Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Tournament Begins!

After saying very little about soccer yesterday, the focus shifts back today because the Tournament Round began. The World Games is divided into three phases of competition: Preliminary Round, Tournament Round, and Medal Round. When the Preliminary Round ended on Monday afternoon, Special Olympics officials began the process of "divisioning." Divisioning involves grouping the teams into separate competitions, so that teams play against opponents with a similar ability level. In the past, the Games have been plagued by sandbagging -- in which teams purposefully underperformed in the Preliminary Round in order to get placed into a lower tournament which they could win. But this year, the officials announced a system of policing: large margins of victory and vastly superior play in the Tournament Round would result in immediate disqualification. As a result, the Preliminary Round featured honest effort, and no match in today's Tournament Round had more than a two-goal difference. Kudos to the divisioning committee!

The committee decided to keep the tournaments small this year, limiting them to round-robin tournaments of four or five teams, with a final Medal Round at the end of the week. This was done on purpose, in order to avoid scheduling matches in the hot Greek afternoons. All matches will be over by 2pm local time. So, each team will play three Tournament Round matches (one on Tuesday, one Wednesday, and one Thursday), and then Bronze medal matches will take place on Friday, and Gold medal matches on Saturday.

The United States has been grouped with Canada, Austria, and Spain in the Level 5 Tournament. There are 8 levels. Level 5 equals the highest placement for any U.S. soccer team at a Special Olympics World Games. More importantly, the team was excited to get rematches with Canada and Austria, who we outplayed in the Preliminary Round, but did not beat. Spain is the favorite in the group, having tied a team grouped into Level 4 and beaten Austria during Preliminaries. But Team USA does not play Spain until the final day of the round-robin, on Thursday.

Full coverage of the Americans' opening Tournament Round match is available on the "Match Reports" page, but we won't keep you in suspense. In a dramatic turnaround from the Preliminary Round match against Canada, the U.S. was outshot and gave up more corner kicks than in all Preliminary matches combined, but discovered their scoring touch and won 2-1! The Current Level 5 standings after the first day:

TEAM                    W             D              L          PTS    GF       GA         
Spain                       1              0               0             3        4           2
USA                         1              0               0             3        2           1
Canada                     0              0               1             0        1           2
Austria                     0              0               1             0        2           4

Check out the pics from today's match:
Steven Summerfelt turning the corner
Sam Huffman stepping in front to send the USA into attack!
Avery Long going 1-on-1
Laundry and Patriotism go hand in hand here!

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