The squad for Guadalajara was announced today, in connection with a presentation and interview opportunity via a conference call. There were no surprises. Head coach Darrick Heath noted that all the players he had wanted for the squad were available, except that back-up goalkeeper Ivan Ignjatovic cannot make himself available at the training stage and is now an alternate. In any case, the limit of 15 players (as compared with 16 for other IHF events) meant that Heath had opted to go with two goalkeepers instead of three.
It is certainly good news that Adam El-Zoghby has been declared fit for fight after his unfortunate injury in the qualifiers against Canada last December. He will even be able to fit in some games with his Egyptian club team Al Ahly, before it is time to join the squad in the training camp that will precede the travel to Mexico. This camp will, as in the case of the women, take place in Lake Placid. It might have been more ideal to have it in Colorado Springs, as preparation for the high altitude in Guadalajara, but apparently handball did not rank high enough to get this wish accommodated by the USOC.
The training camp and the time after arrival in Mexico will not include the opportunity for any practice games. The focus will be on intra-squad scrimmages. Coach Heath indicated that he has a pretty clear idea of who will be his starting seven in the PanAm Games. But he also felt that he now has a lot of players at his disposal with both talent and valuable, continuous match experience from clubs in Europe, so he feels that they will be able to hit the ground running. He also commented on special efforts to achieve the all-important cohesiveness on the court. Moreover, film studies of the key opponents from Mexico and the Dominican Republic will constitute a high priority in the preparations.
While it will be tough to match up favorably with perennial powerhouses Argentina and Brazil, both Darrick Heath and USATH General Manager Steve Pastorino viewed it as a realistic goal to fight for the third place. There is really a whole bunch of teams who see themselves being in contention for that spot, not just because it might be as high as they realistically can hope to climb, but because that third place brings with it the eligibility for the IHF’s qualification tournaments next spring for the final slots in the 2012 Olympics.
Apropos the hypothesis of reaching the third place, Steve Pastorini indicated that while there is no special funding for these qualification tournaments, the money to ensure such participation simply had to be found. The team members were already substantially out of pocket in connection with the qualification games against Canada and the ‘last chance’ tournament in Guatemala. While they now have to set aside more than a month for training and for the event in Guadalajara, at least they will have their travel costs and related expenses paid. (Ed.: The players on the Canadian men’s team are being asked by the Canadian Olympic Committee to pay several thousand dollars each as a contribution to the expenses for their participation in Guadalajara).
When asked to describe the overall financial situation of the USATH at this point, Steve Pastorino used the telling word ‘precarious’. He noted, without getting into details that, following the recent severe cut-backs in staffing, ‘some of the remaining staff’ were now operating on a volunteer basis. Contrary to the hope which was expressed previously, that part of the amounts cut in the funding from USOC during 2011 might be restored, Steve suggested that it might instead be more realistic to expect a further cut of 20% in 2012. The budget submission from the USATH for 2012 is currently being prepared.
Steve Pastorino implied that USOC seemed to want to ‘have it both ways’, by stating that they would insist that funding be used for development and grassroots activities, while at the same time using the lack of results on the part of the national teams as the main rationale for the reductions in funding. He appeared to suggest that the emphasis on medals as the only thing that matters is just getting stronger. This dilemma is, of course, not a new one to handball in the U.S. It remains to be seen how the USATH leadership intends to deal with this situation, presumably in collaboration with its membership.
The link to the USATH press release, including the roster: http://usateamhandball.org/news/2011/08/17/men-s-national-team-roster-for-pan-american-games/44121?ngb_id=42