RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – USA men’s soccer 7-a-side team battled Argentina to a scoreless first half in a semifinal match, but Argentina outscored USA, 2-1, in the second half to earn a berth into the Parapan American Games gold medal match Saturday at the Deodoro Sports Complex.
USA plays Canada for the bronze medal Saturday at 10 a.m. Canada fell to Brazil, 7-0, in the other semifinal match.
“The first half we played very well,” USA coach Jay Hoffman (Virginia Beach, Va.) said. “We stuck to our plan, and we closed them down and didn’t give them a lot of opportunities. We got out quickly on them, which we thought we could do because of the way they play and the way they like to push numbers forward. Tactically, I thought it was quite good.”
Argentina took the lead early in the second half as Mariano Morana buried a shot into the back of the goal in the 34th minute of play.
USA tied the score in the 45th minute following a header by Jon McCullough (Virginia Beach, Va.).
“It was good that Jon got a head on it,” Hoffman said. “It was great that he challenged for it. In all honesty, we thought we should have had more goals from better plays, but it worked, so you take whatever you can. Sometimes you need that luck.”
The tie lasted less then a minute as Argentina quickly took the ball up field, and Morana answered with his second goal of the match.
“We at times lose our focus,” Hoffman said. “We had done all that hard work to get to that point, and then sort of like, ‘We’re here.’ Well you haven’t arrived yet. You haven’t arrived until the 60th minute when the game is over and you win. You don’t arrive in the 45th minute.”
It was a physical match with 19 fouls called and seven yellow cards issued.
“It becomes medal rounds, and all of sudden the game changes a little bit,” Hoffman said about the physical play. “I think Argentina realized they were in for a bit of a dog fight. They had a couple of people who we could expose and try to take advantage of, and now all of a sudden they had to try to disrupt our rhythm. In this game, one of the ways to disrupt rhythm is by fouling.”
Marthell Vazquez (Virginia Beach, Va./Long Beach, Calif.), USA’s speedy forward, who was constantly putting pressure on Argentina’s defense by sprinting down field and attempting to break away after being on the receiving end of lengthy passes, was fouled five times.
“It was rough,” Vazquez said. “We wanted to win. It got physical. The calls didn’t go our way, but we have to play with that. And if we get three opportunities, we have to score those three to have a chance against these teams.”
“I thought Marthell had a good game,” Hoffman said. “We felt that by playing him high, his mobility could create a problem for them, and it did. He is very dynamic on the ball. He is very unpredictable. Considering some of the chances, we should have had two or three goals, but he created problems for them, and that is the way we designed it.”
Hoffman expects another challenging match Saturday as USA, aiming for its first-ever Parapan Am medal, takes on Canada for the bronze.
“They are very competitive,” Hoffman said. “They’ve added a new player (Sefik Smajlovic), who has good ideas about the game and is very composed on the ball. They have some pace on the flanks. It is going to be a good test for us again.”
2007 U.S. Men’s Soccer Parapan Am Games Roster
Chris Ahrens, Virginia Beach, Va. (Baldwinsville, N.Y.)
Derek Arneaud, Virginia Beach, Va.
Josh Blue, Denver, Colo.
Louis Garrett, Columbus, Ohio (Memphis, Tenn.)
Keith Johnson, Spring, Texas
Tommy Latsch, Virginia Beach, Va. (Euclid, Ohio)
Jon McCullough, Virginia Beach, Va.
Josh McKinney, Raleigh, N.C.
Shaun Schetka, New Brighton, Pa.
Jason Slemons, Seattle, Wash. (Eagle River, Alaska)
John Theobald, Syracuse, N.Y.
Marthell Vazquez, Virginia Beach, Va. (Long Beach, Calif.)
Head Coach: Jay Hoffman, Virginia Beach, Va.
Assistant Coach: Michael Haas, Denver, Colo.