MORAGA, Calif, July 26. IT was a night of firsts for the Hungarian national water polo team in FINA World League play in Moraga, California, tonight.
It was the first time that the defending Olympic champions had trailed by more than one goal. It was the first time that they had to play catch up. And it was the first time that they absorbed a loss. The
seemingly invincible Hungarians, who had cruised to a record of 10-0 through the first five rounds, fell to a feisty and physical U.S. squad, 14-11.
Hungary, which returned nine gold medalists to the pool for FINA World League competition, was bested by a U.S. squad that boasts only three returners from the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Hungary got on the board first, taking an early 1-0 lead. A score by Jeff Powers on a man-advantage knotted the score at 1-1, but Hungary seized the lead again on a goal by Gergely Kiss who found the net on a quick goal after a U.S. exclusion. Jesse Smith put away a goal of his own to tie the score again at 3-3. With 53 seconds remaining in the quarter, Brett Ormsby found Ryan Bailey at set for a score to put the U.S. up 4-3. It was just a one-goal lead, but the U.S. never looked back.
Early in the second quarter, Jeff Powers made history with a breakaway goal. It was historic in that it gave the U.S. a two-goal lead over Hungary, marking the first time that the gold medalists had trailed by more than one goal this season. Goals by Jesse Smith and another by Bailey pushed the U.S. out to a four-goal advantage mid-quarter.
Hungary halted the 4-0 run with 5:03 left in the quarter, when Rajmund Fodor beat Genai Kerr low left to make the score 7-4. Tony Azevedo got in on the act with 3:22 to go before the half, drilling a shot from the perimeter, returning the lead to four at 8-4.
Tibor Benedek brought Hungary back to within three with a score from the left-hander position. Powers and Larry Felix found the net to send the U.S. out to a
five-goal lead at 10-5.
Early in the third quarter, Dan Klatt gave the U.S. its largest lead of the game (11-6), with a pointblank score past Zoltan Szecsi. Consecutive scores by Peter Biros started a 4-0 Hungary run that was finally halted on a score by Layne Beaubien after a series of crisp passes by Smith and Wolf Wigo.
Yet another score by Powers (4 goals) exposed the Hungarians' frustration, as two players were handed game exclusions for misconduct. By game's end,
Hungarian staples Gergely Kiss and Tamas Molnar were enjoying the game as spectators for their actions in the pool.
Nine of Team USA's 14 goals were netted by UC Irvine graduates. Powers scored four, Bailey had three, and Klatt had two. Fellow UCI Anteater alum Genai Kerr kept with the theme, racking up a solid nine saves in the net.
Team USA will conclude its season Saturday with a 7:00 p.m. contest against Hungary. Hungary will be back in action again next week (Aug. 1-4) in the first-ever FINA World League Super Final.
Team USA 4 6 1 3 — 14
Hungary 3 2 3 3 — 11
Team USA: Powers 4, Bailey 3, Felix 2, Klatt 2, Beaubien 1, Smith 1, Azevedo 1
Hungary: G. Kiss 2, Benedek 2, Fodor 2, C. Kiss 2, Biros 2, B. Steinmetz 1
Man Advantage Scoring
Team USA: 6 for 12
Hungary: 6 for 12
Team USA: Kerr 9
Hungary: Szecsi 6
Ratko Rudic (USA Head Coach)
"This was the most important game that we have played as a team. We played an excellent game because we were so disciplined. We stayed with our strategy and it gave us the result we wanted."
"This game showed that, despite being so young, we can compete with the best team in the world. This is very important. We gained more tonight in this game than we could have in two years of coaching.
"There is no such thing as an easy game against Hungary. They come to win every day and they don't make many mistakes. They don't give anything away."
Wolf Wigo (USA Driver and Team Captain)
"To have played in front of that many people gave us a definite edge at the beginning of the game."
"When they are leading, they are definitely the best team in the world. When they are trailing, it's different. They play frustrated and take bad shots.
We were able to take advantage of that, step up our intensity, and hold on to the win."
"They're a team that can come back from five goals down in the fourth quarter. You never take them for granted."
Denes Kemeny (Hungarian Head Coach)
"Credit to the U.S..this was our first loss of the season. But I can't tell whether it was my players that committed the decisive mistakes, or the referees."
Csaba Kiss (Hungarian Driver)
"We knew what situations to avoid from our meetings, but we gave up a lot of goals out of the situations we talked about."