The 2023 USA Team Handball Collegiate National Championships wrapped up on Sunday with both the West Point Men and Women taking home the Championship Trophy.
The West Point-Black Women managed to take an early lead against Carolina and were able to stay comfortably in front most of the way for a 34-29 victory. In the 3rd place match Ohio State picked up their first win of the tournament with an 18-12 victory over West Point-Gold.
It was the 3rd title in a row for West Point and they have also won 8 out of the last 8 competitions. Maci Hodgins of West Point was name the tournament MVP and the leading scorer was Ohio St’s Deborah Seipp with 31 goals.
The Men’s competition saw West Point break open a close match late for a 34-29 victory over Carolina. For the West Point-Black side it was a typical clinical tournament as they rolled to their 15th consecutive collegiate title. In the Bronze medal match Ohio State dominated what appeared to be a fatigued Air Force team for a comfortable 40-26 win. West Point’s Colin Gray took home the MVP honors while Air Force’s led all scorers with 37 goals.
The second day of competition included some predictable blowouts, but also a few nailbiters.
In the Women’s competition Group Play concluded with two close games between evenly matched team as West Point-Black beat Carolina 12-10 to finish top of the table and West Point-Gold edged Ohio St, 11-10 to finish 3rd. In the Semifinals West Point Black dispatched Ohio St, 19-12 and Carolina beat West Point Gold 20-14 to set up rematches for both the Final and 3rd place matches which will take place today at 11 AM (US ET).
In the Men’s competition, the quarterfinals saw 3 predictable blowouts and 1 close match between Air Force and West Point-Gold that came down to the wire with Air Force edging West Points 2nd team narrowly, 30-29
West Point-Black vs CWRU 33-4
OSU-Scarlet vs Tar Heels 30-13
Air Force vs West Point-Gold 30-29
Carolina vs Auburn 26-12
The semifinals saw a rematch of last year’s final between West Point-Black and Ohio St-Scarlet. West Point broke the game open early for a 4 goal lead that they never relinquished as the tourney favorites gradually wore down Ohio St for a 7 goal win. In the other semifinal, Air Force suffered a key lost early in the match when their center back, Ethan Kwun, was red carded. North Carolina seemed to have the edge, but a game Air Force side hung tough and the match proved to be a dead heat, tied at the end of regulation, tied a the end of extra time and only to be decided by a penalty shootout. Carolina’s Hugh Toomey, scored the matchwinner to send Carolina to Sunday’s final. Video
West Point-Black vs OSU-Scarlet 31-24
Carolina 25-25 (Carolina won Penalty shootout 5-3)
Today’s gold match between West Point and North Carolina will be later today at 1 PM US ET. West Point-Black has dominated their competition so far and will be heavily favored to win their 15th consecutive national title. A title they’ve won every non COVID year since 2007. North Carolina is the last non West Point to win a championship, having won 3 consecutive from 2004-2006.
Yesterday, the 2023 USA Team Handball College Nationals saw the favorite teams dominate group play competition.
In the Women’s competition Group Play started with wins for both West Point Black and Carolina. Group Play will continue today with 2 more matches for all 4 teams, followed by semifinal matches at 3:45 PM. The Final will then take place at 11 AM on Sunday
In the Men’s competition, 6 teams have qualified for the quarterfinals, 2 have been relegated to classification play, while 4 teams remain in the hunt. Group play will conclude this morning with 4 contests that will determine seeding and/or qualification.
In Group A, Air Force has played and won their two matches to take the top seed so newcomer SUNY Cortland and Tar Heels will face off to determine 2nd place. In Group B, Cincinnati has been eliminated from contention so Ohio St Scarlet and West Point-Gold will play to determine 1st and 2nd. In Group C, West Point-Black has won both of their matches, so Ohio St-Gray and Auburn will play for 2nd place and a QF berth. In Group D, Miami has been eliminated so Carolina and Case Western will play to determine seeding for 1st and 2nd.
After pool play is concluded this morning, the quarterfinals will throw off at noon and 1:15 PM and the semifinals will take place at 5:00 PM. The tournament will then conclude with the championship at 1 PM on Sunday.
