WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California, June 1. THE USA Men's Senior National Team bounced back with a vengeance from Thursday evening's 6-2 loss to Croatia by upsetting the reigning World Champions and top-ranked Croatian squad 8-5 in front of a sellout crowd at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif. The game was also broadcast by NBC and will air on MSNBC on June 15 at 9 a.m. PST.
Team USA was able to battled back from a 3-1 deficit at halftime to come away with a momentous victory over what is considered one of the elite teams in the world headed into the 2008 Olympic Games. USA struck first in the game Tony Azevedo found the net on a dish from Jesse Smith to go up 1-0. Croatia quickly countered scoring three straight, the last coming with just five seconds left in the second quarter.
In the second half the United States made their mark as they used a 6×5 to find the net with John Mann connecting on a pass from Adam Hewko to make things 3-2. Croatia answered with a goal around thirty seconds later but after that it was all USA. Center Ryan Bailey drew an exclusion and then cashed in on the advantage bringing the game to 4-3 with 4:56 left in the third. USA tied the game on the goal of the night as Azevedo whipped home a lefty backhander that left the crowd buzzing to tie the score at 4-4. That was followed by Azevedo drawing a five meter which Bailey cashed in on and USA was back in front 5-4.
The defense was up to the task on this evening as well as Brandon Brooks did the job in the cage turning aside some nine shots including a flurry in the waning seconds of the third quarter. Early on in the fourth USA built their lead as Jeff Powers connected during a 6×5 to make it 6-4 for the home team. Croatia answered with one last score on a man-up to make it a one goal affair with 5:32 left. The scoring would slow for a time until Jesse Smith painted the corner from outside with 1:15 left in the game to make it 7-5. It was a banner night for Azevedo as he iced the game firing one in from downtown with just 23 seconds left for his third goal and it was on to victory from there.
Notes: The game will air on MSNBC on June 15 at 9:00 am PST and will be paired with BMX competition…Team USA went 5-10 on 6×5 while Croatia went 3-8, a great improvement from Thursday evening in a 6-2 loss to Croatia…This was the first victory for Team USA against their former Coach Ratko Rudic since his departure from the team…Attendance for the game was estimated at 1500 and is the second straight sellout for Team USA…Next up for the team will be a three game set with Australia starting on June 7 in Moraga, Calif.
Special thanks to USA Water Polo for contributing this report.