The United States hosted rival Hungary on Sunday in an exhibition series to gear up for the 2012 London Olympic Games. This game was set up to test the United States since the Olympics are now two months away. Hungary is the three-time defending Olympic champion, and they beat Team USA in the gold medal game in Beijing 14-10, and they are in the same group as the United States in London.
This Olympic cycle Team USA has been training at home and not having some players playing with their club teams abroad, and it the continuity is paying off as they defeated Hungary 12-9. Tony Azevedo and keeper Merrill Moses led the way for the United States as Azevedo scored six goal and Moses had 15 saves. This was the first win over Hungary by the United States in a decade, and even more impressive is that Team USA never trailed in this game.
The scoring got under way when the United States drew an ejection and after a missed shot by Ryan Bailey, but Jeff Powers was aggressive and went after goalie László Baksa and got the ball and back handed the ball and into the cage to give the United States an early 1-0 lead. Basko is not the normal starter for Hungary as he started in place of Viktor Nagy.
Hungary scored on the very next possession when Tamás Varga scored from about seven meters on a skip shot that just made it past Moses. Varga did a nice look away and the skip shot hit squarely on Moses' hand but it still went through to tie the game at one.
The United States nearly got out to a 3-1 lead right ouf of the gate, but first their second goal came on a back door play the far left post when Adam Wright threw a perfect pass to Azevedo who got the ball past Baska. Team USA had a three-on-two counter attack and Jeff Powers had open water with the ball just at the two-meter line on the right post but the defense forced Powers to reset the offense. Ultimately that possession did result in a score to Team USA.
While the United States did not score on that counter attack, but Tim Hutton scored from two meters and then Azevedo hit a laser in the top left corner on a six-on-five possession to put Team USA up 4-1.
Hungary made it a 4-2 game when Gergely Kiss converted on a six-on-five play. The goal came when Moses blocked the first shot by Hungary, but Kiss got the rebound and hit the right bar and cut the lead to two goals.
At the end of the first quarter it was 5-2, and the fifth goal came when Powers draw foul from outside five meters and made a turn move toward goal and took an uncontested shot after the foul and zipped the ball past Baska.
Team USA nearly had a 6-2 lead when Moses hit a deep pass to the left side of the pool and the counter attack was on, and Jesse Smith received the ball at point blank range but the shot hit the top cross bar and fell just outside of the goal line as time expired. The quarter ended 5-2 in favor of the United States.
The second quarter saw less scoring as Hungary's defense stepped up their game and was pressing the United States on defense and forcing them out more than they wanted on a handful of possessions. The defense for the United States was excellent this quarter, and specifically Moses who had 10 first half saves. There was only two goals in the second quarter which both came on power plays by Peter Varellas.
Hungary came out of the second half as a different team and on their first possession they were moving the ball around on the perimeter and scored on their first possession to make it 7-3. Azevedo made it 8-3 for the United States on a skip shot from about seven meters out, but Hungary responded when 19-year-old Marton Vamos snuck one past Moses to cut the lead in half at 8-4.
Vamos scored his second goal in the quarter when he connected on a power play goal and blasted a skip shot past Moses to make it 9-5. Team USA finally scored at the end of a quarter when Azevedo scored a power play goal with four seconds left to make it 10-5 after three quarters.
Hungary would outscore Team USA 4-2 in the fourth quarter to make the game interesting and upped their intensity during their comeback attempt. Hungary did make it 10-7, but Team USA countered when Bailey drew an ejection. On the power play the offense shifted to the right side which allowed Azevedo to move from the left post to center cage and with that position he was able to score to make it 11-7 and it was his fifth goal of the game. Azevedo would score his sixth goal of the game on the exact same play as the prior power play to make it 12-7.
Hungary would make a comeback and score two goals in the final 90 seconds of the game, but it was too little too late on Hungary's comeback attempt.
One thing that pointed out in this game for Hungary is that they made some basic mistakes, and that could be due to the team being so young. Hungary allowed Team USA to get back door drives which resulted in two goals. On offense Hungary missed multiple shots from close range and they also seemed content on holding the ball on the outside and shooting instead of shooting off a pass.
By not shooting off of a pass that allowed Moses to focus on the shooter, and he ate up those shots all afternoon. Hungary did make second half adjustments in their offense by moving the ball at a quicker pace and it made an obvious difference, but they dug themselves too much of hole to comeback. One thing to take into consideration is that Hungary arrived Saturday evening, so there could be a little bit of jet lag which is why Hungary did not play their best on Sunday afternoon.
Team USA seemed to be playing more cohesive water polo than Hungary who seemed to be making too many mistakes with a key one not focusing enough on Azevedo as much as they should have, and for allowing the United States to convert on 10-of-16 power play attempts. Hungary themselves only converted 4-of-12 power play attempts.
While Azevedo did score six goals in the win and earned a lot of credit in the win, but Moses earns the same amount of credit for having 15 saves and earned redemption for a poor game from the 2008 gold medal game in Beijing where Moses only had one save against Hungary.
This win shows what Team USA is capable of being a threat in the London Games.