The intent of this page is to provide a consolidated location for 2023 Handball World Championship information that can serve both dedicated handball fans as well as newcomers just discovering the sport.
Competition Schedule and Results: Link
Team Information (Official pages, previews, rosters and handy Wikipedia pages): Link
30 years ago I was a member of the U.S. National Team that participated in the 1993 World Championships in Sweden. This week, Team USA returns to Sweden for the 2023 World Championships and I can’t help but feel nostalgic along with a little bit of deja vu. Deja vu, in the sense that while handball has changed and evolved in many ways the U.S. is simply right back where we were 30 years ago.
A Seminal Experience
Anyone who knows me or has followed this website is well aware that I have a great deal of passion for the sport of handball. Where does that passion come from? Well, much of it can be attributed to my participation in the 1993 WC. I was already passionate about the sport, but having the opportunity to represent my country and play against the best handball athletes on a world stage had a super charging effect. Further, my participation was unexpected. I had actually been cut from 1 of 4 Olympic Festival teams (an annual event used in part to evaluate prospects) a year and half earlier. I though my career was over, and instead I ended up starting on defense and playing just about as good as my limited skills and talent would allow. And, now the U.S. returns to a World Championship in Sweden 30 years later. How could I not be nostalgic?
Here are some names from my 1993 experience and the role they now will have at the 2023 WC.
U.S. Head Coach, Robert Hedin: Yes, as you can see from the old Swedish newspaper clipping, Coach Hedin played against the U.S. in our forgettable 32-16 loss to the Swedes at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg. How forgettable? Coach Hedin had literally forgotten that he had even played against the U.S. back in 1993 when I first mentioned it to him during an interview. He remembered playing against the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics, but had totally forgotten this classic. Clearly not a seminal moment for him. (Interview from 2018 shortly after he was hired: Link)
U.S. Asst Coach, Darrick Heath: Heath, is one of the all time best back courts for the U.S. and was also on the 93 USA Team. So the U.S. coaching staff will be returning to Sweden 30 years later, but this time Hedin and Heath will be working together on the same team.
Netherlands Head Coach, Stefan Olsson: Olsson was briefly the USA Team Handball High Performance Manager and is now the coach of the Netherlands. I’m thinking he’s also forgotten the U.S. match 30 years ago. If he remembers, he did not play well and I like to think I played a part in that. (Even if it’s not true… that’s how I like to remember it.)
Just how long has Paul Bray been commentating handball? 30 years ago he was the voice on EuroSport, cracking up the USA team with “barging, giving up the far post” and other British colloquialisms that sounded pretty funny to our American ears.
Striking to me are some athletes on the rosters with similar backgrounds:
Darrick Heath (1993) / Gary Hines (2023): Much like Gary Hines was the “jumping out of the gym” crowd favorite at the warm up tourney in Trondheim, Darrick Heath was the crowd favorite back in 1993. It’s not very often one can actually hear a crowd collectively gasp, but that’s exactly what happened in Gothenburg the first time Darrick launched a jump shot off a 9 meter throw. Seriously, in that one very narrow skill of a 9 meter jump shot behind a wall Darrick might well be the all time greatest.
And, here’s a side note on Gary that makes me feel just a little bit younger. Way back in 2004 I played my last competitive matches at the USA National Championships with Gary on the Condors club team. As long as he keeps winning the battle vs Father Time I get to watch Team USA and keep saying, “Yeah, I played with him.”
John Keller (1993) / Ty Reed (2023): They play a different position (Right Back for Keller; Right Wing for Reed), but they both played for NCAA Division 1 football teams (North Carolina for Keller; Alabama for Reed).
John Ryan (1993) / Drew Donlin (2023): Both Circle Runners; Both Air Force Academy Graduates; Both Captains and while Drew is the Space Force and I was in the Air Force, I was working Space acquisition before Donald Trump made it cool. The similarities pretty much end there, though. While I was a serviceable defensive specialist no one was plucking me out of the lineup to go play in the Liga ASOBAL for a couple of years.
