July 24, 2003
BARCELONA, SPAIN - The U.S. men's water polo team breezed into the fifth place game at the 2003 FINA World Championships at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today (July 24) with an easy 11-5 win over Slovakia. The U.S. dominated the entire way, leading by as many as eight goals, and now stands poised to make its best showing at World Championships since taking fourth in the 1990 games in Perth, Australia. The U.S. took seventh in the last two tournaments in 1998 and 2001.
Big Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) opened up the scoring at 6:16 for the U.S., whipping around to score an extra-man goal at center immediately after an ejection on Slovakia. At 4:53, Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) took a cross-pass from Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) and put it away from the right side to make it a 2-0 U.S. lead. Powers scored his second goal in as many possessions at the 3:25 mark, putting away a crowd-pleasing no-look pass from Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/Malibu Water Polo) in the low-right corner to make it a 3-0 game. Slovakia straightened out its zero at 2:05 when Gejza Gyurcsy skipped one past U.S. keeper Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles Water Polo), but Bailey's backhand goal off of a Layne Beaubien (Coronado, CA/Stanford/Olympic Club/Halkida, Crete) entry-pass kept the U.S. lead at three goals heading into the next quarter.
Team USA cashed in on a pair of extra-man opportunities early in the second, with Wright and Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) scoring goals after Slovakian exclusions. Team USA went up by a half dozen when Smith went high left and in at 4:23 after a steal by Brooks on the other end. Wright made it an 8-1 game on his second goal of the quarter in the final seconds, capping off a brilliant first half of play for the USA. Brooks had an impressive first half in the net, hauling down seven saves.
Slovakia ended a 5-0 USA run on a 6-on-5 goal by Robert Kaid at 4:53 of the third quarter, bringing the score to 8-2. Smith became the fourth U.S. player to post a multiple-goal game when he hit from five meters out on a counterattack at the 1:56 mark. The nightmare continued for Slovakia when Azevedo buried his second goal in the final minute of the quarter to make it 10-2, USA, heading into the fourth.
Slovakia drew first blood in the fourth quarter when Thomas Bruder found space in the left corner past an outstretched Genai Kerr (Imperial Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) at 6:04 to make it a 10-3 contest, and Jozef Hrosik made it 10-4 on an extra-man goal with 3:53 to go in the game. Team captain Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York Athletic Club/Ethnikos Piraeus) busted into the score column on the next trip down, skipping in a goal from six meters out to give the U.S. a seven-goal lead at 11-4. Bruder netted his second goal for Slovakia with just over a minute remaining to narrow the margin to six, but the U.S. held them there for the duration.
Brooks collected 10 saves in three quarters of work for Team USA and has continued to be one of the tournament's most effective goalkeepers.
"I feel like I've been doing my job, but I'm really only as good as the defense makes me look," said Brooks of his performance in the cage. "And today, we were playing our kind of defense. We knew that the games after the loss to Greece were still really important. We were upset that we lost, but nobody is packing it in yet."
U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic continues to be high on his young team's performance.
"We have played very well this entire tournament," he said. "Against Greece, we played well, but we just couldn't put the ball in the goal. Today, we continued to show that we are at a high level internationally and we feel like we should be among the top four teams here. But with our players only getting better and better, we still have the future."
Team USA will face reigning back-to-back World Champion Spain in the fifth place game on Saturday (July 26) at 1:30 p.m. at Club Natacio Barcelona. Spain defeated Australia in a close game this afternoon, 10-8.