Winnipeg, Canada – The physical play of Brazil kept the United States scorers silent, but Team USA picked up the slack on the perimeter, blowing by Brazil 7-3 to advance to the gold-medal game at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
Team USA defeated Brazil 8-4 two weeks ago in the UPS Cup. Brazil came into the match hoping its physical play would take U.S. leading scorers Brad Schumacher and Chris Humbert out of the match.
Though the Brazilians were successful in their objective, two goals apiece by Chris Oeding and Gavin Arroyo plus solid defense in goal by Dan Hackett gave the United States all it needed to top the feisty Brazil squad.
“We’re not the only ones with Olympic dreams here,” coach John Vargas said. “They were prepared to do whatever it takes to advance in this tournament and eventually make it to Sydney. Their tactic was to be extremely physical on Chris. They took away that center position. I was very impressed with how effective our guys were on the perimeter.”
Goals from Arroyo at 4:33 and Wolf Wigo at 3:28 put the U.S. up early. Brazil’s Ricardo Perrone stiff-armed Robert Lynn for separation before cutting the lead with a goal just 52 seconds into the second period. Oeding’s two extra-man goals on drives from the right side followed by an extra-man goal by Shumacher gave the United States a 5-1 lead at the half. The United States scored five of its seven goals on extra-man situations.
“Aside from three or four guys, Brazil has a very young team, but they shoot very well,” said U.S. goalkeeper Dan Hackett. “Our defense has been playing very well. No one has scored more than four goals on us. I have great confidence in them to keep the ball outside and give me good looks at every shot.”
Brazil matched the U.S. with two goals in the second half. The most emotional goal of the game came from Team USA’s youngest player, Tony Azevedo, who was born and raised in Brazil, and scored a goal on his mentor, Brazilian goalie Andre Cordeiro, at the 5:44 mark of the fourth period.
“He taught me how to shoot, how to fake, where to place the ball,” said Azevedo, whose father Ricardo was an assistant coach on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. “When I took my first few shots that he blocked, he gave me a look as if to say, ‘That’s not how I taught you.’ Then when I scored, he slapped the water in frustration, looked at me and gave me a smile. “After the game, he congratulated me and said, ‘That’s how I taught you.’”
The United States will take on Cuba at 9 p.m. Friday in the gold-medal match. The U.S. defeated Cuba 8-4 in preliminary play. Cuba upset Pool A top seed Canada 8-5 in semifinal action early Wednesday.