The U.S. women’s field hockey team started out strong in its FIH Pro League opener on Sunday, but defending champion the Netherlands could only be held off for so long.
Top-ranked Holland broke out in the second half, scoring five goals in the fourth quarter en route to a 9-0 victory at the University of North Carolina. Felice Albers and Lidewij Welten each had a hat trick for the Netherlands, with Albers earning Player of the Match honors.
“I think we learned that we are a fiesty bunch and we are just starting to write this journey for the Pro League,” defender Ashley Hoffman told the FIH postgame regarding the young U.S. squad. “We played the best in the world, so I think that shows us exactly where we stand as a team and there is a lot to pull from there.”
Having been outscored by the Netherlands 50-12 in their last 11 meetings, Team USA knew its defense would be tested on Sunday. Goalie Kealsie Robles led the way, making a number of big saves and keeping Holland off the board until the sixth minute of play.
Xan de Waard moved the ball around a defender and to the top of the cricle before passing left to Frederique Matla. She quickly sent the ball toward the right post, where a diving Albers pushed it across the goal line for the 1-0 lead.
Robles was again peppered with shots to start the second quarter, but made three big saves and turned away two corners. Linnea Gonzales tried to find the equalizer in the 17th minute, but her backhander sailed wide of the cage.
Instead, the Netherlands doubled its lead heading into halftime as Matla tipped in a pass from Lidewij.
It would take another 10 minutes of play before Welten’s second goal made it a 3-0 Dutch lead. Team USA tried to respond on the restart and got its closest look of the game on consecutive penalty corners.
After Gonzales’ first shot was saved, Carrie Hanks got a pair of looks at the cage. With her first attempt blocked by the Dutch flyer, Hanks grabbed the rebound and took aim again, but goalie Anne Veenedaal made the save.
Welten connected again in the final two minutes of the quarter to make it a 4-0 game before the Netherlands converted on two penalty corners early in the fourth quarter.
The Oranje, who are now 3-0 on the season, tacked on two more goals in the span of 26 seconds before Maria Verschoor netted the final goal with two minutes left on the clock.
Sunday was an emotional game for Team USA.
The team's originally slate season opener, Friday against the Netherlands, was canceled as a show of respect for U.S. team manager Larry Amar, who passed away unexpectedly last week. Both teams and the officials wore black armbands in his honor and a moment of silence was held before the game, which Team USA dedicated to Amar.
Sunday’s game also marked the first international caps for U.S. players Hanks, Kelee Lepage and Madison Maguire.
With Friday's cancellation, Sunday's game earned the Netherlands six points and keeps the squad atop the standings. Australia and Belgium are currently tied for second place with 0-0-2 records after tying in both games of their series.
No. 13 Team USA sits in last place behind China, which dropped both of its games to the Netherlands two weeks ago.
The U.S. resumes Pro League play February 7-8, traveling to take on No. 3 Argentina.
Congratulations to Carrie Hanks, Kelee Lepage and Madison Maguire on playing in their first international match today 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/dD3OpxcfSn— USA Field Hockey (@USAFieldHockey) January 27, 2020