The USA Men's National Team lost more than just a water polo match on Tuesday in the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China. The Americans also lost an automatic berth into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
A 9-8 loss to defending Olympic gold-medalist Hungary dropped the Americans into the 5th through 8th-place bracket and means Team USA will look to the Pan American Games this October as its next opportunity to qualify for London.
"We always want to go out there and win," said Tony Azevedo, the veteran USA team captain from Stanford. "We want to be the first American team to win a (World Championship) medal, we want to qualify, but it didn't happen that way.
"For us, the big picture is London. It's been that way since Beijing. For other teams, Europeans, they have all these things. For us right now, our focus is qualifying for London. We are going to do these next two games to prepare for the Pan American Games and after that we'll be getting prepared for the Olympic Games. That's our focus."
Stanford grad Peter Varellas and Ryan Bailey each tallied three goals to lead the U.S. against Hungary while goalie Merrill Moses turned in a strong effort by turning aside 12 shots. Team USA next will play on Thursday in a rematch with Germany from group play. The United States opened the tournament losing to Germany, 9-7.
Team USA came out on fire in the first half as it got a goal less than a minute into the match when Bailey delivered a backhand to take a 1-0 lead. That was followed at about the five minute mark when Tim Hutten drew a five-meter penalty and Bailey converted for a goal and a 2-0 lead. Hungary broke through on the next possession with a power play score to get within 2-1 but the United States answered moments later as Azevedo went bar down to beat the goalie for a 3-1 lead.
Varellas got his first goal of the day with a shot from outside that touched off the crossbar and went in to put the U.S. up by 5-2. After Hungary had taken a 6-5 lead in the third period, Varellas faked out the goalie on a lob shot that dropped into the net for a 6-6 game.
Hungary scored with 1:34 remaining to go in the match for a 9-7 lead, but the United States would not back down. Varellas scored his third goal on a power play with 1:13 left and it was 9-8. After the USA defense held off Hungary, the Americans' last possession resulted in a turnover.
"Bottom line, when it came down to it, we missed three or four wide open 6-on-5 opportunities and we gave up some that probably shouldn't have been goals for them," Azevedo said. "You're really not going to beat a team like Hungary when you do that stuff."
Americans Ryan Lochte and Rebecca Soni won gold medals on Tuesday, Lochte winning the 200 free in 1:44.44 and Soni taking the women's 100 breast in 1:05.05.
Lochte edged rival Michael Phelps (1:44.79).
In other races, Cal grad Natalie Coughlin was third in the women's 100 back (59.15) and fellow American Kate Ziegler was second in the 1500 free (15:55.60).
In the semifinals of the men's 800 free, Stanford's Chad La Tourette finished eighth in 7:49.94 and qualified for Wednesday's finals.