The opening games of the XIX Pan American Games saw the North American sides come out victorious in Pool B play. Up first, the Canadian Red Caribou downed Brazil 2-0, while the USA stormed to a 6-1 victory over Trinidad and Tobago at Estadio Nationale in Santiago, Chile.
MEN Pool B: Brazil (0) – Canada (2)
It took the opening quarter for the Canadian and Brazilian sides to settle in to the tournament’s opener but a Gordie Johnston penalty corner finish in the 19th minute and an Oliver Scholfield touch at the far post gave Canada the 2-0 win, while youngster Ethan McTavish picked up the shutout.
Despite the score line, Brazil showed flashes of what might be to come in this tournament. As Stephane Verle-Smith’s speed and skill put the Canadian defence line on their heels but a lack of finish and numbers left Brazil short in the circle. Rodrigo Faustino made several saves to keep the Canadians at bay, including denying a Matthew Sarmento breakaway in the final quarter.
The win was the fourth-straight shutout for Canada in their last match ups following a 4-0 win in the 2022 Pan Am Cup, a 2-0 win in the 2017 Pan Am Cup and a 0-0 draw in the semifinals at the 2015 Pan Am Games, the latter of which Canada went on to win 5-3 in shootouts.
“It’s really good to get the win and get the first one under our belt,” said Scholfield following the game. “We started it really slow. We knew we weren’t going to win it in the first quarter so we played well and we stuck to our game plan. We have had a younger group over the last couple of years and it’s nice to see the progressions they have made. Ethan (McTavish) made some awesome saves to keep us ahead in the game.”
“It was a hard game, but we managed to play well against Canada, which is one of the favorites for the title,” said Brazil goalkeeper Faustino. “We have much less infrastructure (in Brazil). There is no field hockey field. I train on futsal and soccer fields, which are completely different and with improvised goals and yet, we managed to play a great match against one of the best teams, which has 10 times more infrastructure than us.”
MEN Pool B: United States (6) – Trinidad and Tobago (1)
In Game 2 of the day, the Americans wasted no time dialling in against Trinidad and Tobago. Penalty corner ace Aki Kaeppeler buried a flick in the second minute of play to kick start what would be a 6-1 victory, with all six USA goals coming from different finishers. Trinidad and Tobago’s Teague Marcano showed his experience at the top of the circle in the 55th minute to break Klages’ shutout.
While the goal margin seemed large after the final whistle, it was Trinidad and Tobago that most of the scoring chances in the opening half. Klages was called to action multiple times as back-to-back penalty corners in the opening quarter had the USA on their heels. While Jovan Wren was unable to get his flick on target, the USA continued their set-play accuracy as the veteran, Pat Harris, in his fifth Pan American Games, flicked high to give the USA the 2-0 lead.
The Americans proved lethal when given the opportunity to finish, but Trinidad and Tobago continued to gain circle entries. Klages forced a ball off the goal line in the 17th minute, while Mickell Pierre was served up an open chance from close distance but fed the ball into the pads of Klages. Marcano had two second-quarter flicks denied by the Klages and in the final minutes before half time, Jack Heldens pressed Marcano at the top of his circle and calmly drew Andrey Rocke out of his goal. The quick spin and fire from Heldens lifted the USA 3-0 by half time.
Fatigue started to show for the Trinidad and Tobago side, and the USA started to ride their three-goal momentum. Harris charged the right side of the circle and in textbook baseline play, fed the ball back to Kei Kaeppeler who finished expertly in the top of the mesh. Andrey Rocke did deny two Aki Kaeppeler flicks before USA’s Marius Leser’s sweep made it 5-0 and Finlay Quaile’s penalty corner finish made it 6-0. Marcano’s lone finish in the fourth quarter denied the USA a shutout and left the game 6-1 in favour of the USA.
“We needed a good start because we haven’t played together in 1.5-2 months so, it was important we all got together and had a good game and get the rhythm going again,” said USA goalkeeper Jonathan Klages after the win. “I do everything for the team and they do it for me. They score goals and I tried to keep them out of the goal.”
“I think we started really well but what the USA did better than us was take their chances,” said Teague Marcano for Trinidad and Tobago. “If we took our had chances early than the game could have been different but we didn’t capitalize on those chances and the game kind of ran away from us. We need to be more clinical in the D and when we get early chances we have to take them and build momentum in the first quarter.”