Only two days of competition remain here in Toronto, with only a few games left to decide who brings home gold in each division. A look at the 12 total teams, and 8 total countries, remaining in contention at the tournament:
USA vs. Colombia
The USA Women have had two close calls so far, first against Japan and then against Canada. Luckily, they came out on top in both of those games and will get to relax a bit as both aforementioned opponents attempt to knock each other out on the other side of the bracket. Instead, they have Colombia as a challenger – a team they beat 17-6 on the first day of the tournament. While unsteady on offense at times, the USA team has had defense unlike any other women’s team I’ve seen. If Colombia would like improve on their first game performance, they’d be wise to try and take advantage of the USA offense. It will be difficult though, they’re not performing as expected this tournament, having entered as the one seed in the division. The problems for the Colombians have been wide ranging, but have mostly been centered around an uneasy offense, perhaps because of the absences of some players to visas, World Games and other commitments. They’ll need to clean this up to be able to pull out a win here.
Canada vs. Japan
The Japanese women have been spectacular so far, and they have a chance to advance to the gold medal game should they defeat Canada again this tournament. On the other hand, Canada now has a chance to avenge the round robin loss and keep their own gold medal hopes strong as well. In the first game, the Canadians had a tough time advancing through the quickness of Japan’s play, and they can’t expect that to change, especially after the long rest between Friday’s game and their semifinal game. Their best look will be to develop a strategy to control it, as other teams have tried with various zone and man defenses. If the Japanese would like to repeat the victory, they have to be prepared for a defense designed to stop them. For them it will come down to keeping a calm and patient offense which should be enough to throw a wrench into whatever plans the Canadians plan for them.
USA vs. Australia
The USA Open team has yet to face a deadly challenge. Will Australia be that team? In the first Australia-USA matchup on Monday, the USA’s offensive game was very varied, ranging from hucks off the pull to patient work through the Australian defense. It worked, spurring them to a 17-6 win, but what should be worrying is the play at the end of the game. As the cap of 17 drew closer, the points started getting longer and longer as the Australians fought back. For the Australians to beat a team that hasn’t been challenged much in the USA, they can’t give them any signs of life if they’re able to take an early or even late lead. For the USA to win, I think a consistent offense, along with a defense that makes the Goannas work in long spurts, will be the right formula.
Canada vs. Germany
The Germans surprised many with their strong pool play results, and continued to surprise by knocking out the Japanese in quarters. It wasn’t always the prettiest of games against the Japanese, but they were able to pull out the win. For the Canadians, Italy was a tough game – but ultimately they won with ease through the toughness of the Italian defense. The Canadians must know that this semifinal will be a step up in difficulty, given the strong game the Germans gave the Americans. The Germans must know that the Canadians may even be a tougher opponent than the Americans, especially since they’ll be attempting to defend home turf. The Germans may have to rely on a different defense (as they often turned to zone against the Japanese) in order to slow down the Canadian team. While the Canadians may find some difficulty with the size and physical play the Germans can bring. If Canada can get on a roll like they did against the Italians and other opponents, the Germans may not be able to stop them, especially with the depth Canada brought to the tournament. But if Germany can continue to prove steady on offense, they can end the Canadian dream.
USA vs. Venezuela
In one corner, we have the USA mixed team – team full of All-Stars that spent a whole week together before the tournament began to develop chemistry and strategy, traits that have only improved as they’ve played more together. In the other corner, Venezuela’s mixed team – a team that was formed just a week before the tournament began, but has steadily improved game after game this week. In fact, the first time Venezuela played together as a team was against the USA in their opening game of the tournament. The USA would win that game, but their opponent has improved enough that they might as well forget that first match, surprising many teams along the way to this point. Whereas before, they faced a team without chemistry between players, now that chemistry is there. The Venezuelans showed in their game against Japan that their zone defense and zone-breaking offense can take down a top team. If the USA would like to get by them again, and onto the divisions gold medal game, they’d be wise to forget that first game of the tournament and pretend that this is an opponent they haven’t seen before. For Venezuela, they should consider the opposite; remembering that they played this team before and were beaten because they lacked the trust experienced teams have – that’s no longer the case. They have trust in each other now, and they have a much better chance at beating the USA than when the tournament began.
Japan vs. Canada
The second time these two countries faceoff in the tournament’s semifinals, this time in the mixed division. Much like the women’s game, the Japanese won the previous matchup against the Canadians. A wise man in ultimate once said that a rematch favors the loser, and Canada might be wise to consider that here. The Canadians looked like a completely different team through most of power pools, including the exciting game against the United States. They’ll want to bring that same type of game here against Japan – steady handler play on offense and a resilient defense. The Japanese need to stop themselves from falling any further, having lost two straight games to the other two mixed semifinalists coming into this round. In those losses, they looked lost on defense and were downright ineffective on offense. Fixing that means a return to their usual form, something team Canada needs to disrupt in any way possible.
With rain in the forecast, everyone is hoping for a great, dry morning of ultimate plus a nice break in between before the tournament party at night. At the end of the day, we’ll have a clear picture of the bronze medal winners, and who will be fighting for gold in each division. Stay tuned.
Feature photo from the official U-23 World Championships tournament photographers