USA women battled to a 1-1 draw against high-flying Belgium before claiming the bonus point by winning the shoot-out on a dramatic night of FIH Pro League action at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
A fourth quarter penalty corner conversion from USA’s Danielle Grega cancelled Alix Gerniers fifth minute opener and forced the shoot-out, with goalkeeper Kelsey Bing producing a Player of the Match performance to help the Americans claim the bonus point and record their best FIH Pro League result to date.
The result sees Belgium drop from third to fourth position in the FIH Pro League standings, while USA remain bottom of the table but have moved closer to eighth-placed Great Britain, a team who they will face at Spooky Nook on Sunday (31 March). To see the current women’s FIH Pro League standings, click here.
Belgium (FIH World Ranking: 13) came into the match against host nation USA (WR:12) looking for a third successive victory ‘on the road’, hoping to add to the back-to-back successes they achieved in Oceania against New Zealand and Australia early in February. A high quality display in the opening period at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex only served to increase the likelihood of a similar outcome, with Alix Gerniers giving the Red Panthers a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute when she touched home a clever backhand pass from Ambre Ballenghien.
USA goalkeeper Kelsey Bing was certainly the busier of the two shot-stoppers in the first period, but that all changed in a second quarter largely dominated by the home favourites. Erin Matson, Kathleen Sharkey, Amanda Magadan and Lauren Moyer all went close to scoring, but could find no way past the ever-impressive Aisling D’Hooghe in the Belgian goal.
Belgium preserved their narrow advantage throughout the third quarter and had the better of the scoring opportunities in that period, although Lien Hillewaert’s goal-line clearance from a USA attacking penalty corner was vital to maintaining the status quo.
The only goal of an action-packed final quarter went the way of the Americans, who snatched an equaliser in the 50th minute with a penalty corner won by the quick hands of Mackenzie Allessie, with Danielle Grega scoring her third goal of the FIH Pro League by tapping in a pass from Caitlin van Sickle. Belgium came closest to a winner in the latter stages of the game with Barbara Nelen, Jill Boon and Pauline LeClef going close before the final hooter sounded, meaning that the teams would face a shoot-out to decide who would claim that all-important bonus point.
The shoot-out competition was one of the nerviest yet seen in the FIH Pro League, with advantage swinging back and fourth through nine tense rounds before the result was finally settled. Amber Ballenghien’s miss in sudden-death allowed Linnea Gonzales to score the winning goal, giving USA a 5-4 win in the shoot-out thanks largely to a brilliant goalkeeping performance from Player of the Match Kelsey Bing.
“Once we got on the scoreboard we were able to play with a little bit more intensity”, said USA captain Kathleen Sharkey after the match. “It was disappointing that we could not start with that intensity, but I think that is a key lesson we can take from this game. We need to come out with that intensity from minute one.”
Belgium captain Jill Boon said: “I think we played a really strong first quarter, then a little bit off in the second, but I think we were really threatening their goal in the third and fourth quarter and we really should have scored one of two goals extra. But in the end we got the draw and in the shoot-out it is always a 50-50 situation.”
The FIH Pro League continues Sunday 31 March with three matches all being played in the Americas. Argentina will host the national teams of China (women) and Spain (men) in a thrilling double-header at the Estadio Mundialista in Rosario, while USA’s women welcome Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallists Great Britain to Spooky Nook.