By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – United States fans who traveled almost 6,000 miles poured into the stands at the National Sports Academy to see something they hadn’t seen in eight years: the U.S. Team Handball squad in Deaflympic competition.
In 2005, the team won silver. This time around, American players found the road may be a little tougher, as they lost 31-21 to Germany.
“Lack of game experience was evident today,” said veteran Stefan Bergan, who is on his fourth Games with U.S. Team Handball. “Our players made one too many mental mistakes, and the penalties really hurt us in the end.
The Americans started neck-and-neck with the Germans through the first 20 minutes, withstanding attacks and trading goals.
In what would become a recurring problem for the U.S., Fava was sent off for the team’s first penalty, and Germany used its man advantage to break through the U.S. defense for a score. Soon afterward, Bergan was sent off for a penalty, and Germany capitalized on its penalty shot.
As the U.S. made mental mistakes and the penalties mounted, Germany capitalized on each opportunity to stretch the lead. After 30 minutes, Germany held a three-goal lead, 14-11, going into halftime.
In the second half, the U.S became more physical, which resulted in more penalties, including the ejection of goalkeeper Ty Kovacs.
As the penalties climbed, so did the German lead. Every time the U.S. got a rally going, Germany stopped it cold with a goal of its own. The U.S. also missed several opportunities for fast breaks.
“It was a well-fought game. Inexperience showed in the second half, and it hurt us,” Bergan said.
The U.S. plays Croatia at 11:30 a.m. (4:30 Eastern Time) Monday at National Sport Academy. Croatia defeated Hungary 43-18 earlier Sunday.
After the game, the German team approached the U.S. and was amazed to learn that the full U.S. team had just one week of training camp to gel together. They commended the U.S. on an outstanding team effort and gave them some pointers to help accelerate the new players’ understanding of the game. … Even spectators from countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, Turkey, and others were in attendance, showing their eagerness to see U.S. Team Handball return to the Deaflympics. …
“I have to admit, it was really nice to see how much everybody around the world really wanted to see us come back here on the Deaflympics stage,” head coach Chris Hamilton said. “I could see that some of them were thrilled to see us play. So it was really good to see such a great turnout.”