by Kevin Burton
After stunning world champion Brasil yesterday, USA men’s goalball was brought crashing back to earth after an 11-1 loss to host Japan in Paralympic goalball this morning.
The United States Association of Blind Athletes on its website called the win over Brasil a “statement game,” saying the USA is “a force to be reckoned with.”
Today’s lopsided loss means team USA is actually behind Brasil now, in third place in the Group A standings, based on goal differential.
Yuto Sano led Japan with six goals in the win. Daryl Walker had the only goal for the Americans.
Japan, which is participating in goalball at the Paralympics for the first time, leads Group A with six points after winning its first two preliminary round games.
Team USA has Saturday off before facing Algeria Sunday and Lithuania Monday. A win in either of those games would get them through to the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile the USA Women’s team also won its first game, defeating Brasil 6-4 Wednesday. Results of the USA women’s second game vs Egypt were not available as the game was being played at post time this morning.
Egypt’s women’s team lost its first game to Turkey 7-1 in preliminary round play.
Goalball is a game for blind players. Two teams of three players each defend a goal line, on a court similar to a volleyball court.
On offense, the object is to roll the ball past the other team’s players. On defense the object is to block the ball before it crosses the goal line.
The US men came into the competition ranked eighth in the world. Thursday’s upset win came a day after Brazil defeated defending Paralympic champion Lithuania, 11-2.
In the game against Brasil, Walker scored with five minutes remaining to break a 5-5 tie and give the US men their first lead of the second half, according to the game recap on the USABA website, but then was called for a long ball penalty.
The three-time Paralympian displayed poise under pressure by blocking the resulting penalty throw to preserve the U.S. lead.
“I just felt nothing but confidence in that entire situation,” Walker said. “I wasn’t rattled. I just basically took a deep breath, felt my feelings, and just pressed through.”
That pivotal sequence seemed to deflate the Brasilian squad while spurring on the Americans.
Calahan Young scored four goals in his Paralympic debut to lead the US men.
Amanda Dennis scored three times, including one on a penalty throw, to lead the American women’s team over Brasil.
“The game was a rematch of the bronze-medal contest at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, where the American squad also prevailed, 3-2,” reported WANE-TV, Ft Wayne, Indiana. “Five of the six members of the US team in Tokyo were part of that bronze-medal winning squad.”
“It’s to our advantage to have a good, challenging team right off the bat to really push us and help focus us,” said six-time Paralympian Asya Miller of Portland, Oregon. “We’ve been waiting five years to get this party started, so that was a great way to do that. It’s kind of a relief to get that first game in and have a W.”
The difference in the game was penalties as the US scored on three of its five penalty shots while playing penalty-free ball in their own end, WANE reported.
“We try to take care of the things that we’re in control of,” said US Coach Jake Czechowski. “Although we try to play very aggressive offense, we also do that within the constraints of the rules. So we try to stay disciplined and limit our penalty situations.”
The US women are the most successful team in goalball history, having claimed six Paralympic gold medals and eight world championships.
In ten previous Paralympic appearances, the US men’s team has accumulated five medals, including silver in 2016, its best result in 28 years. The team’s only Paralympic gold came in 1984.
Preliminary round games for goalball continue through Monday. The quarterfinals begin for the men Tuesday, for the women Wednesday. Semi-finals for both are on Thursday.
The medal round begins a week from today, Friday, Sept. 3. Check NBC Sports for listings. Some games are being covered live.