USA Men’s Water Polo At 2019 Pan American Games: Beware Brazil

USA Head Coach Dejon Udovicic talks to Ben Stevenson, with Alex Bowen, Dylan Woodhead and Matt Farmer. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The USA men’s water polo roster for the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, has been released, and what the Americans lack in experience, they—perhaps—balance out in potential. Hannes Daube, Johnny Hooper, Max Irving, Chancellor Ramirez, Marko Vavic and Alex Wolf have yet to represent their country in an Olympic Games. But, Dejan Udovicic, the U.S. National Team head coach, believes his younger players’ talent and enthusiasm will be key as they pursue a seventh-straight Pan Am title and a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Games.


The biggest antagonist looming for Team USA next month in Lima, Peru—a location that amounts to playing in their backyard is Brazil. Throw in the role  former U.S. men’s coach Ricardo Azevedo plays as a high-level advisor to the Confederaçao Brasileira Desportos Aquaticos (CBDA), and there are elements of danger—and excitement—to the men’s draw at this year’s Pan Am. The American’s chief regional rivals—in the three of the past four Pan Am title matches, the American have bested the Brazilians—last week in Los Angeles, the two squads scrimmaged, with Brazil also fitting in a match versus UCLA.

[On The Record with Ricardo Azevedo, Former US Head Coach, Now Advising Brazilian Water Polo]

The 2019 Pan Am challenge is that much great than in years past because of a dearth of Olympic experience—a typical strength of the American program. Which is not to say that there’s no history of international competition on this year’s squad. Alex Bowen, Luca Cupido, Ben Hallock and Alex Obert were key contributors for the U.S. squad that finished 10th in the 2016 Rio Games. And Jesse Smith—hoping to play in his fifth Olympics—will captain this young bunch and provide the veteran presence necessary for success.


Brazil’s Gustavo Guimarães at UCLA. Photo Courtesy: CBDA

Until recently there were expectations that McQuin Baron—heir apparent in the U.S. cage to three-time Olympian Merrill Moses—and Alex Roelse, a burly center defender who was an important addition to the team’s make-up, would reprise their roles in the 2016 Games. Neither player is on the Pan Am roster—nor is John Mann, the powerful hole set from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics squads whose size, skill and experience were once vital to the team’s hopes. “Bear Mann” is retired, and there’s little chance of a return by Baron and Roelse. So, the eleven players announced earlier this week is what Udovicic and his assistants, Alex Rodriguez and Gavin Arroyo, will take into battle against the rest of the continent.

In addition to the Brazilians, that competition includes Argentina, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the host Peruvians. The Canadians have been perennial also-rans, finishing as runner-ups in the 2011 tournament and taking bronze in 2015, 2007, 2003 and 1999. But there’s little doubt that the U.S. should be wary of Brazil, currently ranked seventh in the world compared to the American’s 11th place standing. With Gustavo Coutinho, Gustavo Guimarães, Bernardo Rocha and Slobodan Soro—veterans of Brazil’s stunning run to an eighth place finish at the 2016 Rio Games—gearing up to represent their country in the Pan Ams, the young Americans will have their work cut out for them in the water.

And on the pool deck as well.

Once upon a time, Acevedo, who for the past three years has been the CBDA’s Supervisor of Water Polo Selection and Development, was the head U.S. men’s coach. In 2006, he stepped into the void left by Ratko Rudic’s sudden departure, then in 2007 was unceremoniously sacked in favor of Terry Schroeder. The former and now current Pepperdine coach led the U.S. on an unexpected run to the gold medal match at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where they dropped a 14-10 decision to Hungary.

Triunfo Sports Center

Triunfo Sports Center in Lima. Photo Courtesy: LIMA 2019

That may be ancient history, but the rivalry between these two countries is not. In their most recent match-up, at the 2019 UANA Water Polo Cup final last January, Brazil captured a 12-10 shootout victory behind a spectacular effort by the ageless Soro, who stopped five penalty shots again the Americans, including three in the shootout.

Before these two teams battle in Lima, they both will travel to Gwangju, South Korea for the 18th FINA World Championships, opening on July 14. After a brief break for travel, the Americans and the Brazilians will fly to Lima, where on August 4 the U.S. will face Cuba and Brazil will open against host Peru. And—most certainly—meet at some point along the way to the Pan Am final on August 10.

USA Men’s National Team Roster
Alex Wolf (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA/Bruin)
Ben Hallock (Westlake Village, CA/Stanford/LA Premier)
Luca Cupido (Santa Margherita, Italy/California/Olympic Club)
Hannes Daube (Long Beach, CA/USC/North Irvine WPC)
Alex Bowen (Santee, CA/Stanford/NYAC)
Alex Obert (Loomis, CA/Pacific/NYAC)
Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/NYAC)
Chancellor Ramirez (Pasadena, CA/UCLA/NYAC)
Max Irving (Long Beach, CA/UCLA/NYAC)
Johnny Hooper (Los Angeles, CA/California/LA Premier)
Marko Vavic (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA/USC/Trojan)

Head Coach: Dejan Udovicic
Asst. Coach: Alex Rodriguez and Gavin Arroyo
Team Manager: Lori Verdegaal

2019 Pan American Games Men’s Competition Schedule
August 4 vs Cuba 1pm (PST)
August 5 vs Canada 1pm (PST)
August 6 vs Puerto Rico 4pm (PST)
August 7 TBD
August 8 TBD
August 9 TBD
August 10 TBD (Finals)

UPDATE: A link to FINA’s current men’s and women’s water polo rankings has been added, which lists Brazil as seventh (tied with Japan) and the United States as eleventh.

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Dante Dettamanti
Dante Dettamanti
4 years ago

Brazil is not ranked 7th in the world. Check your facts before publishing.

Dante Dettamanti
Dante Dettamanti
4 years ago

Those rankings are outdated and from after the Rio Olympics. They are nowhere close to the same team that competed in Rio. Ratko is gone and so are most of the European mercenaries that they hired for Rio. You have to take into account what they have done since then. The rankings will be more accurate once we see the results of the upcoming World Championships. I can name at least 8 teams ahead of them, just off the top of my head—Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Italy, Spain, Greece and Australia.

Dante Dettamanti
Dante Dettamanti
4 years ago

Results of 2017 World Championships in Budapest. Brazil was 12th. Besides the above mentioned 8 teams, Russia, Japan and Kazakhstan also finished ahead of Brazil. Embarrassingly, the USA men finished 13th, One of our worst international finishes ever.

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