As the crowd roared, Linnea Gonzales charged down the field, arms outstretched. Jumping up in celebration, the midfielder was embraced by teammate Laura Hurff before being mobbed by the rest of the U.S. women’s field hockey team.
Nearly two months after tying Argentina in the FIH Pro League opener, Team USA once again found itself in a shootout Friday night. After two rounds, Gonzales made sure the home crowd at the Spooky Nook Sports complex in Manheim had something to cheer for, clinching a 5-4 victory over Belgium.
The win earns the U.S. two big points in the Pro League standings, moving the squad closer to Sunday’s opponent, Great Britain, while also capping off a late comeback.
Down 1-0 with 10:48 left to play, Team USA found the equalizer on a penalty corner deflection from Danielle Grega, her team-high third goal of the season.
“It’s so exciting. It makes it so intense and it makes you just thrilled to be a part of it,” Donegal senior Mackenzie Allessie, who earned the corner that led to the game-tying goal, said of the shootout. “And Kelsey Bing just killed it tonight.”
Bing, Team USA’s goalie, was tested early and often Friday. Belgium came out firing in the first quarter, maintaining possession for 67 percent of the period while taking a 4-1 lead in shots and a 1-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
Four minutes into play, No. 13 Belgium sent a long pass into the circle, where Ambre Ballenghien gathered the ball and flipped it behind her back toward the goal. Waiting on the right side, Alix Gerniers got her stick out for the redirection.
The Red Panthers had a number of close looks throughout the remainder of the game, but Bing and the U.S. defense kept the deficit at just one goal until the offense could find its rhythm.
Team USA picked up the pace in the second quarter, but miscues in front of the cage led to a handful of near-misses and frustration both on the field and on the sideline.
The Americans’ closest calls came on their four penalty corners, with Sharkey and Ali Froede seeing their attempts knocked away. The final strike made the difference, however.
While the initial shot was saved, Caitlin Van Sickle grabbed the loose ball by the left post and sent it across the front of the cage to the waiting stick of Grega.
The game became more physical in the final minutes as both teams tried to get one more goal, but the horn would sound to end regulation.
“When we got on the scoreboard, we were able to play with a little more intensity,” Sharkey said. “It was disappointing that we weren’t able to start with that intensity, but I think that’s a key lesson that we can take from this game — that we need to come out with that fire and intensity from minute one.”
The intensity was there in the shootout as Warwick graduate Alyssa Manley put Team USA up 1-0 and Margaux Paolino made it 3-1, but Belgium came back to force a second sudden-victory round.
While Gonzales spun to her left and fired a backhander into the backboard, it was the play of Bing, who made a pair of diving saves in the shootout, that made the different and earned the goalie Player of the Match honors.
“I think the best goalkeeper has a short-term memory, so I just can’t let anything that has happened in the past affect what I’m going,” Bing said of regrouping after the first goal. “So really, I’m just focused on communicating what’s in front of me and making sure the ball didn’t go in the net the next time.”