Similar Teams and Deja Vu?
I write this with a question mark because we’re talking different eras and I’m pretty sure this USA team is not going to finish dead last with no wins like we did back in 1993. That said, I like to think that if we had played with an expanded field of 32 teams (instead of a 16 team field) we wouldn’t have finished 32nd.
We were a side that played hard and showed some potential. Darrick Heath parlayed his performance into a professional career. Several of my teammates continued playing and became Olympians 3 years later. The U.S. continued to improve and started to play closer matches vs the top teams. Why does Coach Hedin remember his match against the U.S. at the 96 Olympics? Because three years after clobbering us by 16 goals they had to sweat out a 4 goal win in Atlanta.
The jury is still out on this 2023 team, but the warmup tourney in Trondheim suggests that we will see a team that will sometimes be way out of its league (losing 27-12 to Norway in the 1st half) and at times pretty competitive (losing 16-14 to Norway in the 2nd half). Much like the U.S. team was back in 1993. (Our two halves vs Sweden in 1993: Link)
And, perhaps just like 1993 we could see some players turn some heads. It won’t shock me at all if Abou Fofana and/or Ian Huter with the great exposure provided by the World Championships get some offers from bigger clubs.
It’s also pretty clear to me that we will be watching the core nucleus of our 2028 Olympic team. There are a few players on the roster that will likely age out, but the bulk of this roster is in their early to mid 20s. Why, I see as many as 10 athletes on the current roster suiting up in Los Angeles in 2028. And, unlike our 93 team they will have 5 years instead of 3 to further develop as a team. So while this 2023 team is in a similar place to the 1993 team they have far greater potential.
I think Abou Fofana said it best when he was asked on Instagram, “What should Americans look out for when they watch this team?”
All, I can say is… I wholeheartedly concur with his assessment
But, while there are some similarities between these two teams, there’s one huge difference that would have been inconceivable to me and my teammates 30 years ago. And, that is a roster consisting mostly of Americans who grew up in another country. I’ll explain why in part 2 this is not really something to be concerned about… if we take full advantage of this good fortune to really focus on efforts to develop handball stateside.
Some links to check out
Team USA results at previous Handball World Championships: Link
In Part 1, I reviewed some definitions and addressed misconceptions that some folks might have with our Handball American Expats. In this second part I take a closer look at the demographics of what in some respects is our 51st state.
The Demographics of
Just exactly how many Americans don’t actually live in the United States? Would you believe that number is 9 Million strong? According to this State Department document that’s how many there are. I, for one was surprised at the sheer size of this number. Put it this way, if Expatica Americana was a country in terms of total population it would rank 97th amongst the countries of the world. Almost twice as big as handball power Denmark. 27 times bigger than always respectable Iceland. If Expatica Americana was really a state (instead of an unofficial one) it would be ranked 11th in terms of population. Why, it would even have 12 congressional districts and 14 Electoral votes. Easily enough to swing an election in what would surely be a deep blue state.
From a handball development perspective, having 9 million
Americans living in other countries where handball is possibly a more important
sport is a good thing. A certain portion
of those living overseas will have kids and those kids will grow up in a handball
environment. Free development of
For a number of reasons, though, this population
unfortunately is not roughly the size of New Jersey (8.9M) with kids from
Hackensack to Newark playing the seven aside game with passion.
The Demographics of
Expatica Americana in “Handball” Countries
And, then, of course handball is mostly a European game with North Africa thrown in for good measure. That draws down that number based on this compilation of multiple sources to around 1M or roughly Rhode Island’s size. A small state, but that’s still 3 times the size of Iceland.
Finally, however, we’ve got to further break down that
number to separate the “just visiting” to the semi-permanent to permanent Expat
Americans. Because the reality is that
there’s a big difference between moving to Europe for job/school reasons for a
few years and moving to Europe and deciding to stay there. To stay there and raise a family and
potentially a handball playing American son or daughter.
