Perhaps the most well-known water polo coach in the US, few are more qualified to critique the US national team as the London Olympic Games kick off than Dante Dettamanti. TWp had the chance to speak with him yesterday about Terry Schroeder’s team and their chances to win Olympic Gold.
“Any one of six teams can win it, including the US,” he offered, referring to the powerhouses Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Hungary.
The Americans were placed in Group B – the “group of death” – along with Hungary, Montenegro, Serbia, and Romania. The result will be enormous tactical maneuvering, Dettamanti says, by teams desperate to earn the top spot in the bracket. The payoff? A much easier crossover match against one of the relatively weaker teams in Bracket A, such as Australia or Spain.
“You win that crossover match and you’re in the final four,” a huge incentive to play at your best in the preliminary rounds. “The idea is to place as high as possible in Group B and avoid Italy or Croatia,” the favorites in Group A, a much greater challenge than the road to the gold medal match in Beijing, he implied.
But the Americans defeated both Hungary and Croatia in a very successful stretch of California-hosted matches this summer, suggesting that the US is a good position versus the world’s best.
“Fans in the US put too much stock in those friendlies,” he said. “Most countries will rest only for world championships and Olympics. During other tournaments and friendlies they train and test new players. Those matches show the Americans can play against the best,” but not necessarily that they’re superior, he added.
Much has been made of Terry Schroeder’s choice to keep the US players in California for training the past year instead of allowing them to gain more experience in the European professional leagues. Dettamanti was cautiously favorable toward the strategy.
“I think you can only do that with a veteran team, which the US has. Training against one another for a year also isn’t great. But they have enough experience to overcome that. And Europeans get burned out with their hard schedule.” Training together, he said, “is good for unity but can be tedious.” It allowed the team to raise its fitness level, something it was lacking at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, he added.
And what would he do if he were coaching against the US?
“Stop Tony,” he said, referring to four-time Olympian Tony Azevedo. It’s that simple. “The US can’t match Europe for shooting – except Tony.”
For the US to win they must keep the scoring low and execute man-up advantages extremely well. “They have more experience than any other team,” which is a plus, “and physically we match up well.” About other key American players he said, “Merrill has been playing very well,” referring to goalkeeper Merrill Moses. “And their team defense has been very good. They have to continue that to win.”
So who wins it all?
“Again, it really could be any of those top six teams, including the US. But if I have to choose, Serbia has been the most consistent.”
The US kicks off it’s Olympic tournament versus Montenegro on July 29.