The Germans coaxed error after error out of a disjointed US offense.
July 14, 2022 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — “We knew we were the team to beat,” said Germany’s Levke Walczak of her team’s headspace before their afternoon game.
Germany and the United States both entered their Tuesday afternoon match undefeated and even in the standings, but most pundits gave the US a clear edge. Two hours later, that hypothesis was turned on its head, as Germany outplayed the gold medal favorites throughout the sometimes sloppy game en route to an emphatic 13-10 victory. The win guarantees that they will finish at the top of Pool A and secures a place in the semifinals.
A perfect first point of offense for the US had a cleansing effect on the memory of their intermittently shaky fundamentals in their opener against Great Britain. Germany were considerably less comfortable to start, but nevertheless managed a clean hold on the back of determined play from Nico Müller and Kyoko Binnewies. It appeared as though two polished offenses were set to trade blows for most of the game.
That initial impression could not have been more false. On the third point of the game, Jack Williams caught the pull and threw a centering pass for Carolyn Finney, but he failed to fully adjust the casual backhand to the breeze blowing lightly in his direction. It popped over her head and into the hands of Conrad Schlör five yards from a break. Germany took the easy conversion and a 2-1 lead.
The US O-line responded to their error on the next point by piling on a half dozen more. It looked like they were trying to push Murphy’s Law to its natural limit. The pull play saw Dylan Freechild cut off a deep cut when he saw three German defenders peeling off the back of the stack to greet him, but Carolyn Normile thought the play was still on and threw the disc to the vacant space. The missed connection demonstrated a kind of disunity that would be a theme for the American side.
The pull play problem was only the beginning. Opi Payne threw a continue pass to the middle that was easily poached by Schlör. Freechild put a long inside forehand over Kaela Helton’s reach. Claire Trop blasted a backhand beyond Grant Lindsley’s range. Lindsley couldn’t find a way to attack a hanging Trop forehand in the end zone before Schlör rose to bat it away. Helton shot a huck past even the explosive Payne’s full outstretched bid. Freechild bobbled and dropped a clap-catch at the front of the box. Finally, on their eighth possession of the point, Normile connected with Lindsley on a backhand from midfield for the hold. Freechild, either in an effort to bring the team’s energy up with a good-natured troll or in genuine confusion after the long point shouted, “That’s a break!”
Germany held cleanly to take a 3-2 lead and keep the pressure on the American offense. And that’s when the wheels came off for the US. Jimmy Mickle thundered up the line to take power position and put a forehand huck for Sarah Meckstroth. The throw had just enough air under it, though, that Lena Trautmann was able to close the gap before it arrived. She timed a perfect leap to knock it away from Meckstroth – one of several stupendous defensive plays she has made in the first days of World Games competition. Trautmann didn’t originally agree with the German coaches’ choice to put her on the D-line. “First she didn’t like the idea so much,” said head coach Stefan Rekitt. “But we promised her she would be able to shine.”
Germany’s counter was even more spectacular than the block. A high backhand huck caught the wind and began to drift sideways just as it reached the end zone. Walczack, who had initially run to where the huck might have land in calm conditions, took a look at the tailing disc and switched directions for a high-stakes 15-yard sprint that ended with a two-handed clap catch, leaving the defense to marvel at her clairvoyance.
The next point saw Trautmann layout to fluster Trop at the sideline near midfield, giving Germany another break opportunity. Marvin Waldvogel and Steffen Döscher took full advantage of the chance, putting Lindsley and Nate Goff behind them to dribble freely up the line to score. After a fourth consecutive mistake-filled offensive point – Meckstroth, Mickle, and Finney all threw the disc away against a German defense playing with atomic levels of energy – and some powerful red zone cutting from Walczak, Germany held a commanding 6-2 lead. Germany’s fierce defensive stand outside the end zone on the next point – a US hold, at last – illustrated how difficult it would be for the Americans to catch up and even the score.
They earned back one of the breaks before half, but with much more work to do, the pressure was on them to right the ship. Fortunately for the United States, a bad half does not change the fact that they have an enormous amount of talent on their side, and they can always lean on that knowledge when the going gets tough. “We have that confidence in each other… Nobody really feels like they have to put [the game] on their back,” said Meckstroth.
The United States came out significantly sharper on offense in the second half as, suddenly, the deep game started to work out in their favor. Goff’s forehand to Payne in isolation – she finished with a textbook high-point jump under pressure – started the Americans’ second half scoring. Chris Kocher, who had been quiet in the first half, rolled away from his matchup in the stack to break up a Müller huck. He ended up with bookends on a Mickle deep shot not long afterward.
“We started to relax into [our offense] little bit and started to find the groove a little bit,” said Meckstroth.
They could not keep the momentum moving in their direction, though. A poor Freechild pull gave Germany a possession starting in the red zone, where Walczak juked to get open for a quick score. Then the US lost the ground they had gained, forcing a low away throw against a German zone look when their initial attempts to move the disc downfield in a systematic way were frustrated. Sebastian Spiegel dropped a hammer into Katharina Schulze’s breadbasket for the break.
But the US comeback attempt was far from over. Meckstroth and Mickle cranked up the defensive intensity two points later, with Mickle flying to block an inside flick near the goal line. Kocher saw Meckstroth with steps and sent a long flick toward her. Like Mickle’s earlier power position huck, it hung a little bit as it sailed downfield, which allowed Döscher to catch up and take a good defensive position. That did not matter at all to Meckstroth, though. She launched herself above Döscher and plucked it from over his head with a sky so pure and so unexpected that the crowd at the stadium went apoplectic.
Germany seemed to turn the disc over again on an excellent second effort from Payne to block a huck to Walczak, but Walczak felt contact and called a foul. They could not agree who initiated the contact, and the disc went back to the thrower on the contested call. The error erased, Germany held to take an 11-8 lead.
Heroic plays just above the cut of the grass brought the United States within a point. First, Meckstroth made another spectacular catch in the end zone, this time all by herself as she bid to keep a low Claire Chastain flick from hitting the ground. A poor throw from Germany on the next point gave the Americans a red zone opportunity. A blazing low Freechild backhand that careened crossfield an inch above the turf nearly ruined the break chance, but Trop slid on her knees to save the possession and flipped the disc to Williams to bring the United States deficit to one.
But that is all they would get. Müller, Walczak, and Anna Gerner danced through tremendous US defense for a hold to go up 12-10. On the final point, Trautmann’s defense once again keyed a German break. She closed the gap on a huck to Trop to force an early jump – too early to bring down the catch. “Everyone’s head is always blown away [watching Trautmann play defense] because she is incredible… She just keeps getting all the d’s on all the points. It just fires up the entire team,” said Walczak. “It gives all of us so much energy.” A simple breakside continue, Schlör to Spiegel, sealed the win.
If their dismantling of Canada was a polite message that Germany have arrived at the elite level of world play, their performance against the United States was a thunderous announcement from the rooftops. They matched the Americans’ defensive energy, and their offense was by leagues the more composed. They will surely threaten for a medal, and perhaps even a World Games victory. “They’re obviously the real deal,” said US coach Miranda Knowles after the game.
The United States, on the other hand, have much soul-searching to do after what can only be described as a disappointing effort and a sobering result. “We played nothing close to our best game,” said Knowles. “I hope we see our best game at some point this week. Maybe even tomorrow, to start with.” Her comment underscores the fact that Team USA now face a win-or-go-home game against a resurgent Canada to close out pool play.
After two sterling games to knock off the North American heavyweights, Germany can for the moment sit back, satisfied, and watch their two recent opponents try to eliminate each other.