By Eric Velazquez
Sydney, Australia—From the early going of today’s game against gold medal favorite Hungary, it looked as if the men’s U.S. water polo team had worked the kinks out of the system. A 12-8 win against the Netherlands had clearly propelled Team USA into a rhythm for this morning’s 9 a.m. contest with the Hungarians. However, after taking a 9-8 lead early in the fourth quarter,
the U.S. was unable to hold on and lost, 10-9, threatening its berth in the quarterfinals.
The top four teams in each of the six team brackets will advance to the next round. Currently, the U.S. is 1-3, in a tie for fourth with the Netherlands, with winless Greece on tap for tomorrow night at 7:15 p.m.
So naturally, head coach John Vargas isn’t packing his bags quite yet. “We still have to win tomorrow,” he said. “But playing these tough games early will help us tomorrow night, and certainly on into quarterfinals.”
The U.S. came out of the gates against Hungary like a team possessed. Picture perfect execution, aggressive counterattacks, and sharp goal play had the U.S. even with the gold medal faves by 6:17 of the third quarter.
Team USA jumped ahead to take its first lead since 1-0 only a few seconds later when Chris Humbert connected on a pass from Gavin Arroyo. Robert Lynn helped his squad go up by two with 4:27 left in the third, finding an open Sean Kern on a cross-pool pass from the lefthander’s position.
Zsolt Varga brought Hungary back to 7-6 with 3:50 to go in the quarter and Bulcsu Szekely caught the Americans at 7-7 when a bar-down attempt floated
in past goalkeeper Dan Hackett at 1:44. The U.S. reclaimed the lead on its following possession when Lynn again found an open hand, this one belonging
to Chris Oeding on a drive to two-meters. Hungary pulled even again with 0.5 seconds remaining in the period on a goal by Rajmund Fodor.
The U.S. went ahead for the last time at 9-8 early in the fourth quarter on the strength of the arm of 18-year-old Tony Azevedo. But a few lapses cost the U.S. the game over the next six minutes.
With the score tied at 9-9, Gergely Kiss pulled up from about six meters out on a counterattack and rocketed a lefthanded shot through his defender and
under an elevated Hackett to give the Hungary the 10-9 advantage. After a key defensive stop with about 30 seconds to go, an ill-advised outlet pass from Hackett was stolen by Barnabas Steinmetz, virtually securing the win for Hungary.
USA two-meter defender Chi Kredell’s steal with 3.7 seconds left gave the U.S. a glimmer of hope, but Tony Azevedo’s shot from mid-pool after the timeout was field blocked as time expired. “We played close to our game today,” said Vargas. “We just made a few mistakes near the end that cost us.”
Up Next for the U.S.:
Tomorrow, the U.S. will wrap up prelim play with Greece in the 7:15 p.m game at Ryde Aquatic Center. The Greeks have been a major disappointment ever
since finishing second to the USA in the 1997 FINA World Cup. It's not for a lack of talent but internal dissension that has kept the talented players
from coming together under coach Kyriakos Iosifidis and playing at the level many believe they are capable of. The strength of the Greek team is in the middle with 2m men Georgios Afroudakis and Anastasios Papanastasiou and 2m defender Konstantinos Loudis. Theodoros Chatzitheodorou and Theodoros Lorantos are their best outside shooters. If Greece can throw its issues off of the pooldeck and play some good team water polo, it could certainly make some waves for the U.S. tomorrow night.
4 Goals scored by the U.S. in the third period
5 Number of shots taken by the U.S. in the fourth quarter
1 Number of shots made by the U.S. in the fourth quarter
2 Number of shots saved by Hungary’s Zoltan Kosz in the fourth quarter
11 Number of saves by U.S. goalkeeper Dan Hackett
3 Number of fourth quarter goals by Hungary
2 Turnovers committed by the U.S. in the fourth
4,000 Spectators present for 9 a.m. USA-Hungary game
3 Sprints won by U.S. utility man Brad Schumacher
2 Number of times U.S. scored on first possession of quarter
2 Number of swimming gold medals in Brad Schumacher’s trophy case
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