The U.S. men's water polo team defeated Canada, 9-8, in a thriller on Monday, securing a spot in the gold-medal match of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, and clinching a berth for the 2016 Olympic Games.
By virtue of Brazil's 15-9 win over Argentina in the other semifinal match, a gold-medal final at the Pan Am Games featuring Team USA and Brazil leaves the United States with an automatic berth -- regardless of the match outcome -- thanks to Brazil's qualification as Olympic host.
The road to the Pan Am Games final and Olympic qualification was not an easy one as the match between Team USA and Canada went down to the wire. Luca Cupido scored three goals, including the eventual game-winner, to lead the offense. Merrill Moses was stellar in net, turning aside a game-high 17 shots.
Stanford grad Alex Bowen added two goals while current Cardinal Bret Bonanni and former Stanford All-American Tony Azevedo added one goal each.
Team USA now moves on to meet Brazil on Wednesday for the gold medal.
In a physical, hard-fought battle, it was the USA that got off to the quick start. Cupido scored the first goal less than two minutes into the match. Alex Roelse followed with a power-play goal on the post for a 2-0 lead. Canada scored less than a minute later, but Nikola Vavic had an answer with a score and a 3-1 lead after one quarter.
Canada started to chip away in the second period and tied the match at 3. Bonanni got one back for Team USA on its very next possession for a 4-3 advantage. The United States thought they had a 5-3 lead but a goal from Alex Obert was called back with seven seconds to play in the half, leaving Team USA up 4-3 at intermission.
The third quarter saw another rally from Canada, evening the match at 4. Cupido responded with a power-play score for a 5-4 lead. Bowen followed when he had his shot deflected only to see it land softly in the back of the net for a 6-4 lead with no time remaining in the third.
That set the stage for an epic fourth quarter. Canada scored with 4:37 remaining to pull to within 6-5. John Mann drew a penalty, which Azevedo converted for a 7-5 lead. Bowen found the net again on a power play and it was an 8-5 lead with 2:19 to go.
Canada's Kevin Graham tried to keep his squad in the match with a goal with 1:58 to play, closing the gap to just 8-6. Cupido appeared to close things out with his goal with 1:38 remaining, but Canada had other ideas.
With a host of Team USA athletes sidelined due to foul trouble, Canada scored twice for a 9-8 match. Canada had one last chance to tie with under 20 seconds to play, but the Team USA defense held.
Team USA went 6 for 12 on power plays and 1 for 1 on penalty shots while Canada was 3 of 11 on power plays and 1 for 1 on penalty shots.
USA head coach Dejan Udovicic was red-carded late in the fourth quarter following a delayed substitution and will not be allowed to coach in the championship final.