The IHF and USA Team Handball have posted the 35 man provisional roster for the 2021 World Championships. Here are some break downs of the roster by age, where athletes first learned handball and by position.
USA Provisional Roster (Youngest to Oldest)
The ages on the 35 man roster range from 16 to 36 with an average age of 23.9. This is surely one of the youngest teams every for the U.S. and this is due to quite a few younger dual citizens list on the provisional roster. Almost a third of the roster (11 of 35) are under 21 and could form the nucleus of a pretty decent Jr team.
USA Provisional Roster (Nation Where they First Played Handball)
All of these athletes are Americans, but the U.S. is a large nation with a global population. Estimates vary, but as many as 9M American citizens live in another country so it’s no real surprise that some of those 9M learned to play handball where they grew up. In fact, 80% (28 of 35) of the U.S. roster originally played handball in 13 different countries. Germany leads the way with 7 athletes followed by Sweden with 5. Other nations: Denmark (3), France (2), Bosnia & Herzegovina (2), Croatia (2), Austria (1), Colombia (1), Egypt (1), Hungary (1), Israel (1), Norway (1), Spain (1).
(The fact that the U.S. has so many dual citizen athletes is sometimes seen as controversial, but it shouldn’t be. I addressed this reality and its implications for the U.S. National Team and the sport’s development previously in a series of commentaries Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
In terms of the 7 U.S. athletes that were raised stateside, 3 athletes (Hamm, Kennedy and Donlin) are products of Collegiate Clubs, 3 athletes (Lee, Reed and King) are products of the former Auburn Residency Program and 1, Gary Hines, was a product of an Atlanta based youth program and the Condors club.
USA Provisional Roster (By Position)
I’ve broken out the provisional roster by each position listed for the athletes on the roster. I’ve also taken a stab at projecting the 20 man roster. As, often is the case, this was a relatively simple task for the first 15 or so, but much more difficult as one gets nearer the cut line. Further complicating the task are these factors:
- Some of these athletes have never played for the U.S. before (and, I’ve never seen them play before).
- Some of these athletes have been playing regularly and some athletes haven’t been playing at all due to the pandemic. This could clearly boost the chances of athletes who are already in game shape.
- The coaching staff might factor in long term plans for the U.S. and this could give a boost to a younger player’s consideration.
- Generally, rosters contain 2 at every position and then a couple of extra players. With an expanded 20 man roster it’s tougher to project which positions will take 3 or more athletes.
That said, here’s my depth chart at each position with the athletes in green getting my nod. Again, I’m flying somewhat blind here, but we’ll see how close I come. For sure, I don’t envy the tough, real decisions the coaching staff will have to make.
Sam Hoddersen was a steady performer at the PANAM Games, but projecting the #2 is challenging. Lukas Hansen is an unknown quantity, but plays on the youth team for one of Denmark’s top clubs, Frederica. And, he’s even played a few matches for their pro team in Denmark’s top level of play. Michael Lee and Michael King were alternates For the PANAM Games and will also get consideration. Juan Felipe Zabala Carvajal plays for Inter Miami and I’m not familiar with his play. A further wild card: Gary Hines has shown that he can play this position as well.
Abou Fofana is the projected starter at Left Back and Gary Hines will also likely play some there as well. Hines could also, however, ending up playing Right Back like he did at the PANAM Games or Left Wing as well. I see Seb Wheeler as the 3rd option here ahead of the other Left Backs listed.
Ian Hueter is the key to the U.S. offense and has been playing well this season for his club team, Dormagen. Alexandre Chan Blanco is the biggest newcomer to the U.S. roster and leads his Liga Asobal club, Cisne, in scoring with 79 goals this season in 14 matches. He’ll play some at CB, but I’m thinking he might also be moved to RB as well. Certainly, he is in playing form and the U.S. will need to find a spot for him. I think Amir Seifert is the 3rd option here, but, a case could also be made for Aaron Hamm, who played at Jr Worlds. Also, Michael Williams makes a return after a long absence. He was a key player on the 2011 PANAM Games squad, but I haven’t seen him play since.
Overall, I found this position the toughest to project. For the PANAM Games, coach Hedin chose to have Gary Hines play quite a bit of RB which was a bit out of position for him. In theory, none of these players could make the roster in favor of left backs and center backs moving over to right back. If, however the U.S. chooses to go with a left hander at this position, Benjamin Briffe is the most experienced option. He played a few years in France’s highest pro league, but he is currently living in the U.S., and thanks to the pandemic, he’s unlikely to be in game shape. Jonas Stromberg is an up and coming player that is showing progress and Adam Elzhoghby is another experienced option. There’s something to be said, as well, to having an Egyptian American on your roster at a WC that is played in Egypt.
Ty Reed, currently training in Flensburg, is the obvious starter here, but it’s not clear who his back up will be. Max Binderis is a known quantity, but I have no idea as to pedigree of the newcomer, Nicolai Weber.
The U.S. has it’s most depth at the circle runner position so I see the U.S. taking 4 or even 5 players at this position. I’ve seen both Hueter and Donlin play several times this year and I give the overall edge to Hueter here. Donlin, however, has been making great strides while playing backup at Liga Asobal side, Leon, so he will see plenty of playing time. Domagoj Srsen is a bit of a question mark since he’s not actively playing. Still it’s hard to see a defensive specialist who’s played for Zagreb and Hannover not making an impact. Paul Skorupa edges out Alex Binderis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both are taken.
The U.S. goalkeeper situation is also fairly clear. Rene Ingram (IFK Kristianstad) and Nicolas Robinson (Elverum) were the U.S. GKs during the PANAM Games and are both training with Champions League clubs thanks in part to the Forum Club Handball. I haven’t seen Pal Merkovsky play, but he appears to be the backup GK for Gyongyos which is professional club that plays in Hungary’s top league. It will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the other two keepers.
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