They came to Rio's Summer Olympics with high expectations – and for several games, they exceeded them. But the U.S. women's field hockey team lost to Germany Monday, in a 2-1 game that will send the Germans into the semifinals.
Germany jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period of the game, which was played under a hot sun at the Olympic Hockey Center in Rio's Deodoro district, with temperatures in the high 90s. The crowd included a large and vocal German contingent, which beat drums and chanted to urge their team on. Germany held on for the win, despite a late U.S. score.
It was a bittersweet end to the Olympics for a U.S. squad that had aspired to a medal. The Americans opened play with wins against two powerhouse teams, in No. 2 Argentina and No. 3 Australia. They lost only one game in group play, to Great Britain — which is now in the semifinals, after a win over Spain Monday.
"I'm proud of what we've done; it has been a great journey," U.S. head coach Craig Parnham said, in material from Team USA. "The players have given everything they got. As a coach, that's all you can ask for. 'Incredibly proud' would be the adjective here."
Although the Americans' trip to Brazil ended without a medal, the team has made real progress recently. In the past two years, they rose from being ranked No. 10 in the world to No. 5. They punched their ticket to Rio at last year's Pan American Games, with a 2-1 victory over Argentina. Before that, they reached the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands, and came in third at the 2016 Champions Trophy tournament in London.
With their performance in Brazil, the U.S. field hockey team also won the praise of actress and comedian Leslie Jones, who commented in a tweet about the players being serious despite wearing "the cutest skirts" — adding a profanity and saying, "man they got sticks and look at their thighs!!"
The game brought what was, for us, an unusual sight: a German Field Hockey staff member wearing a wireless headphone set watched the game from the stands near his team's goal, calling out instructions to the defense and relaying commentary over his headset.
The U.S. team had several chances to get back into today's quarterfinal game but was unable to convert them into goals until Katelyn Falgowski scored with 3:54 remaining in the fourth period.
Up to that point, the game had been marked by near-misses for the Americans, as the German defenders harried them, deflecting shots and passes. The U.S. team had seemed to get a respite when a penalty corner was awarded in the final period – but Germany requested a video review that showed an American player had been guilty of a foot foul, and possession went to Germany.
The Americans had another chance late, when Katie Bam brought the ball into the attacking circle. But she was unable to score, and went to the ground hard after a collision with a German player. Bam was eventually helped off the field.
According to the official stats, Germany had the edge in time of possession, at nearly 60 percent. The U.S. scored on one out of its five shots, while Germany scored on two of its seven.
After the game, defender Michelle Kasold said via Twitter, "Words may fail me right now. But I cannot explain how grateful I am for this team of fighters. Thanks for making this journey unbelievable!"
One final note: As field hockey novices, we're doing our best not to confuse or irritate longtime (or even short-time) fans. For a detailed account of the game's back-and-forth, we refer you to USA Field Hockey.