As the second day of play at the men’s Pan American Cup wore on, the bleachers at Spooky Nook Sports began to fill.
Fans eagerly awaited the last game on Sunday’s schedule, ready to cheer on the United States men’s field hockey team with signs, noisemakers and even cutouts of some of the American players.
When the opening whistle finally sounded, Team USA did not disappoint, netting goals off the sticks of five different players en route to a 5-0 shutout over Pool A rival Venezuela.
“It’s a big win for us,” Tyler Sundeen said. “It’s good to bounce back from (a 6-0 loss to) Argentina. We played well, but it wasn’t the result we wanted, and tonight we really stepped it up a notch and got the result we wanted.”
After being held without a goal for 72 minutes — dating back to Friday’s game against Argentina — the U.S. finally cracked the scoreboard with 2:58 left in the first quarter on Sunday.
Amardeep Khokhar took the ball across the 25-yard line and ran a give-and-go with Sean Cicchi, sending the ball out to the right wing. Cicchi then pushed the ball into the center of the circle, where a speeding Khokhar met the sliding Venezuelan goalie and jabbed the ball across the goal line while falling to the turf.
The score held until the final five minutes of the half, as Venezuela’s Junior Benitez sealed off the cage.
The goalie turned away four U.S. corners, including drag flicks from Aki Kaeppeler and Will Holt, and a strong reverse from Pat Harris. Benitez was solid throughout the entire game but had no chance against Cicchi in the 25th minute.
Standing on the left baseline, the defender lifted the ball and deposited it just under the right corner of the crossbar to send FIH No. 26 Team USA into the half with a 2-0 lead.
The U.S. broke things open in the third quarter, netting a pair of goals in the span of seven minutes.
Alex Grassi was first, taking a pass from captain Ajai Dhadwal, spinning left around a defender and firing a backhander into the cage with 7:47 left in the period.
Team USA regained possession of the ball and Kaeppeler shook a pair of defenders before lifting his shot into the net to make it a 4-0 game in the 44th minute.
“The first two quarters we were kind of feeling them out a little bit,” said Grassi, who graduated from Franklin & Marshall in 2013. “We didn’t get the return on all of the possession and the attack we had, so it was good to jump start the team in the second half. I still think there’s a lot that we left on the field in the circle, so we could have capitalized on more opportunities, but I’m glad that we got a pretty decent win.”
No. 48 Venezuela spent much of the final quarter back on defense and was successful in turning away another U.S. corner, but the home team added another tally with nine minutes to play.
Sundeen, who showed flashes of his speed all game, showcased his power — pulling back and burying a strike from the top of the circle to extend the lead.
With the win, the U.S. is tied with Chile for second place in Pool A, making Tuesday’s game that much more important. The Americans will play FIH No. 27 Chile — which fell to No. 1 Argentina 9-2 on Sunday — at 7 p.m., with the winner earning the last spot in the semifinals.
“Some areas we clearly were much better (tonight),” Team USA coach Rutger Wiese said. “We scored a couple of goals obviously, although the passing was a little sloppy at times. But a win is a win.
“We are going to watch some video,” he added of the game plan going forward. “Eat first tonight, relax a little bit and then the staff and I will start watching the video. You can be sure that we will spend a lot of time watching and be prepared on Tuesday.”