TopOfTheCircle.com

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June 4, 2015 — Wading into the gray

This week, the U.S. women’s national field hockey team will be competing in the Valencia World League Semifinal, one of two 10-nations tournaments which serve as qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In this tournament, the United States is drawn into a pool with Uruguay, South Africa, Germany, and Ireland. The other pool has host Spain, Great Britain, Canada, China, and Argentina.

The two World League Semifinal tournaments, taken together, are one of the two main entry points for teams looking to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The other entry point is composed of the five continental qualification tournaments. As of this morning, the only women’s team to qualify for Rio is South Korea, which will be playing in the other World League Semifinal later this month in Belgium.

As was the case two years ago in London, the United States’ mission is reasonably clear: make the top three. Aside from that, there is a lot of gray area when it comes to secondary qualification.

If you recall, two years ago, the United States lost 4-1 to Australia in the quarterfinal round and had to battle back through the consolation bracket to earn fifth place in the London qualifier. For the next several months, there was a lot of scoreboard-watching to see whether already-qualified teams would make it into the World Cup.

The job may not be as easy this time. With 20 teams chasing Olympic dreams, it’s possible that some teams which aren’t contenders for continental honors may make those top three slots in each of the World League semifinal tournaments. If, for example, both China and Japan were to make the top three in their respective World League tournaments, that would mean two fewer chances for teams placing fourth or lower to make it into the Olympics, because South Korea has already qualified from Asia.

It’s a bit confusing, but you also get the feeling that you’re not going to have the same situation as two years ago where the United States lost in the Pan American Cup final but still got into the World Cup. Given the U.S. team’s status as being the fifth-best team in the world, a top-three finish is now expected.

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