I wasn’t able to find any hard data on how many Americans are doing that, but I’m going to suggest that number is only around 5% of the 1M, if that. Taking that 1M down to 50,000. 1/12 the size of Wyoming, our least populous state. The population of Casper, Wyoming or more appropriately in handball terms, roughly the population of the Faroe Islands. Pretty small, but even a small handball country like the Faroe Islands can rise up and win a major title.
The Real Demographics
But, maybe the prospect of a Faroe Islands size cohort isn’t
even accurate. Maybe it’s even a smaller
pool of potential handball players.
Certainly, from an historical perspective it was a lot smaller. If one looks back to the 70s, 80s and 90s
there were only a handful of expats on our national teams. I’ve been told that there were a few
“naturalized” Europeans in the early days of USA Team Handball, but until Terje
Vatne, who first played handball in Norway and who played for the U.S. in the
80s and 90s I don’t think there were any expat players.
There could be a number of reasons for this. First off, this was before the internet, so finding “handball American expats” was a lot more challenging. Think about it: An American playing handball in Europe wanting to play for the U.S. would first have to know that playing for the U.S. was even possible, then they would have to track down an address to mail a letter or call information to find the USA Team Handball phone number. And, further complicating things would be the semantic issue of handball being a different sport in the U.S. It’s comical to think about this earlier era and this problem, but make no mistake it was a real problem.
Despite these handicaps, USA Team Handball did make attempts
to find players and during my short stint with the U.S. National Team a couple
of expat players got a quick tryout right before the 1993 World Championships. Apparently, USA Team Handball sent a letter
to European Federations inquiring about dual citizens and a Norwegian and
Swedish player answered the call. They
showed up at our training camp in Finland a couple of weeks before the
championship and they were both decent players.
I don’t remember their names. The
Norwegian was young (maybe 18) and a decent left back. The Swede played center back and while a
little undersized he had very good technical skills. If he had been practicing with the team
longer I think he probably would have made the team.
And, that last sentence leads to a reality which surely limited dual citizen participation. Namely, if you have a residency program where players are practicing and bonding together on a daily basis, bringing in some new players to take their spot on the roster is not good for team cohesion. And, back in 1993 we were talking only 2 roster spots. Today, with more and better quality expats available for the Men’s team such an issue has been rendered moot. One just has to compare the Men’s national team roster from the 2018 North American Championship to the 2019 PANAM Games to quickly come to that conclusion. And, while it’s quite appropriate to simply select the best players available, it becomes a more complicated decision if it also calls into question the validity of your national team development concept.
The Real Demographics
Which leads to a discussion of the current reality. Exactly, how many expats does the U.S. have
at its disposal? Well, it’s relatively
simple to add up the number of such players that have played for the U.S. Men’s
and Women’s national teams.
My unofficial tally is that there have been 48 expat men and
18 expat women that have been played for the U.S. Sr, Jr (U21) or Youth (U19)
national teams in the past 10 years.
This number is surely not 100% correct as I may have missed a few names
or mistakenly identified athletes as expats/non expats. Here’s a couple of charts that further breaks
down the data
Handball American Expats by Country
No major surprises here. Germany, the country with the world’s most handball players and with several U.S. military bases, by far contributes the most athletes. Scandinavia also has decent representation, although, one might think there might be more Danish-Americans lurking out there somewhere. Israel’s representation at first glance might be surprising as handball is not a major sport there and the population of Israel is just 8M. But, since there are such strong ties between Israel and U.S., there are 200,000 Americans living there to work with, roughly double the number of Americans living in Germany.
Handball American Expats by Birth Year
This table provides some insight as to the actual numbers of
Handball American Expats that might be available to play for the U.S. In particular, if one averages out the birth
years (1995 – 2001), roughly 5 expats have been identified each year. This is probably indicative of what might be
expected on average since this covers the period of time for which more Jr and
Youth competition opportunities became available. For the women, there is less data to work
with, but roughly 2 athletes by birth year appear to be available on average
Of course, average means that some years there will be more
and some years there will be less.
Further, I haven’t gotten into detail as to relative quality of these
available athletes. Having had more opportunities
the past few years to actually see the U.S. Jr and Youth teams play, though, it’s
clear that these athletes cover the spectrum.
