Aug. 21, 2004
Athens, Greece - The USA Men's Water Polo Team missed out on a shot at securing early advancement to the quarterfinals in a 9-7 loss to Russia on Saturday night (August 21) before 4,108 fans at the Indoor Pool of the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens. Former Bruin Adam Wright scored a goal, and goalkeeper Brandon Brooks made five saves. Team USA fell behind early and never hit its stride, its record falling to 2-2. The U.S. must now win its game on Monday against Serbia and Montenegro (3-1), who won its game tonight against Croatia, 11-8. Russia, whose roster boasts 11 returning Olympians, pounced on the younger U.S. team from the get-go and got some favorable calls along the way to keep its distance. It took Russia all of 20 seconds for Russia to get on the board, getting a score from the hole by center standout Revaz Tchomakhidze just after the opening sprint. Team USA went the other way to earn a 6-on-5 opportunity, but Omar Amr's (Fullerton, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) catch-and-shoot from four meters out hit the post and was controlled by Russian goalie Nikolay Maksimov. Tchomakhidze struck again at the 4:27 mark, breaking loose from a defender at set and whistling in a backhand to make it a 2-0 Russia lead. Irek Zinnourov buried a player-up goal through two American sets of hands at 3:19 to take the score to 3-0. Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) got up on a counterattack and drew an exclusion, setting up an extra man score from six meters out by Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) with only three seconds remaining in the quarter. Russia managed to outswim Team USA down on a counterattack and got the ball into the hands of Alexander Eryshov for an easy score from the righthander position. Less than a minute later, it was big man Tchomakhidze who found himself open up top on a counter to make it 5-1 in favor of Russia. Azevedo cut the lead to three goals with his second score of the game at 2:23, a player-up cage-rattler from the same spot as his first goal that caught Maksimov off guard. Powers earned another exclusion at set the next time down. The U.S. worked the ball over to the right side to Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC) who stuffed it through Maksimov at the nearside to bring the U.S. to within two at 5-3. Roman Balashov, the trailer on a Russian counterattack, connected from the right post to stretch the lead back to three goals with 36 seconds left in the half, but USA's Layne Beaubien (Coronado, CA/Stanford/New York AC) blasted in a 6-on-5 goal from the top with just four ticks left to keep his squad within striking distance at the break. Eryshov powered in a man-up goal of his own to start the third quarter, sailing one in from six meters out at 6:15 to run the count to 7-4. Team USA got a pair of bad breaks midway through the third. Azevedo got loose on a breakaway and was tackled hard from behind with inside water, but no whistle came, neither for a penalty or an exclusion. On the next trip down, Azevedo got ahead on another breakaway but was blocked by Maksimov just in front of the cage. Russia ended the quarter with some fireworks when Eryshov's nine-meter pull-up was deflected off the left post by Brooks before finding its way across the goal line to make it 8-4 heading into the fourth. Andrey Rekechinsky found some open real estate at 5:33 in the fourth to put a rollout shot past Brooks, stretching the lead to 9-4. Leading a U.S. counterattack and not finding an open man, Beaubien came up big and bellowed in a crosscage goal with 3:31 to go, cutting the Russian lead to 9-5. USA captain Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York AC) made good on a 1-on-nobody on a pass from Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/New York AC) to bring the U.S. back to within three at 2:54. Chris Segesman (Santa Barbara, CA/Long Beach State/Los Angeles WPC), who was sharp defensively at the hole all night for Team USA, connected on a turnaround from two meters with 40 seconds left to make it 9-7. U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic called a timeout with 10 seconds remaining in the contest, bringing his team to half-tank with the ball, but Wigo's last effort from five meters out sailed wide of the cage, locking up the 9-7 win for Russia. Azevedo and Beaubien led the U.S. with two goals each, but Russia's Tchomakhidze and Eryshov netted three apiece. "We've played Russia a lot in these four years," said Wigo. "Our priority was defense and not letting them get shots at two meters or on the counterattack and we didn't do that. It's disappointing because we've played three great games. This was a crucial game, but we have another chance on Monday. It's not going to be easy, but nobody said this was an easy bracket." "For us this is a good lesson and we'll try to play better the next game," said Rudic. Now, Team USA is looking at a big game on Monday against No. 3 Serbia and Montenegro. A U.S. win could propel it into the quarterfinals. "We can play really bad and we can play really well," said Rudic. "Anything is possible and Serbia and Montenegro knows we can do anything." The U.S. won its last meeting with Serbia and Montenegro in the U.S., but lost the championship game of the Belgrade Trophy Tournament just two weeks ago, 5-4.