Team USA faced world champions Lithuania today in Rio de Janeiro at Future Arena. Following a win against China, the men were warmed up and ready to face another team in the ‘group of death’. Lithuania has competed in the last four Paralympic Games and holds silver medals from both Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. Today, the U.S. Men stayed with Lithuania until the end, coming up short with a final score of 8-7.
Joe Hamilton got Team USA on the board in the first minute, taking advantage of a long ball penalty made by Lithuania. Three-time Paralympian Tyler Merren doubled the team’s score with a goal in the next minute. The two-point lead was short lived with Lithuania slid one past John Kusku’s fingertips.
In the next 3 minutes of the first half, Team USA shows incredible teamwork to defend bouncing balls that have the audience gasping. It’s not long before one of them makes it past Hamilton and Kusku to even the score, 2-2.
Lithuania scores again before USA defenders can fully extend to block the ball, taking the lead. After more close calls, Hamilton scores on another long ball penalty. Then, with just 15 seconds left in the first half, Hamilton slides the ball into the right corner to tie the score (4-4).
In the second half, the back-and-forth continued. Lithuania scored on a fast pitch in the first minute but committed a long ball penalty allowing Hamilton to tie the score again.
In the last minute and a half, the U.S. Men increased their intensity to tie the score but could not get past Lithuania’s defense by the buzzer.
“In the last minute we stepped up our intensity,” said Merren. “We were taking a little bit more breaks to set up shots but honestly, when we play, we play our game. Whether it’s the last minute, first minute, up or down, we go on the direction of the coach.”
The team will need to bring that intensity to tomorrow’s game against their next opponent in the ‘group of death’, Finland.
“As a team, we do what we do,” said Merren. “There might be an adjustment to the distance we’re stepping when we throw or something like that to shorten the ball a little bit more because, without those penalties, the game is ours. We just need to clean up that part of our game.”
U.S. Men will play Finland, who is currently 0-2 in preliminary play, at 5:30pm BRT on Sunday, September 11. This will be Team USA’s third preliminary game of four. At the end of preliminaries, only the top four teams from each group will advance to quarterfinals. Follow the men’s games live on Twitter @USMGoalball.