Heading into the Olympics the United States men's team had an optimistic chance of earning a medal, hopefully the gold. Ten of the players were back from their silver medal performance at Beijing, so the stakes were high.It was made widely known leading up to the Olympics that the team spent the year together and did not play professional so that the team could train as one unit.
That worked well as the team defeated Hungary and Croatia in exhibition games in California a month leading up to the Olympics, and the team was very competitve as they finished fourth place at the FINA World League.
Then came the London Olympics where the men came out strong by defeating Montenegro 8-7, Romania 10-8 and then Great Britain. The start looked good, but then things fell apart for Team USA. They did not show up in their next two group games against Serbia or Hungary by a score of 11-6, and instead of being in one of the top two spots in their group they fell to fourth place.
Watching the games it seemed that Team USA was not playing well ever since the end of the Romania game. Their win over Great Britain was going to happen regardless, but they were not dominant as they should have been in that game.
Against Serbia the game, the Untied States looked lost and their normally stout defense was not there as they were allowing counter attack goals, and if not for goalie Merrill Moses this game could have been near a double-digit loss. Then came Hungary and they were not the powerhouse of years past, but they were on a roll after losing their first two games and had the confidence to beat the United States. The two teams were just heading in opposite directions and it showed.
After the poor end to group play, the United States fell to fourth place and had to play Croatia who was the most dominant team in the tournament. With a medal on the line it would be a good time for Team USA to regroup and regain their focus of winning a medal, but their offense failed again to show up and they were raced out of the pool in an 8-2 loss.
Things kept getting worse as they fell to Spain in a hard fought 8-7 loss, but the worse came against Australia where Team USA lost 10-9. The only reason the final game was close was because there were three goals scored over the final 71 seconds by Team USA to make it close.
Head coach Terry Schroeder summed up the slide the best:
"I thought we started out the tournament pretty strong, and then we faded," Schroeder said. "It was very difficult to come back from that quarterfinal loss, and motivate and try to find something inside, a reason to play."
With nothing but pride on the line, the team just did not perform well. I don't to say they gave up, but they were not motivated to keep playing at their best. The team spent nearly a year together and training six days a week in hopes of winning a medal -- preferably gold.
To sum it up, we all knew that the offense was not the strength of the United States, and that for them to win a medal they needed to step up their game on that end of the pool. Specifically their power play offense needed to be great to have a shot, and it wasn't. Teams were storming Tony Azevedo and the United States did not find a way to get him the ball in better scoring chances.
There were games where he had two or three shots, and that is not acceptable. They had to know Azevedo would be attacked, and there was little done to get one of the best scorers in the world better looks at the goal. The signature defense also struggled late in the tournament, but that could have been a result of their offense struggling and allowing easy transition goals since their offense was poor.
Overall, this eighth place finish was a major disappointment, and all of the momentum the men's game had fell down the drain which is a shame. Had the United States been close in the games against Croatia, Serbia and Hungary people would have been more forgiving, but getting blown out makes things worse.
Now, the team will start again with a new head coach since Terry Schroeder is heading back to take over Pepperdine in January.
Time to hit the reset button.
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