Winnipeg, Canada – Team USA’s aggressive defense stymied Cuba on Saturday, leading to a 6-4 victory in preliminary play at the 1999 Pan American Games.
Strong pressure on the outside gave Cuba limited chances early as the United States built a 3-0 lead in the first period. A run by Chris Oeding right up the middle put the U.S. up 1-0 at the 5:02 mark. A 2-on-1 breakaway by speedsters Brad Schumacher and Robert Lynn at 2:25 gave Lynn the second goal of the afternoon.
Seconds later, the first of two expulsion fouls on two-meter defender Chi Kredell gave Team USA its defensive test. On Cuba’s ensuing extra man situation, the U.S. held strong, blocking two quick shots from point-blank range.
“We did a good job early in the game on both sides of the ball,” coach John Vargas said. “Sometimes the ball goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the defense should always be the same. Today, it was real solid.”
Cuba earned six extra-man advantages, and were held scoreless on all six. The defense also earned 14 steals to Cubas six.
“The fact that we held strong in those extra-man situations shows our effectiveness in pressuring our opponents and closing down the passing lanes,” Vargas said. “It takes a very efficient defense to stop them the way we did.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. offense kept shooting, rattling off 25 shots in the game. Team USA’s 24-percent efficiency rating is no cause for alarm for Vargas.
“We shot early and often,” he said. “We took some bad shots, and we hesitated on some good opportunities. We’re young, and we’ll do that. We encourage the players to shoot, and I think it paid off by keeping Cuba on their heels defending us and guessing who was looking to shoot next.”
However, on the inside, Cuba proved the victor. With 30-year-old Ernesto Garcia riding USA’s Kyle Kopp, Ryan Bailey and Schumacher, Cuba was able to penetrate deep into the two-meter area. Garcia and teammate Luis Cruz at the point worked the inside-out game for nine of Cubas 17 shots and three goals. The last opportunity, and the only goal in the fourth period, came on a Cruz penalty shot following a Schumacher foul on Garcia with 1:08 remaining.
The United States takes on Mexico at 3 p.m. Sunday. Team USA defeated Mexico 22-1 in the UPS Cup last weekend in Newport Beach.
“Mexico is similar to Colombia. They’re a fast team, a decent attacking team, but I think were one level above them,” said wing-man Wolf Wigo. “We’re going to shut them down on defense and work the counter-attack to catch them leaning the wrong way.”