From the moment the U.S. women's field hockey team earned an Olympic berth with a stunning upset of Argentina in the Pan American Games last year, coach Lee Bodimeade has worried his team would pay for it here.
The powerhouse Argentine team had not lost a single game in the Pan-Am Games in the previous 25 years. To lose to the United States — a squad that had never beaten them in major competition — was considered a humiliation by both the Argentine players and their rabid fan base.
"We've probably smacked the hornets' nest by beating them," Bodimeade said at the beginning of the Olympic tournament.
Those fears, to nearly everyone's surprise, did not come to fruition during an early-round match between the two countries Tuesday at Riverbank Arena.
Instead, the United States stung No. 2-ranked Argentina 1-0, marking the first time the Americans had defeated their longtime rivals in Olympic competition. The win, which came courtesy of a first-half goal from striker Shannon Taylor, also gave the U.S. team, which had dropped its first match Sunday to Germany, a crucial three points in pool play.
Far from disturbing the hornets' nest, the Pan Am victory might have given the Americans an immeasurable boost heading into these Olympics.
"I think that gave us a lot of belief. We felt we could now compete at the highest level," Bodimeade said after the game. "We know that we are very fortunate to play against [Argentina]. We are privileged to be able to learn from them and fortunate to get such exposure."
The American players tried to downplay the victory's overall significance, describing the game as just one of five in pool play. The team's track record, world ranking and Olympic history, however, would suggest otherwise.
Since winning the bronze medal in 1984, the U.S. field hockey team has qualified for only four of the past seven summer Games. They are currently the No. 10 team in the world, a ranking boosted by their performance at the Pan Am Games.
Argentina had established itself as the tournament's early favorite, as the team — affectionately known as "the Lionesses" in its homeland — tied the record for the biggest winning margin in women's Olympic hockey, beating South Africa, 7-1, in their opening pool match on Sunday.
Several U.S. players claimed they did not know about the record heading into Tuesday's match, but they said it would not have changed their mindset.
"I've been on the other side of bigger goal differentials than that against Argentina," U.S. team captain Lauren Crandall said. "We know how tough they are."
The loss clearly stunned Argentine star Luciana Aymar, who is largely considered the world's greatest field hockey player. The 34-year-old midfielder, who intends to retire after these Games, has made no secret of her desire to win an Olympic gold medal, the only prize that has eluded her during her long career.
Aymar — who has publicly described the U.S. team as "not at our level" — kept her arms crossed and stared at the floor for much of a postgame news conference as she tried to explain the loss.
The U.S. team is "very physical, they play man-to-man marking, a style we do not like," she said. "They make a lot of fouls. It's effective."
The United States faces Australia on Thursday in its third match in pool play, giving the Americans about 48 hours to savor the upset and then promptly put it behind him.
"We have to come back down from this win," U.S. goalkeeper Amy Swensen said. "We need to try to get composed and get the game plan together so we can put another good performance on the field."
Two former Terps, Katie O'Donnell and Keli Smith Puzo, contributed to the victory.
O'Donnell, 23, a forward who is making her Olympic debut in London, played 49 minutes and picked up a yellow card. Smith Puzo, 33, a forward who is in her second Games, played 39 minutes.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun