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Archive for June 8, 2019

June 8, 2019 — An unexpected story from Bhubaneswar, India

While the U.S. women’s field hockey team has been playing in the high-visibility and globe-trotting FIH Pro League, there is another field hockey national team looking to pursue an Olympic dream this week.

The U.S. men’s national team, a group made of renegades, immigrants, and a handful of home-grown players, is currently undefeated in two matches in the men’s FIH Series tournament in Bhubaneswar, India.

The FIH Series is the de facto replacement for the FIH World League, but is conducted without the teams in the Pro League. Teams on both the men’s and women’s side play down to three eight-nations tournaments for each gender. After pool play and a cross-over round featuring the second- and third-place teams in each pool, an all-important semifinal round is played. The two semifinalists in each FIH Series tournament advance to the pool of 14 for the Olympic qualifiers.

Already qualified for the Olympic qualifiers are Canada and Malaysia, and they will be in the mix along with two other teams from the other two FIH Series Tournaments, the top four teams in the FIH Pro League, and the next four national teams by world ranking.

The United States, with wins over South Africa and Mexico in their first two pool matches, has a game with Japan on Monday to close out the group. If the Americans win, they only need to win against the second or third place team in the other pool in order to make it to the Bhubaneswar final, therefore taking one of the two Olympic qualifier berths.

As for tomorrow’s match, Japan’s men’s field hockey team is in very much the same situation as the United States. Before making the 2020 Olympics as host, the last time the team made the Olympic Games was 1968. However, Japan did do something unprecendented this cycle: winning the Asian Games (and the continent’s automatic berth) for the first time in its history.

And that makes Mondays game, oddly enough, very winnable for the Americans. That’s because Japan is already qualified twice-over for the Olympics, and don’t need to risk injury to its key players a year out from Tokyo 2020.

We’ll see what happens on Monday.