The United States had all the confidence in the world as they were 3-0 in group play with wins over Romania and Montenegro as they heading into a showdown against world power Serbia. First place in pool play was on the line for the United States because a win would have allowed them to clinch the top spot.
Well, Serbia had other plans as they easily took care of the United States 11-6. The United States was never really in this game as Serbia rushed out to a 3-0 lead in the first few minutes of play. Their first goal came 33 seconds into the game on a counter attack as did their second two minutes later. The third goal came on a power play chance, and with that 3-0 lead it really seemed that the game was over.
The United States team still played hard and made their way back, but that early deficit did prove to be too much. The first goal for Team USA came with under two minutes left in the quarter when Tony Azevedo scored an outside goal, but Serbia matched that with 16 seconds left in the quarter by Zivko Gocic to put Serbia back up by three goals.
In the second quarter, the United States showed some life as they made it a 5-3 game heading into the half, and some hope returned that they just might be able to get back in this game. That did not happen as Serbia scored the first three goals to extend their lead 8-3, and that really was the end of it.
The main issue for the United States in this game was that Serbia managed to score six of their 11 goals, which at the international level rarely happens when two top teams face off. Power play chances also were another reason that the score was so lopsided, the United States were 2-for-8 and even missed a penalty shot.
This game really could have gotten out of control for the United States, because their goal keeper Merrill Moses had an amazing game with 12 saves with many being from close range. Moses was doing all he could to keep them in the game but he could not also score goals for the United States.
Everyone knew this game would be very physical, and Azevedo talked about that after the game:
Is Serbia a physical team?
"Yeah, for sure," said Azevedo.
Are they a dirty team?
"Well, you know, they're definitely the most physical. They take advantage of every knee and punch they can. But that's just how the game is now," he said.
Azevedo is not going to say that Serbia is a dirty team because the next time they play Serbia, which could be in this Olympics, the team will bring on even more physical play.
Not to side track, but I can attest to the physicality going up against players from Serbia or from Eastern Europe. Playing against those players in college they will follow through on the foul with an underwater elbow or hand to the face if one goes underwater on a foul. So, they do take every inch to push opponents around.
This loss is also very familiar to the 2008 Beijing Games where Serbia dominated Team USA 4-2 in the prelims, but the United States rebounded to play one of their best games ever in a 10-5 beat down over Serbia in the semifinals. So, there is something to be taken from Saturday's loss.
Now is a time for players to dig down and know where they stand:
"From every loss you learn a great deal. Especially a loss like this," said attacker Tony Azevedo.
"Everybody gets a chance to check themselves mentally, go home, and realize we just got our asses kicked."
There is not too much time to reflect on the loss as the next game for Team USA is against three-time defending Olympic champion Hungary on Monday. However, this is not the same Hungary team as they are 1-2 so far in these Games.