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For US men’s water polo, it’s win or go home

By Mark Whicker, The Orange County Register –

LONDON — Ryan Bailey was too upset to talk, Tony Azevedo was mystified, and Coach Terry Schoreder admitted to some concern.

The U.S. men’s water polo team is stumbling, not striding, into medal-round play.

Its 11-6 loss to Hungary was not competitive, with the defending gold medalists rushing out to a 10-3 lead. Three penalty shots by Hungary didn’t help, but the U.S. knew the referees weren’t the problem.

The U.S. lost its final two games and finished 3-2 in its group. Its reward is a match with undefeated Croatia in the quarterfinals, and now everything is win or go home.

“They came after us hard, sprinting on offense, taking away things on defense,” Azevedo said. “We had opportunities. But you can’t trade goals when you get behind a team like that.

“Our game is dictated by our defense. But we are not playing our defense. We came out strong in this tournament but we didn’t play well against Serbia and we haven’t recovered. For some reason we’ve been lackadaisical but we know that everything goes back to 0-0 now.”

The U.S. scored only two goals at even strength and shot 6 for 24 overall. The Hungarians were 4 for 6 in exclusion (6 on 5) situations.

Bailey and Peter Verellas, the two leading U.S. goal-scorers coming in, were blanked, and Azevedo scored only once.

The U.S. has been outscored 44-43 for the tournament.

Azevedo said he thought the best four teams in the event were in the American bracket. He also admitted it was irrelevant now.

“Defensively we have to keep these teams down to six, seven, eight goals,” Schroeder said. “We don’t have the offensive power to win a high-scoring game. We let them get the ball inside too easily and let them get kickouts too easily.

“We came out with pretty good intensity in the first quarter but it dropped off pretty quickly. I have to take a lot of this on my shoulders and look in the mirror. We’re certainly not playing the way we have in the past.”

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