Team USA Takes Lessons from Overtime Loss
The U.S. Men's U19 National Team rallied to force overtime, but fell to the Philly All-Stars 15-14 in overtime in an exhibition game on Saturday night.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
RADNOR, Pa. - After a 15-14 overtime loss to Team Philly Saturday night at Radnor High School, U.S. Under-19 men's national team assistant coach Tom Rotanz easily put the exhibition game into perspective.
“We have the old adage of Dean Smith,” Rotanz said. “We want to learn when it doesn’t count. When you play good teams like this you get exposed. When you play so-so teams you look like world beaters. That team is very talented.”
The lessons learned by Team USA will carry over to July’s FIL World Championship in Finland. For one the team now knows its capable of staging a comeback against a talented team.
One week after easily dispatching the Long Island All-Stars, Team USA rallied from a 7-3 halftime deficit and a 10-7 fourth quarter deficit to force overtime, before falling in the final seconds on Matt Rambo's fourth goal.
“We learned a lot today,” said USA defenseman Greg Danseglio. “We were down four goals at one point. We fought back in the second half. We proved that we had some heart.”
Actually, Team USA’s comeback was equal parts heart and brains. It was a halftime defensive adjustment that turned the game around.
After struggling each time Philly inverted, USA began shooting out a pole to get the necessary matchup advantage. It was a strategy they had planned on implementing next week, but the situation necessitated a sped-up time table. Philly scored just one goal in the fourth quarter, before making an adjustment of its own in overtime.
The quick change was no sweat for Team USA. Learning has been a theme all week. There were far less whistles blown compared to last game, as the team has proved to be quick studies in the subtleties of the international game.
“I think we’re doing a lot better,” Danseglio said. “Coach Flynn gave us a little 10 question quiz [on international rules] today. I don’t know how some of the guys did, but I think everyone’s really starting to get the hang of it. The faster play is really starting to help us out and I like it.”
For the defense it also means adjusting to playing with one another and their various playing styles. Each player’s college program employs different on-field terminology, but that hurdle no longer seems to be an issue.
“I think we’ve kind of negotiated on what we want to call things,” Danseglio said. “We all come from the same sort of positioning. We know whatever he says, we’re kind of already there. We’re all very good at that. The goalie talks to us, the defenders are all great. The team just does a great job with communicating.”
That defensive communication also helps to allow the goalie to communicate less. Zach Oliveri played excellently in the second half, making several key saves to settle the team while it rallied back.
“I’ve known the Long Island guys since I was little,” Oliveri said. “Playing with them is unbelievable. It gives me a little more confidence. I don’t have to talk as much. I just try to zone in on the rock. It helped me a little in the second half.
Danseglio and Oliveri also praised their midfielders. The skills of Team USA’s two-way players should be crucial to its defensive success.
And while the running clock could cause problems for the midfielders, the team has prepared by frequently rotating fresh players.
“You get tired when you’re out there on your shift,” said midfielder Ryan Tucker. “You’re playing offense and then you turn it over, there’s no horn and it’s like, ‘Jeez, I gotta get back there.’ It’s back and forth, back and forth. But you get a good break and you get a good rest.”
Tucker said its also a matter of being smart with your on-field breaks.
“It’s all about pacing yourself,” he says. “Not necessarily jogging back into the hole, but when you’re on offense taking your time to spin it around once or twice to get everyone to catch their breath.”
It's just another in a series of lessons learned during this exhibition season for a team that before last week hadn’t played together since Thanksgiving.
“It’s never good to lose,” said head coach Tim Flynn. “However Philly came out with a very, very strong team and played very well. I think we can learn an awful lot from this game. First off this is a group. They’re very strongly with one another. That’s the reason we pushed so hard in the second half. Guys were playing for one another. You can see the intensity on the field. Hear the intensity on the sideline. This game down the line is probably gonna help us do what we have to do.”
Everyone seemed to agree the biggest lesson learned regarded the team's character.
“It’s tough to lose,” Oliveri said. “Any competitor is going to be upset when they lose. But it showed our character to be able to come back. We’re gonna learn from this. A couple more weeks together before we go away. Build from it. Learn from our mistakes and go from there. We learn about ourselves through adversity. We have character, that’s what we know right now.”
Kavanagh Leads Attack Again
For the second straight game the USA offense went through Matt Kavanagh. The Notre Dame-bound attacker had five goals and one assist, one week after he scored four goals against Long Island.
“He’s an animal,” Tucker said. “He’s a pit bull. He’s a great kid, a great player and as good of a guy off the field as he is on it. Watching him play, going after every ground ball, taking their best player to the rack, it’s like, ‘What am I doing that’s so special right now? I gotta make some plays.’ It’s pretty cool having someone like that on your team. Someone you can look up to all the time.”
Kavanagh was instrumental in Team USA’s comeback, scoring three straight in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to narrow the deficit from 7-3 to 7-6.
“He never stops,” Tucker said. “We’re feeding off that that. We’re talking at halftime about stepping it up. You can talk about anything, but when you actually do it, it puts a little fire under us.”
Many of Kavanagh’s goals were acrobatic leaps as he frequently took on top defender Goran Murray, the 2012 ACC Freshman of the Year.
“It was exciting to watch,” Rotanz said. “They have some great players. [Kavanagh]’s sensational. He got some frequent flyer myers with all those dives.”
One thing was abundantly clear in the game’s aftermath: These guys actually like each other.
“We really get along great,” Tucker said. “It’s awesome. In downtime you see it on the field, you see it in practice. Everyone’s joking, laughing. When you have team chemistry like that it’s really good for a team. Yeah we’re all-stars, whatever you want to call us, but at the same time we’re all friends. That’s the most important thing.”
The offense picks up the defense and vice versa.
“Just communicate and always be positive with the offense,” Danseglio said. “If they’re struggling or doing well be positive. ‘Next one’s gonna go in. Just keep shooing and somethings gonna go in. Just keep your head up and don’t force anything.’”
That was evident during the comeback. While the defense held off Philly's attack, the offense went to work on the other end.
Along with Kavanagh’s outburst, the American offense received three goals from Steven Pontrello and one goal each from Tucker, Connor Buczek, Kyle Keenan, Joe Leonard, Charles Raffa and Daniel Eipp.
USA actually took its biggest lead of the night in overtime after Pontrello scored to make it 13-11. Philly scored two straight to tie it up and Daniel Eipp scored to give USA its final lead, 14-13, before Philly rallied in the final minute.
Philadelphia Provides Toughest Test Yet
While three members of Philly’s team were chosen as alternates to the U-19 team, and several other standout players missed the age cutoff, no player from Philadelphia made Team USA. After the game several members of Team USA team praised the play of their opponents.
“We played a team last week that was good,” Rotanz said. “This team was very good. The one defenseman [Goran Murray] was the ACC defensive freshman of the year for Maryland. That’s impressive.”
Rambo led Team Philly with four goals, including the game-winner in the closing seconds of overtime. Beau Jones, Joey Sankey and Carl Walrath had three goals each and Hup Hepfeldt added two goals. Matt Barrett made six saves in the first half and Conor Kelly made 10 saves in the second half and overtime.
“They had some great players down there too,” Oliveri said. “A little peeved because they didn’t make the team, but that’s what we wanted. We wanted a little bit of a tough game to test our character. And that’s what they did. That’s a great Philly team.”