Water Polo: US Men Face Canada in “Must Win” Match

La Romana, Dominican Republic. March 24. THE draw is set and the USA Men's National Water Polo Team will play Canada in the opening game of the round-robin qualification tournament in the coastal resort of La Romana in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

USA officials view this game as a "must win." The USA
must finish either first or second at this event to qualify for the FINA World Championships, July 19-30 in Fukuoka, Japan.

Last week in Calgary, Canada, the USA lost to the Canadians in the opener of a three game series by a score of 9-8. The USA ended up taking the series
but the loss was the USA's first loss to Canada in over 25 years and was the first loss to any team from the Americas since losing to Cuba in the gold medal game at the 1991 Pan American Games.

The Canadian victory and the closeness of the other two games in Calgary, which were won by the USA, have given the Canadian contingent a tremendous surge in confidence and in listening to several members of the Canadian delegation one might think the game had already been played as they appeared to be celebrating the victory on the eve before the game.

Clearly Team USA will have its work cut out for it this week and Canada is not their only concern. Brazil, coached by former Cuban great Barbaro Diaz, is coming off an impressive victory in the South American
Championships. Argentina, runners up to Brazil, also appear greatly improved over their fourth place finish at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.

Cuba is very young but coaches Jorge Rizzo and Pablo Questa, both former Olympic greats, say that this is group has the potential to be one of the Cuba's best teams ever.

After many years of losing to the USA by as many at 10 goals, every one of the teams in this tournament, except the Dominican Republic, is licking their chops after seeing the results of the USA vs. Canada series last week.

You can forget about the qualification, whether they get to go to Fukuoka or not, there is the sense around the official hotel that the first priority is to knock of the USA and whatever happens after that is an extra bonus. That's why the first game against Canada is so important. An opening loss will put the USA's outcome in the hands of the field and it is certain that after so many years of dominance, no one is going to go the extra mile to help the USA.

The big question facing the USA is how their eight rookies who will be making their international "major" debut will hold up under the pressure of the tournament. Perhaps the greatest area of concern for the USA is at goal, where Genai Kerr and his back up, 19 year old Brandon Brooks will be positioned. Kerr, a 24 year old graduate of the University of California,
Irvine, is a six foot eight inch 210 pounder who emerged from the recent tryout camps as the leading contender for the position in Athens. Brooks is a six feet seven inch, 230 lb. UCLA sophomore who played for the UCLA basketball team as a freshman. Brooks is also the starting keeper on the USA Junior National Water Polo Team. Kerr, Brooks and the USA's defense are sure to be tested early and how they hold up under an onslaught from experienced outside shooters will pretty much determine the outcome of the games.

If the USA defense faulters, the USA does have the offensive firepower to compete. In Wolf Wigo and Tony Azevedo, the USA has two of the best drivers and outside shooters in the world. They combined for 29 goals at the Sydney Olympic Games. Ryan Bailey, the big two meter man, has also shown the ability to score in big games and Olympic swimming gold medallist Brad
Schumacher gives the team needed speed to fuel the counterattack.

The last time the hemispheric teams played was in 1999 at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, CAN. The USA finished first, followed by Cuba, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

Qualification Tournament Schedule:
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
DR vs. CUB ARG vs. USA USA vs. BRA CAN vs. ARG BRA vs. CAN
ARG vs. BRA CUB vs. CAN CAN vs. DR DR vs. USA USA vs. CUB
CAN vs. USA BRA vs. DR ARG vs. CUB CUB vs. BRA DR vs. ARG

TEAM USA Roster:
Cap # Name Age Ht. Wt. School/Residence
1. Genai Kerr 24 6'8" 210 UCI '99/Irvine, CA
2. Wolf Wigo*+ 27 6'2" 190 Stanford '95/ NYC/N.Y./SF, CA
3. Jesse Smith 17 6'4" 255 Coronado, HS '01/ Coronado, CA
4. Jeff Powers 21 6'6 220 UC '01I/San Luis Obispo, CA
5. Adam Wright 21 6'2" 190 UCLA '01/Long Beach, CA
6. Brad Schumacher + 26 6'4" 205 U of Pacific '96/Bowie, MD
7. Chris Segesman 21 6'4" 200 CSULB '01/Golea, CA
8. Tony Azevedo+ “` 19 6'1" 190 Stanford '04/Long Beach, CA
9. Larry Felix 26 6'2" 200 PEP '95/ Fullerton, CA
10. Omar Amr 26 5'11" 185 UCI '00/ Irvine, CA
11. Sean Kern+ 21 6'6" 225 UCLA '01/Honolulu, HI
12. Brandon Brooks 19 6'7" 230 UCLA '03/Honolulu, HI
13. Ryan Bailey+ 25 6'5" 245 UCI '99/Long Beach, CA