed message is essentially a half-hearted endorsement and players probably can view it as an implicit statement of their perceived place in USA Team Handball’s future.

The beauty of athletic competition, however, is that these players now have the opportunity to respond to this implicit statement of their worth with an explicit and undeniable statement on the scoreboard. For the past decade or so Canada has beaten both the American Men’s and Women’s teams on a regular basis and they have shown that they belong in Pan America’s 2nd tier (Not good enough to beat Argentina and Brazil, but good enough to fight for 3rd place in most PATHF events). Meanwhile, the U.S. has slid into Pan America’s 3rd tier, struggling and often failing to even make the elite championships. Beating Canada and qualifying for the PANAM Games will send a strong message to USA Team Handball and the USOC that this is a program making progress. In short, a program that deserves more funding and support so that it can be even more competitive at the 2011 PANAM Games and yes, even if it’s a long shot, the 2012 Olympics. On the other hand, failing to beat Canada probably calls into question even the limited support some of these players are receiving now and makes the case that even more resources (if not all) need to be placed in youth development programs.

Opportunity is knocking. It remains to be seen as to whether the U.S. Men and Women can answer the door.

The USA and Canadian Men’s and Women’s teams will play the first leg of matches in Lake Placid, NY on Tuesday, 21 December (1300 and 1530). The 2nd leg will be played in Montreal, on Thursday 23 December (1430 and 1630). The winner will be decided on aggregate goal difference counting both games.

USATH: Ustream to Broadcast Pan American Games Qualifiers: