STARS AND STRIPES HAVE A FIGHT ON THEIR HANDS
By Al Mattei
Is it too early to call the 2000 campaign for the U.S. women's senior national field hockey team a complete disaster?
Given the fact that Team USA was on a nine-game losing streak a scant eight weeks before having to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, the answer went from a definite "Yes" to a less-than-confident "Maybe" in three weeks.
The Americans, after dropping three games in England in late 1999, were swept in three games at a four-nations tournament in Mar del Plate, Argentina, then lost friendly matches to Spain and Argentina the following week before nabbing six goals against the Argentina U21 national teamers in a needed boost of confidence.
The first game of the four-nations tournament, a replay of the 1999 Pan American Games gold-medal match with Argentina, was tight throughout, but the Albicelestes were able to break through for a goal seven minutes from time.
From thence, the Stars and Stripes might tell you that they did not play their best hockey. They dropped a 2-0 game to New Zealand, then lost a second-half lead to Spain in a 4-3 loss.
In both contests, the Americans embarked on key stretches of play without a key player, thanks to a yellow card.
It is easy to critique in hindsight, but one can find interesting trends in what did not happen in these three games.
For instance, a lot of Team USA's experience was wanting when Kris Fillat (109 caps) did not make the trip to Argentina. Too, one can make the argument that the team might have been quicker if Mimi Smith were on the forward line.
But the Test lineup that was assembled for the four-nations tournament had enough firepower on paper, it just could not score at key times. Two of the three greatest scorers in National Federation history -- Tracey Fuchs and Michelle Vizzuso -- did not score in the three games. Further, the U.S. only scored on one penalty corner, that by Kate Barber.
Then, in a quadrangular series of games the following week, the Americans came across more offensive woes. They were shut out 2-0 by Spain, then dropped a 4-1 count to host Argentina. That, folks, is four goals scored in five games.
What does this mean for the U.S. effort in Milton Keynes? When it comes to the perceived pecking order in the Americans' pool, it puts them at least out of the medal round. Germany and Spain have to be the favorites in Pool A, while Great Britain and New Zealand are now heavy favorites in Pool B.
This means that, unless the United States makes major adjustments and improvements in the weeks leading up to the Olympic Qualifier, the Americans will have to fight it out with India, Ireland, China, Japan, and Russia for that final Olympic berth.
And a 1-in-6 chance of making it to Sydney is not good odds coming off a losing streak.