USA completed the sweep in the mixed division!
July 22, 2019 by Peter Jesse in Coverage, News, Recap with 0 comments
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HEIDELBERG, GER — In the last final at this year’s World Under 24 Championships in Heidelberg, the USA managed to complete the gold medal sweep. Japan’s mixed team challenged the USA and forced them to find another gear in the in the second half, but the USA came out on top 15-12 to take home the gold.
The conditions during Sunday’s final differed from the rest of the week. It was hotter, which did not really impact the rested teams, but in the stadium also had a gusty crosswind was troubling for both teams. USA went into the game as title holder, they won in January 2018 in Perth against Japan’s mixed squad, and were unbeaten in this year’s tournament, leading up to the gold medal match. Their only tight game was a 15-14 win in the second pool phase against Canada, who placed 5th in the end. Japan had some close wins against Sweden, Latvia and Singapore and a surprising 15-7 loss to an Australian team that finished 7th.
In the opening points the gusting wind was at its worst. Tents placed next to the fields were flying away. This made things hard, especially for Japan’s players, who were forced under but were often challenged by the athletic, American defenders. USA started with a break right away and added another one to make it 3-1. The US hold was helped by using their height and scoobers to beat the Japanese zone. Japan’s Naoya Miguchi was dominating on Japan’s O-line with his fast catch and release style of handling. USA’s Luke Webb often took the Miguchi assignment on defense in the first half, but the US team could not really neutralize him. Japan managed to get a break back in a long point with lots of turnovers 3-3. One of them came when Japanese captain Yusuke Mase go a big layout block. Mase was also the motor for Japan’s D-line offense. The wind died down but the US defense was still able to force Japan to difficult throws. Japan’s offense was often able to get discs back they gave away before but the US team added a break to make it 6-4. After a Japanese hold where Risa Oe and Miguchi were unstoppable, the US offense outplayed Japan’s first line in the zone defense with lightning fast passes and throw and go movement until an error led to a turnover. Japan’s offense after the turn was somewhat static but Koh Nakamoto unleashed a picture perfect flick huck to Yuta Ozaki to get a break back.
The US had several chances to take half but Japan managed a hold and make it 7-7 in the longest point of the game. The US forced several turnovers with their willingness to put their body on the line. Anna Thompson had to leave the field briefly on an injury stoppage. At this point of the game the crowd got really behind Japan and started to cheer for the only hope for a non USA gold medalist.
Ashley Powell and Matthew Gouchoe-Hanas did most of the work against Japan’s zone. In the backfield Shoga Otake was determined to force a break. His first interception did not stand due to a strip call by Joseph White. Otake’s second attempt, however, got Japan the disc and Yuki Nakamura send a perfect huck to the endzone to make it 8-7. Japan’s throws were on point in this phase.
Japan came out of half with a sideline zone that forced the US to throw a difficult throw with the wind to escape the trap. Once trapped on the sideline there was no escape and Japan scored their third point in a row and went up a break for the first time. Team USA stopped the bleeding and made it 9-8 before Japan’s offense gifted them the disc and Michael Ing took control to equalize for the US at 9-9.
Both teams managed holds in spite of turning the disc over. The US would be successful with small passes and quick moves against the zone. Clea Poklemba was putting on a show, but eventually they would turn the disc over on a throw where they misjudged the wind. When Japan played person defense after turns they discouraged hucks with aggressive marks and backing deep threats. When the US got off a throw to the break side Japan’s marks were excellent at denying the break continuation.
In the second half the USA had some excellent pulls. One of them lead to them taking back the lead at 12-11 when Luke Webb snagged the disc at Japan’s endzone line and hit Joseph Freund for one of his three goals for the US defensive unit. Japan would only score one more point after that. Their throws started to lack precision, and their receivers could not come down with discs on difficult reads. The permanent pressure of the American defense was taking its toll. Japan could still string together amazing sequences like a string of inside breaks but something would stand in the way of a goal, whether it be an error or a tireless US defender. The USA took gold with the 15-12 win.
After the medal ceremony, USA coach Mike MacKenzie said, “The wind was a challenge for both teams. The stadium with no stands next to the endzones has caused the wind to be unpredictable there and caused some turnovers. In the end we won the game with because we played through our depth.” Japanese head coach Ito Yuma was visibly very disappointed with the loss and had a hard time consoling his team. When asked if he is satisfied with the finals performance he answered, “We did well, we forced team USA to take a lot of passes which lead to turnovers. Unfortunately it was not enough.”
This game ended a week where the local organizers, the city of Heidelberg, the WFDF staff and more than 100 volunteers from 21 countries provided perfect conditions for the world’s best under 24 teams.