There is a lot of talk about how the 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medal finish for the men's team left a bad taste in their mouth, and that they want to get back and win a gold medal which would be the first since the United States won way back in 1904. But we all know 1904 does not really count since the United States was the only team entered in the tournament.
Back to the goals, Tony Azevedo talked about how he and his teammates sacrificed playing abroad this year to train at home with the entire roster to better prepare themselves to win a gold medal:
Obviously the goal is to win. I think on this team, we're all sacrificing just playing abroad to stay home this year. I really believe the goal will be to start off the brackets well and just it's one big game to get to that medal round. So we'll just prepare for that and just do what we did in Beijing except finish stronger and hopefully we'll have a gold medal around our necks.
Just getting out of pool play will be difficult for the United States since they have to face Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and host Great Britain. The United States has shown promise against Hungary by defeating them when back in late May. Azevedo also mentioned how Montenegro will be a very difficult challenge, plus those aware know that Serbia is always a difficult team to beat.
To make it to the next round the United States must finish in the top four of their group, and I think that is feasible as getting past Great Britain should not be too difficult, and Team USA should also be able to get past Romania. Getting to the the knockout rounds is not what they planned to do, but rather get back on the podium, with gold being the ultimate goal.
For the best chance to get a good draw for the quarterfinals, Tea, USA must finish first or second in their group, and that means defeating either Hungary and Montenegro to achieve that goal. No need to get into ties at this time, but if the United States can get at least a split over those two teams, or better yet a win and a tie would put them in excellent shape.
This team is also very experienced with 10 of the 13 players having prior Olympic experience. Azevedo and Ryan Bailey lead the bunch as four-time Olympians; Jesse Smith, Jeff Powers, Adam Wright and Layne Beaubien will be entering their third Olympic games. Then there is Merrill Moses, Peter Hudnut, Tim Hutten and Peter Varellas who will be entering their second Olympic tournament.
This experience should greatly benefit this team as does the two wins over Hungary, so there is no reason for being overly nervous, but this is still the Olympics so there will always be some heading into the first game.
The United States is well known for their stingy defense which is lead by goal keeper Moses who is a stone wall in the cage, and that defense is what led the United States to the silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Games.
The offense goes through Azevedo who will likely be the team's leading scorer this Olympics, however Italy was able to keep Azevedo scoreless in the semifinals of the FINA World League play. Teams will likely look at what Italy did in that game to shut down one of the world's best scorers.
Getting the ball into center whether it be Bailey, Smith or Justin Mann will be key, because typically once the ball gets inside the two-meter area an ejection is going to be called more often than not. That leads me into the next area for how Team USA can make a deep tournament run, and that is their power play offense.
When the power play is clicking the United States is a tough team to beat. This sounds like elementary water polo, but they need to have crisp passes and move the ball when they have a man advantage to keep the goalie from being able to sit still. If they can do that and convert those power plays, the United States can hang and beat any team in the world.
Saying getting a medal is an expectation is extremely loft, but my opinion is that if Team USA can have their normal defense show up and convert at least 50 percent of their power plays they will be standing on the podium with a medal.
Expect extra motivation to be given by head coach Terry Schroeder since he is almost certain to step down after the Olympics as he is set to retake his Pepperdine program in 2013. That is an intangible that can go in the favor of the United States.
My prediction is that the United States is peaking at the right time, because at the 2011 FINA World Championships the United States team did not even medal. Then at the FINA World League they finished forth, but were extremely close in loses to Spain and Italy. There is the pair of wins over Hungary which the United States has not accomplished in over a decade.
So, if the team continues to peak at this pace I truly believe they can make it to the gold medal game once again, but at worst I see them finishing in the top four. That is a cop out answer, but it is so hard to predict this tournament with so many great teams this time around.
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