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Archive for July 9, 2017

July 9, 2017 — The U.S. team keeps it simple in win over Chile

Field hockey is a simple stick-and-ball game upon which technological advances such as composite sticks, artificial competition surfaces, and metrics have been imposed.

And yet, the U.S. women’s field hockey team debuted in the FIH World League Semifinals with a 1-0 win over Chile, thanks to the most elementary play from the Constance Applebee playbook.

In the 35th minute, Michelle Vittese, again playing big in a critical contest, penetrated the circle on the right wing, exploiting her defenders’ weak side. She then fed the ball to an open Jill Witmer in the goalmouth. Her putaway caught Chilean goalkeeper Claudia Schuler back in her goal cage.

The States, having more than half of its roster turn over from last year’s Olympics, have had to resort to relatively simple plays and penalty corners, with the retirements of dragflickers Lauren Crandall and Rachel Dawson. The U.S. could have had more than its goal but for Kat Sharkey’s struck penalty corner that drew the post.

Meanwhile, the U.S. defense held thanks to goalkeeper Jackie Briggs, who made a number of key saves in the second half. But the States were aided most in the final minute by the video umpiring crew. In the final 70 seconds of play, Russian referee Elena Ezkina called a pair of U.S. feet in the circle, either of which could have yielded a Chilean penalty corner to level the match. Both of the calls, however, were overturned by New Zealander Kelly Hudson in the video booth.

For the Americans, yesterday’s FIH World League Semifinal is the beginning of a complicated process. But the simplest scenario for qualification to the 2018 World Cup is this; if the Americans are able to win their quarterfinal match on July 18th — no matter who they play –, they will automatically qualify for the World Cup, because the top 10 teams finishing in the two World League semifinals will move through, along with the five continental winners and host England.

The Americans are in a five-team pool along with Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and India. In the other pool are Germany,  Japan, Ireland, Poland, and England, making almost any quarterfinal permutation a difficult proposition.

If the U.S. fails to win, it could still qualify automatically with two more wins in the consolation bracket. The qualifiers from this tournament will join Holland, China, Korea, New Zealand, and Australia at the World Cup next year.

If the States do not qualify, the Pan American Cup at Spooky Nook next month becomes critical, although the U.S. could also get into the World Cup if enough already-qualified World League teams also win their continental tournaments.