The USA and Canadian Men will face off against each other in a 2 game series this Sunday in Auburn, AL and Wednesday in Montreal to determine the North American qualifier for the PANAM Games next summer in Lima, Peru.
Unlike the Women, The USA and Canadian Men have played each other recently. Just this past April, Canada beat the U.S. Men 33-31 at the North American & Caribbean Championships. And, this was an important match in which a U.S. victory might have led to the U.S. Men qualifying for the Pan American Championships. While a close match the Canadian Men clearly were a better side that day and consistently a better side throughout that tournament. They rightly earned qualification to the Pan American Championships that were held in Greenland this past June.
At that tournament, Canada continued their steady, consistent play. They were not competitive against Brazil (42-13) and were soundly beaten by Greenland (32-20), but they finished up strong in the consolation rounds beating Puerto Rico and avenging an earlier defeat against Uruguay to finish in 5th place. They may not be the most athletic team, but they play smart and find a way to beat teams on their level. Not surprisingly, Coach Alexis Bertrand, has kept his roster almost entirely intact, with virtually an identical roster from the two tournaments played earlier this year.
With the U.S. Men, it’s a dramatically different tale to tell. The U.S. has a new coach, Robert Hedin, and a dramatically different roster with only 6 players returning from the NORCA Tournament. National Team mainstay, Gary Hines, has returned and several dual citizens, mostly playing in Europe will make their U.S. Sr Team debut. Some have previously played for the U.S. in Jr team competitions and have shown promise in those events. Adam El Zoghby also returns after a long spell and the U.S. has added a totally new face in 21 year old Ian Huter who plays for Dormagen in the German Bundesliga 2nd Division.
It’s hard to say who exactly will play the bulk of the minutes for Coach Hedin, but it won’t surprise me a bit if he leans heavily on the new dual citizens and Gary Hines. And, based on the individual pedigrees of all these players, in theory, overnight, the U.S. has a more talented and athletic team than Canada. Key words: “in theory.” Why? Well, because it’s not always easy to integrate individual talents into a cohesive team. It takes time to accomplish that task. And, time has run out for this “new look” U.S. team. They’ve had limited time to prepare, limited time to practice, and only a few friendly matches under their belt. None of which were played with the full roster.
Meanwhile the Canadians have played two important qualification tournaments in the last 6 months. They are as ready to play at their maximum potential as they probably could be. They know their teammates, their strengths, their weaknesses. They know that “so and so” likes his pass “right here” on the wing. And, when if the left back starts his move, the circle runner knows exactly where to go to get the entry pass. They are a solid “team”. Not flashy, but solid. Based on their recent performances they are very unlikely to beat themselves. Indeed, they’ve shown quite the knack of finding a way to win the close games at crunch time.
So, what we have are a lot of unanswered questions:
- Will the new U.S. dual citizens live up to their billing? Making the U.S. Team immediately better?
- And, if so will this new U.S. side play as a team? Or, will they merely be a collective group of individuals that haven’t quite gelled together yet?
- And, will that leave an opening for a proven Canadian side? To collectively beat a side which is a better team on paper?
- Or, will the Canadians wilt under pressure from superior talent?
- Or, maybe the Canadian Men will grow tired of all the hype surrounding a new U.S. team and have that little extra motivation to just prove they are better.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Lots of burning questions to be answered. And, the answers to these questions may change over the course of 120 minutes making the aggregate winner of this border war showdown all the more interesting.
USA – Canada PANAM Games Qualification Schedule
Sunday, 2 September at Auburn
USA – Canada (Women) 3:00 PM (Central Time)
USA – Canada (Men) 5:00 PM (Central Time)
Wednesday, 5 September at Montreal
USA – Canada (Women) 7:00 PM (Eastern Time)
USA – Canada (Men) 9:00 PM (Eastern Time)
All 4 matches will be live streamed.
Live stream for matches at Auburn: Link
Live stream for matches at Montreal: (Link to be added when available)
I will be on the ground, both in Auburn and Montreal, with interviews, stories and some tweets during the match. You can follow me here: https://twitter.com/TeamHandball