Some have been high quality athletes that aren’t too far from making a
European side, while others have been lower tier club players that have only
been selected because there simply wasn’t much competition to make the team.
So now, that I’ve taken a closer look at the underlying demographics of our handball American expats, we’ve got a pretty decent handle on what this key cohort looks like. In Part 3, I’ll look at the implications of this small talent pool and why it’s kind of like Hickory High, the fictional 1952 Indiana State Basketball Champions in the movie, Hoosiers.
Ljubomir Vranjes was the head coach at Flensburg for 7 years and earlier today headed back to Germany with his new team Veszprem for a key Champions League showdown with Flensburg’s former rival Kiel.
What screen do you get when you click on the link to watch?: Link
If you prefer the 1st screen click here: Nord VPN.
I can’t guarantee you that Nord VPN will solve all your handball viewing problems, but I will unequivocally state, that I am personally a very, very happy camper with my Nord VPN subscription. With a free trial and plans starting as low as $3.29/month you really owe it to yourself to check it out.
I will say, though, that if you take their commentary and cross reference it with the published odds, you’ll see that the bookmakers might be undervaluing the Netherland’s chances.
Of interest to followers of handball in Pan America, will be whether Brazil, which has stumbled a bit in pre-tournament friendlies can perform better in the actual tournament. Meanwhile Argentina, if they can spring a surprise might just have their best opportunity in their first match vs the Czech Republic on Saturday.
Norway 1.2 to 1
Russia 6.5 to 1
France 7 to 1
Netherlands 11 to 1
Spain 15 to 1
Germany 15 to 1
Romania 15 to 1
Sweden 19 to 1
Denmark 21 to 1
Brazil 23 to 1
Hungary 24 to 1
South Korea 29 to 1
Serbia 49 to 1
Montenegro 49 to 1
Poland 199 to 1
Slovenia 249 to 1
Angola 299 to 1
Czech Republic 499 to 1
Japan 999 to 1
China 1499 to 1
Argentina 1999 to 1
Tunisia 2499 to 1
Paraguay 2999 to 1
Cameroon 2999 to 1
Winner of Group A
Winner of Group B
Czech Republic 30/1
Winner of Group C
Winner of Group D
South Korea 5/1
Busan International Friendly Tournament: USA Women to take on 3 club teams and 2 national team sides.
The USA Women are in Busan, South Korea where they are 1 of 6 teams participating in an International Friendly Tournament. Korean club teams are sponsored by companies and the Busan Infrastructure Corporation (BISCO) sponsors a club team that plays in Korea’s top league. Other teams participating including ERD HC from Hungary, EH Aalborg from Denmark and the national teams from Taiwan and Australia.
Based on pedigree ERD and hosts BISCO should be the two top teams. ERD HC placed 3rd in Hungary’s top league and qualified for the EHF Cup (Europe’s 2nd level competition below the Champions League). EH Aalborg finished 7th last season in Denmark’s 2nd Division and should be a notch below those 2 teams. As these clubs are professional or semi-professional they will likely present stiff competition for the U.S.
The two other national teams participating, Taiwan and Australia, however, should be teams the U.S. can match up with as neither side has performed particularly well recently in International competition. Taiwan’s most recent Asian Championships appearance was in 2012 where they placed 7th out of 12 participants. I’m not very familiar with Taiwan handball and it’s not clear as to why they haven’t participated since then.
Australia has been the dominant team in Oceania and regularly qualified for the World Championships until their automatic slot was eliminated in 2015. That being said, they never won a match at the World Championships and often lost the 23rd place match to the weakest Pan American side participating.
The tournament is scheduled to take place over 5 days and will be a full round robin with 3 matches played daily.
USA Match Schedule (Korea is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time)
Saturday, 19 Aug 1700 (Local) / 0400 ET USA vs Busan BISCO (South Korea)
Sunday, 20 Aug 1500 (Local) / 0200 ET USA vs ERD HC (Hungary)
Monday, 21 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs EH Aalborg (Denmark)
Tuesday, 22 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs Australia
Wednesday, 23 Aug 1400 (Local) / 0100 ET USA vs Taiwan
Elina Linner, shown here playing beach handball, will be trying out for the U.S. Women’s court team next weekend.
