U.S. Men’s Water Polo Rallies to Top Japan in Olympic Opener

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; United States goalkeeper Drew Holland (13) makes a save against Japan during Group A play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
U.S. Goalie Drew Holland makes one of his nine saves in Sunday's 15-13 win over Japan; Photo Courtesy: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. men’s water polo team found itself down three goals less than two quarters into its Olympic tournament Sunday. It took a big effort to turn it around.

Five goals from Alex Bowen did the trick, leading the U.S. to a 15-13 win over Japan in its Olympic water polo opener at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre.

A goal by Seiya Adachi put Japan up, 7-4, with 3:29 left in the second quarter. But Ben Hallock scored twice before the half, and Bowen added the final goal to get the U.S. into the break down just 8-7.

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; United States driver Alex Bowen (9) with the ball against Japan during Group A play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. Men’s Water Polo’s Alex Bowen; Photo Courtesy: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Japan had another push to go up 10-8, but again the United States had an answer. Marko Vavic scored and then fed Hannes Daube to tie the game at 10, and Bowen came up clutch late to score with 15 seconds left in the quarter to put the U.S. up 11-10. It was the first lead since 1-0.

“From there, I think that was just a step in the right direction,” Max Irving said. “So we could like allow ourselves to really take a breath, play with more confidence, get back to doing the things that we do particularly well.”

It would also end up as a 5-0 run that proved decisive. Irving and Luca Cupido scored to make it 13-10, and though Japan pushed back, they wouldn’t get any closer than 14-13 with 1:49 to play. Drew Holland made the offense stand up with nine saves.

Team USA earned 13 power plays, converting on six. But it allowed four penalty shots to the Japanese, all of which they converted, as well as a 5-for-7 man-advantage rate.

Adachi tallied a hat trick for Japan, as did Mitsuaki Shiga and Yusuke Inaba. Katsuyuki Tanamura stopped 11 shots.

For Irving and company, it’s a tough test passed in the opener.

“We were kind of expecting it,” Irving said. “It was the first game for us, first Olympics for a lot of us, so we knew that it was going to be a difficult game. I think we showed a lot of resilience and composure, staying with it, staying confident throughout the course of the game, and then by the end we were able to jump out in front and have the result that we wanted.”