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Archive for June 27, 2013

BULLETIN: June 27, 2013 — Australia 4, USA 1

It was always going to be a tough ask for the United States women’s field hockey team to win its quarterfinal match in the FIH World League semifinals, given its run of form in pool play.

And against an Australia side which won its pool with some dominating offensive production, the miracle never came.

The Hockeyroos, having been tied 1-1 after Rachel Dawson’s dragflick in the 10th minutes, dominated possession, tempo, and scoring, running out 4-1 victors against a very docile U.S. side.

The Americans have scored a grand total of three goals this tournament, and, with the loss, will not be able to harvest world rankings points from the World League Finals this fall in Argentina. Instead, the United States is going to have to limit the damage as best it can by placing as high as it can in this tournament.

The failure to advance to the World League final does not necessarily mean that the Applebees won’t make the 2014 World Cup in Holland. The Americans can either win next year’s Pan American Cup, or hope that more than two teams below them in world rankings don’t win their continental championships. And given the fact that every African team is ranked below the U.S. in world rankings, at least one (likely No. 11 South Africa) will make the 12-team field in Rotterdam.

It is interesting to note that every team that has qualified for the World League Final — Germany, Holland, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, China, Australia, and England — is in the current top 8 in world rankings.

If the U.S. does manage to make the World Cup on world ranking, it’s going to be on a knife’s edge, believe me.

June 27, 2013 — An ode to the National Training Center

“I returned to the fields of glory,
Where the green grass and flowers grow.
And the wind softly sings the story,
Of the brave lads of long ago.”
— When The Battle Is O’er

Before the idea of building a soccer-specific stadium anywhere in the United States, much less in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, the area along Princess Anne Boulevard was little more than pine forests, open fields, and narrow two-lane roads. This included a plot of land at the intersection of Dam Neck Road and Landstown Road across from the Virginia Beach Amphitheater.

Today, the Virginia Beach Sportsplex is a soccer stadium, a field house, a huge complex of grass fields, and the National Training Center. It has seen the AAU Junior Olympics, at least three professional soccer teams, and a franchise in the United Football League.

But one of the showcase events held there every year saw its final iteration, at least for the time being. Beginning next summer, the National Futures Tournament and many other USA Field Hockey events are going to be held at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex near Lancaster, Pa.

It is fair to say that the field hockey footprint in Virginia Beach grew along with development along the eight-lane roads in the Princess Anne area of town. The National Training Center, beginning with an Oct. 2001 Test between the U.S. women’s national team and South Africa, has become a showplace for the game of field hockey.

It has been the site of the National Club Championships, the National Field Hockey League, the Virginia High School League championship, and the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association championships. It held the Champions Challenge in 2005, and it has been the annual site for the Sun Devil Invitational. One year, the championship final featured an East Chapel Hill (N.C.) team featuring an attacking midfielder named Michelle Kasold playing against a St. Mary’s School team from Johannesburg, South Africa which featured Shelley Russell, who is currently on the South African team.

The Training Center has had a wonderful set of people who have worked with USA Field Hockey over the last dozen years. This goes from Scotty Tyson, a long-time organizer and coach, to Terry Sawyer, the unofficial emcee of the proceedings who sometimes was the bearer of bad news when it came to weather evacuations of the facility.

The 12-year run of the National Futures Tournament came at a curious time in the sporting and cultural history of the Hampton Roads region, which includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and various other communities on and off the peninsula. Ever since a skinny basketball player from the University of Massachusetts named Julius Erving started his ABA career playing at The Scope in Norfolk, the Hampton Roads area has been looking to become the home of a major-league sports franchise.

The area has a good argument; with nearly 1.7 million people, Hampton Roads is the 37th-largest statistical population in the United States, ahead of Buffalo, New Orleans, and Milwaukee, each of which has at least two major sports franchises.

Aside from the ABA’s Virginia Squires and a three-year run by the Virginia Roadsters in the National Professional Softball League, that was about it for Hampton Roads in the major pro sports universe. There was also a tremendous financial collapse centered around the Sportsplex, one which saw the APSL’s Hampton Roads Mariners soccer franchise terminated, and replaced by the Virginia Beach Piranhas of the PDL, which is the United States’ third division of soccer.

There was even hope that the Hampton Roads area would become the home for the Washington Redskins’ training facility, but their permanent home has remained in Ashburn, Va. with a new training facility in Richmond.

The financial troubles that sunk the Mariners’ soccer franchise did not serve the city of Virginia Beach well. Even as plans were formed to remake a shopping mall into a gleaming town center with restaurants, outdoor cafes, and an eye-catching skyscraper, many other businesses were shuttered.

I drove that stretch of Virginia Beach Boulevard for the final time yesterday. It is along this roadway where you can appreciate the contrasts. In almost every strip mall, there are places which will buy gold, loan money for your car title, or even purchase your blood plasma. Across the street, a Mercedes dealership.

Thrift stores permeate the landscape, interspersed with high-end clothiers. It is easy to recognize which restaurant used to be a Pizza Hut, a Wawa food market, or an Arby’s because of the distinctive shapes of their buildings. Next to the repurposed eateries are freshly-built chain restaurants with neon and chrome trim.

These are the side-by-side contrasts in the new Hampton Roads. I don’t know how the story is going to end — for the region, or for the old National Training Center.

All I know is that there is new history that is going to happen at the fringe of Pennsylvania Dutch country starting in about 360 days.