The Desert Sun newspaper, based in Palm Springs, California has an article/video on a potential new member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Elina Linner.
Desert Sun (9 Dec 2016) La Quinta graduate a unique talent in an unusual sport: Link
Linner played for several years in Sweden for her club team, Lödde Vikings, prior to immigrating to the U.S. two years ago. She has been practicing with the LA Team Handball club and is attending tryouts in Auburn next weekend. Linner, also has a fundraising site to help support her efforts: Link
My new favorite TV Channel: The NBC Team Handball channel on my Roku
Remember the days when the Olympics were only on 1 TV channel? Viewers had no choice, but to watch whatever the network decided to show. Were you going to see any handball? Not very likely. Heck, I didn’t even see any handball until the 84 games and even then it was just a few highlights.
Over the years we’ve seen that viewing experience evolve, almost always for the better. Here’s how you can watch Team Handball in the U.S. this Olympiad. And, new this year a “handball channel”. Hey, I might be back to 1 channel again. What goes around, comes around.
Traditional TV: NBC will be broadcasting the Olympics on several NBC owned channels. Some Team Handball will be shown on a daily basis on either the USA Network, NBCSN, MSNBC or CNBC.
Live Stream: For the past couple of Olympics we’ve also been able to watch live streams of every match. Sometimes this viewing experience has been frustrating, but we’ve seen the quality and reliability improve with each passing Olympiad. To watch download the NBC Sports App and make sure it’s loaded on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Live Stream to your Connected TV: This Olympiad you will also be able to watch Handball on your TV if you have a Roku, Apple TV or other similar Over The Top (OTT) TV connection. In order to get this option, though, you’ll first need to add the NBC Sports channel to your channel lineup. I did this for my Roku and the process was similar to adding HBO Go, NBC News or any other channel. And, to fully activate the channel you will then need to go online to authenticate that you have a cable or satellite TV subscription. At which point you will get a code to enter in on your Roku to finish the activation process.
Of course, you can always just link your TV to your computer via an HDMI cable, but generally your picture via Roku and other platforms is better. And, hopefully, the Handball channel will also have on demand matches available. This, however, remains to be seen.
Welcome: Like clockwork every four years the great sport of Team Handball finds thousands of new fans with the discovery of the sport during Olympic TV broadcasts. Many articles are written about the sport and talk radio fills the airwaves with discussion and rhetorical questions. As a longtime fan of the sport this quadrennial burst of interest is always welcome even if it tends to fade out all too soon. This page is intended to help new found fans, journalists and radio talk show hosts learn more about the sport.
Media Assistance: Are you working on a story regarding this great sport? I am readily available to help answer questions regarding the sport’s rules, its organization world-wide, and to offer my opinions as to why the U.S. hasn’t been very successful and what might be done to change that. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sports Radio: Are you fielding calls from listeners and discussing a sport you’ve only just discovered? Contact me if you would like for me to come on air and talk about the ongoing Olympic competition or the sport in general. Contact: email@example.com
FAQ: This pages contains answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the sport: Link
Commentaries on Team Handball in the U.S.: Have you started to wonder why the U.S. struggles in this sport that is so inherently American? Perhaps you have come up with some ideas to solve this seemingly simple problem. All well in good, but in many cases those ideas have either already been tried unsuccessfully or have some underlying issues which make their implementation challenging or simply unfeasible. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but chances are I’ve addressed the topic and framed the issues. These commentaries might be a good starting point for further reflection: Link
Previous U.S. Mainstream Media Articles on the Sport: Here’s a list of previous articles written about the sport: Link
John Ryan’s Bio: I learned the sport at the Air Force Academy, had a 2 year stint with the U.S. National Team and lived in France for 5 years where I had an opportunity to immerse myself in the sport. I’ve been writing and commentating about the sport since 2004. More detailed bio: Link
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)
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)
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.