Stanford grad Alex Bowen scored three times but the USA men's national water polo team opened play at the FINA World Cup with a 15-10 loss to Croatia on Tuesday in Berlin.
McQuin Baron added six saves in net for the Americans, who play Serbia on Wednesday.
Alex Bowen/Kelley L Cox-KLC fotos
Croatia scored five of the next seven goals to grab a 7-4 lead by halftime.
The U.S. scored first in the second half to close within 7-5 but Croatia rallied to take a three-goal edge into the final quarter.
Trailing 12-8 in the fourth, Bowen again delivered with 3:45 remaining to make it 12-9 Croatia. Team USA would get no closer as Croatia took the 15-10 victory.
Team USA went 5 of 11 on power plays and missed its lone penalty shot. Croatia was 7 of 13 on power plays and converted its one penalty shot.
After opening the year 9-1, including a win over Croatia in June, the Americans are 6-6 and 15-7 overall.
Former Stanford All-Americans Erik Shoji and Kawika Shoji and the United States men's national volleyball team opens play at the FIVB World Championship in Bari, Italy against Serbia on Wednesday.
"We have a great group of guys who love playing together," Libero Erick Shoji said. "That's helpful in tough matches."
The world's second-ranked team enter the tournament with a 16-6 record after finishing third in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League and winning all three matches at the pre-Worlds Ljubljana Volleyball Challenge in Solvenia over the weekend.
The U.S. won the World Championship in 1986 and finished third in 1994.
"The World Championship is one of those tournaments where you need to be all-in every game," said U.S. middle blocker Max Holt, who has been a member of the last two World Championship teams. "You have to find a way to stay focused and treat every match with great importance."
The Americans also play Australia, Russia, Cameroon and Tunisia in group play over the next several days.
The U.S. and Serbia are meeting for the fifth time in world championship play, with each wining twice.
The most recent world level competition meeting was in this year's Nations League in mid-June. The Americans won in three sets in Chicago.