Spotlight on the USA Men’s Paralympic Goalball Team

 

With the Tokyo Paralympics fast approaching we take a closer look at the USA men’s Goalball Team and assess their chances of taking home the gold medal.

The competition for medals will be fierce in the men’s goalball tournament at this year’s Paralympics.

There are arguably five or six teams capable of winning a medal and while the USA is certainly one of those teams in contention for a top spot, it’s going to be tough to make the medals podium in Tokyo.

Currently ranked 8th in the world the team certainly don’t go into the tournaments as favourites. But with a strong mix of youth and experience and a recent good run of form, they’ll have high hopes going into the tournament.

 

Paralympic group stages

The draw has now been made for the group stages and the United States of America have been drawn in group A alongside Brazil, Algeria, Lithuania and the hosts Japan.

This is a tough group with Brazil and Lithuania ranked one and two in the world and Japan (currently ranked 10th) expected to do well as hosts.

With such a tough group you’d expect a series of finely balanced games and progression to the quarter finals could well rest on the USA’s fixture against Algeria. However the African nation will also provide a stern test, currently ranked 13th in the world just a few places below the USA (see more on world rankings below).

Group B consists of Belgium, Germany, China and Turkey who all sit within the world top 10 along with Ukraine who are currently 12th.

 

The USA men’s team Paralympic schedule

All goalball games will be played in the Makuhari Messe, a convention centre outside Tokyo, around 30 minute drive from the Paralympic Village where the team are due to stay.

Group matches begin on 25th August (the USA men’s team’s first match is on 26th August), with the final on 3rd September.

Four teams qualify for the quarter finals from the group stages.

Match

Date

Time (in Tokyo)

United States vs Brazi

Thu 26 August

13:15 - 16:00

United States vs Japan

Fri 27 August

13:15 – 16:00

Algeria vs United States

Sun 29 August 

17:30 – 20:15

United States vs Lithuania

Mon 30 August

13:15 – 16:00

Quarterfinals

Tues 31 August

13:15 – 16:15

17:45 – 20:45

Semifinals

Thu 2 September

13:15 – 16:15

17:45 – 20:45

Bronze Medal Match

Fri 3 September

13:15 – 16:15

Gold Medal Match and Victory Ceremony

Fri 3 September

17:45 – 21:55

You can find the full paralympic goalball schedule here.

 

The Team

Kusku, Merren, Simpson and Walker all return from the silver-medal winning men’s squad in Rio.

For Tyler Merren, Tokyo will mark his fourth Paralympic Games. He also won a bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Games and was a member of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Team along with Walker, who will be participating in his third Games. Buhler and Young will be making their Paralympic Games’ debuts in Tokyo.

Player

Paralympics Medals

World Championship Medals

John Kusku

Rio 2016 Silver


Bronze 2014

Tyler Merren

Rio 2016 Silver

Athens 2004 Bronze


Bronze 2006, 2014

Matthew Simpson

Rio 2016 silver

Bronze 2014

Daryl Walker

Rio 2016 silver

Bronze 2006, 2014

Zach Buhler

n/a

n/a

Calahan Young

n/a

n/a

Head Coach: Keith Young
Assistant Coach: James Wallace
Athletic Trainer: Adam McDowell
Athlete Alternates: Cody Carmicle (Lafayette, Ind.) and Sean Walker (Winchester, Va.)

U.S. Men’s Goalball Head Coach Keith Young recently told USABA. “After the USA Men’s Goalball Team’s performance and victory at the Trakai Games, I’m fully confident that the six athletes selected for the Tokyo Paralympic Games will represent our nation well. We have veterans who have prior Paralympic Games experience as well as strong newcomers. I fully believe that we have a team where all six athletes can contribute on the court and face the best teams in the world.”

 

 

How have the USA fared in previous tournaments?

 

USA record at the Paralympics

Goalball was first introduced as a Paralympic sport for men back in 1976 Since then the USA men’s team has won a total of 5 medals in the sport., winning 1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medals over the course of the last 10 games. No other teams have won as many medals and only Denmark have ever won the tournament more than once (2000 and 2004).

At the Rio games the US men’s team took home the silver medal with Lithuania winning gold and Brazil the Bronze.

The 1984 Men’s Paralympic Goalball Team have been inducted into the United States Association of Blind Athletes Hall of fame. According to the USABA website the 1984 Men’s Goalball Team was seeded first at the Paralympic Games, but suffered some unexpected losses early in the tournament. The U.S. team then made a remarkable comeback, beating Egypt for Paralympic gold.

 

Qualification for the 2020 Olympics

The US men’s team did well in qualification for this year’s tournament, but did finish outside the medal places. After finishing 3rd in their group behind China and Ukraine, they finished a creditable 5th overall after a 3-2 victory over Ukraine in their final ranking game.

 

World Championship record

The US team has also performed well at World Championships, winning gold once and two bronze medals. The team sit sixth in the all time medals table, the world’s 2nd ranked team Lithuania are out in front with 4.

 

Who is Team USA’s toughest competition for the medal places?

The USA’s toughest opponents will be Brazil and Lithuania, the world’s top 2 teams. They have dominated the sport over recent years and the USA men’s teams record against them is mixed to say the least.

Brazil

Brazil are currently ranked number 1 in the world, are the current world champions (in fact they won the last two world championships), Parapan American champions and were bronze medalists at the last games in Rio.

They faced the USA in the final of the 2019 Parapan Americas tournament in Peru, winning the game 12-9. This was a rerun of the previous final, held in Brazil, which Brazil also won (8-3). They are undoubtedly the team to beat and go into the tournament very much as favourites.

 

Lithuania

Lithuania are right up there with Brazil in terms of their tournament record. They top the all time medal table for the World Championships and took the gold at the Rio games in 2016, beating the USA 14-8 in the final.

They knocked out the USA at the quarter-final stage of the last world championships before going on to finish 4th overall. They also won the IBSA qualifying tournament for the 2020(21) Paralympic games, again beating the USA in the quarterfinals (7 to 4) before going on to win the tournament with victories over China in the semi’s and Turkey in the final.

The USA will be looking to redress the balance this summer and turn those recent slender defeats in major tournaments into wins, their confidence will be high after victory against the Lithuanians in a recent warm up tournament in Trakai.

They defeated the defending Paralympic champion on their home court to capture the gold medal. Tournament top scorer Calahan Young helped secure a 15-13 victory in the final.

 

World ranking – Top 10

Ranking

Team

1st

Brazil

2nd

Lithuania

3rd

China

4th

Germany

5th

Iran

6th

Belgium

7th

Finland

8th

USA

9th

Turkey

10th

Japan

 

A level playing field

With opportunities to compete (or even train as a team) limited over the past year it’s difficult to judge any team’s chances on form or qualification results.

As we said in our recent spotlight on the US women’s goalball team, “this year, perhaps more than in the previous tournaments, those who occupy the medal places are going to be more resilient and show a greater desire than ever before.

Experience will also play a key role, which Team USA have in abundance.

Players like Tyler Merren and Matt Simpson have won medals at multiple international tournaments and they’ll be able to draw on the type of experience that can help this team to go a long way. In the end much will depend on how they shape up against Brazil and Lithuania, the two teams which dominate the men’s game.

 


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Listen to more of our interviews with adaptive sports players and coaches below, including this interview with USA men’s Team co-captain Tyler Merren: