The chance to play for a gold medal dangled in front of the U.S. Men's National Team, but Italy snatched it away.
So bronze has become the new goal and the new gold for the U.S. Men's National Team after losing an Olympic semifinal battle to Italy, 30-28, 26-28, 9-25, 25-22, 15-9 on Friday at the Maracanazinho stadium.
The U.S. Men (4-3) will play the loser of Friday's late semifinal between Brazil (4-2) and Russia (5-1) for the bronze medal on Sunday at 5:30 a.m. PT.
"Getting a chance to win a medal at the Olympic Games is pretty dang cool," U.S. outside hitter Taylor Sander said. "We still have a chance to do that. It's a bummer it's not the right color but we're going to try as hard as we can to get that third place."
After running away with the third set 25-9 and leading the fourth set 22-19, the U.S. Men saw Italy take off on a 6-0 run. Opposite Ivan Zaytsev finished the set with three straight aces. The fourth set was tied 6-6 when Italy went on a 3-0 run on a kills from Zaytsev and Juantorena Osmany along with an ace from Simone Buti.
“The fourth set, we've got to be tougher and close that out," Sander said. “That's hard to deal with... Gosh, that's going to make us stronger for sure."
U.S. Head Coach John Speraw was disappointed by the outcome, but pleased with his team's performance.
“I know that my players gave it everything that they could today," Speraw said. “I couldn't ask any more. When you have two good teams like this, it's just a little play here and a little play there. We may look back on some of those plays with regret, but I don't think we will ever regret how hard we worked."
The U.S led the first set 15-8 and seemed to be in control at 23-19. But Italy used a 3-0 run to tie it at 23-23. The U.S. Men held set point five times before Italy won on two straight aces from Emanuele Birarelli.
The second set saw Italy leading 21-18 before the U.S. scored three straight points on blocks. The U.S. reached set point first at 24-23, but Italy scored on two straight kills. The U.S. took set point again at 26-25, but was then charged with a violation. At 26-26, Italy served out of bounds and Anderson scored with an ace.
The U.S. Men carried that momentum into the third set, where they took an 18-4 lead. David Lee served for nine straight points in the set.
Italy's serving was especially tough, as it led in aces 10-5 and took the U.S. Men out of system
The teams finished tied in kills (58-58) while the U.S. led in blocks (16-7) and Italy led in aces (10-5).
U.S. opposite Matt Anderson led all scorers with 25 points on a match-high 18 kills, two blocks and five aces. Middle blocker Max Holt added 16 points on 10 kills and a match-high six blocks.
“The great thing is we still have a chance to leave here with a medal, so that's what we're going to do,"' Holt said. “We're going to regroup. We're going to come back and we're going to battle like we've done in this tournament, be ready to go for bronze."
Anderson was also eager to put the loss behind and focus on the future.
“I have all the faith in our guys to fight and be tough through this match," Anderson said. “Of course, there's going to be a little disappointment with this setback for the next couple of hours here, but we're all in this together. Our goal was gold. We can't have it right now. Our goal now is bronze.