Winnipeg, Canada – Chris Humbert’s five goals in just 13 minutes of play paired with solid goal-tending by Dan Hackett led Team USA to an 11-7 victory over Cuba in the gold-medal match of the 1999 Pan American Games.
More importantly, though, the victory secured an Olympic berth for the United States men, who went undefeated in Pan Am play, outscoring their opponents 62-16 in five matches.
“It feels good. It’s been our goal for a long time to qualify for the Olympics early,” said Humbert, a veteran of two Olympic Games. “We came here, and we did what we had to do. Going through all the adversity this team has gone through this week, with the sickness going around, and I was out for a couple of games with an ear infection, we really came through.”
Five players fell ill with flu-like symptoms upon arrival in Winnipeg. One other, Jeremy Pope, missed the entire tournament with a stomach ailment. Humbert’s ear infection kept him sidelined throughout the prelims.
But with the Olympic berth and Pan Am gold medal on the line, the team sucked it up, scoring early and often on an over-matched Cuban squad.
“It hasn’t been a lot of fun around our rooms this week,” Humbert said. “We had to put all the sick guys together to keep the other guys from getting sick. There was a lot of coughing; everybody was really tired. In that game tonight, I was dragging myself up and down the pool.”
Less than 19 seconds in to the game, Humbert dragged himself into the area he dominates, slamming home the first goal from the two-meter slot off a feed from Chris Oeding. Cuba struck back two minutes later, but that’s as close as Cuba would get.
Five unanswered goals, including two each by Oeding and Humbert, put the U.S. up 5-1 with 2:18 remaining in the second period.
“Chris Humbert is the best player in the world. He really is, when he stays focused, and the referees don’t get in his head,” said U.S. coach John Vargas. “It showed tonight.”
The United States scored four more goals in the third period, including the second of the night for Tony Azevedo, to keep Cuba on the defensive with a 10-3 deficit. Hackett made several spectacular, point-blank saves in the third period, including two one-on-one stops of Cuba’s top scorer, Luis Cruz.
“We wanted to play good ‘D,’ which weve been doing all week, and then fire out of the backcourt, because they couldn’t keep up with us swimming,” Vargas said. “If we could get them on their backs right away, we were definitely going to win.”
In the fourth, the flu-humbled United States team lapsed a bit. With Humbert and leading scorer Brad Schumacher resting on the bench, Team USA assumed a purely defensive mode as the over-aggressive Cubans scored four lazy goals with the clock winding down.
“Our substitution pattern was every two or three minutes, we would come out. We were dying out there at the end,” said defensive specialist Chi Kredell. “Where it really showed was after great defense, our counter-attack was pretty weak. In transition, we showed we were really tired. About half the team is ill with the flu. But we had great defense; our defense was by far the best.”
Schumacher failed to score in the final game, giving up tournament leading scorer honors to Cuba’s Luis Cruz with 11 goals. Schumacher finished second with 10 goals on 19 shots. Humbert and Azevedo scored nine apiece. Hackett led all goalies with a 64 percent save average.
The United States will now play in the FINA World Cup, to be held in September in Sydney, Australia.