Performance Rows for PANAM Games: Break for USA Women; Difficult Path for USA Men

The Implications of PANAM Games performance row implications for the USA Women and Men should they qualify for the PANAM Games

The Implications of PANAM Games performance row implications for the USA Women and Men should they qualify for the 2015 PANAM Games

Ruben Gomez at Mundo Handball recently posted two articles (Men and Women) assessing the Performance Rows for the Drawing of Groups A and B for the 2015 PANAM Games.  With 7 of the 8 teams known for the upcoming tournament it’s now possible to establish performance row scenarios based on who the 8th and final team will be.  For the men, the 8th team will either be the U.S., Uruguay or Mexico.  For the Women it will be either the U.S, Uruguay or the Dominican Republic.    What follows is an assessment on what’s potentially in store for the U.S. Men and Women at the PANAM Game should either or both teams win the 2nd chance qualification tournament next March.

USA Women:  (A 50-50 Coin Toss to Avoid Brazil in the Semis)

Brazil Argentina 1st Row
Mexico Chile 2nd Row
Puerto Rico USA 3rd Row
Cuba Canada 4th Row

It pretty much goes without saying that the Brazilian Women are prohibitive favorites to win the Gold Medal.  If any side stays within 10 goals of the current World Champion that will be a major accomplishment.  Actually beating Brazil would be about 10 more times epic than the U.S. Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviets in 1980.  Fortunately for the other teams at the PANAM Games, Brazil as the host nation has already qualified for the 2016 Olympics.  This means that whatever side takes 2nd will also qualify for Rio.

And, to get to that Gold Medal Game the all important over-riding factor is avoiding Brazil in the semifinals.  How does a nation do that?  Well, there’s only one way to absolutely guarantee that you will avoid Brazil:  You need to be drawn into the same Group as Brazil.  For the USA Women that’s a simple 50-50 proposition.

If the U.S. does win the “avoid Brazil” coin flip, securing 2nd place behind Brazil seems fairly feasible.  One side they are almost guaranteed to face is Canada.  As the host nation of the 2015 PANAM Games, Canada gets to select their group after the other 3 performance rows are drawn.  It’s hard to believe the Canadians won’t use this advantage and select the Brazil group.  Rounding out the competition will be either Mexico or Chile from the 2nd performance row.  The most advantageous draw would be taking on Mexico and Canada for a mini NORCA competition to advance to the semis.  Chile would present a tougher opponent, but is comparable to Uruguay a team the U.S. would have had to have beaten to make it to Toronto anyway.  Assuming the U.S. takes the 2nd spot they would then likely play Argentina for a semifinal showdown.  A superior opponent, but if the U.S.makes it that far then it’s not unreasonable to consider the possibility of an upset.

If the U.S. loses the “avoid Brazil” coin flip, all is not lost, but it’s a tougher journey.  The U.S. would then be grouped with Argentina, Cuba and either (Mexico or Chile).  Then it becomes a matter of winning the Group to avoid Brazil.  One way to look at it, is to resign yourself to the reality of needing to beat Argentina, you might as well get it over with sooner.  Then if you win the Group, you’ll still have a semifinal to win, but in theory a weaker opponent like Canada, Puerto Rico or Chile.  In theory, because one can only imagine the atmosphere in Toronto should Canada make it to the semifinals.  Come to think of it, the Canadians, may be an unknown quantity, but by virtue of their hosting I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they make the semifinals.

USA Men  (No 50-50 Coin Flip and 2 Huge Upsets Likely Required)

Argentina Brazil 1st Row
Chile Dom Rep 2nd Row
Canada USA 3rd Row
Cuba Puerto Rico 4th Row

The overall scenario for the Men is similar to the Women’s, but the Brazilian Men are not a virtual 100% lock to win their group the way Brazilian Women are.  Not, a 100% likelihood, but probably around 90% with Chile being the most likely candidate for an upset.  Still, one can assume that the same logic holds:  Better to be in Brazil’s Group to avoid them in the semifinals.  Complicating matters further is the reality that the Argentina is the best Men’s team in Pan America.  They aren’t crazy good like the Brazilian Women, but they are a quality side and in relative terms the Argentine Men will be more challenging to upset then Argentine Women.

If one assumes that Canada will follow the Avoid Brazil strategy, the U.S. pairing with Canada on the 3rd performance row means that it will be impossible for the U.S. Men to win an “avoid Brazil” coin flip.  Nope, the U.S. will be Argentina’s Group, meaning that more than one miracle upset will likely be required.   One path would be to place 2nd in the group, knock off Brazil in the Semis and then muster another upset against Argentina in the Finals.   Another path would be to surprise Argentina in Group Play and finish first in the Group, knock off say, Chile, in the Semis then hope that Argentina doesn’t knock off Brazil in the other semi, because if they do you’ll need to beat Argentina again in the final.  It goes without saying that these paths are exceedingly difficult.  In all honesty, it would have been a huge longshot for the U.S. to knock off Argentina in a one match winner take all semifinal.  With that possibility gone, and now 2 big victories likely required it’s hard to even dream of a miracle.

Carts Before the Horse

Of course, this article is getting way ahead of itself.  U.S. qualification for the PANAM Games is far from guaranteed.  Beating Uruguay in the 2nd chance tourney will be challenging even if the tourney is hosted at Auburn.

And, here’s another cart:  PATHF regulations have been known to be very flexible in their implementation.  Translation:  Just because these performance rows follow the book doesn’t mean the book can’t be changed.

Still, these draw implications may weigh into any lobbying the U.S. does to secure the right to host the a 2nd Chance Tournament at Auburn. Should PATHF decide to split the hosting of the Men and Women’s tournaments it might be better to indicate a preference to host the Women’s Tourney as they have a more plausible scenario for Olympic qualification.  But, then again if simply ensuring qualification of at least one American team for Toronto is desired it might be better to push for hosting the Men’s tournament as the Men appear right now to have a better chance of beating Uruguay.