The US senior men’s loss to Canada on Wednesday at the UANA qualification tournament created a stir among American fans and a typically-understated response from Water Polo Canada, which had every right to gloat about their first major victory over the Yanks, and their first of any kind since a 2001 friendly at the start of the American youth movement ushered in by former head coach Ratko Rudic.
On Wednesday the Americans, who rebounded to thrash Brazil on Thursday, 14-2, were outgunned from the very start by Canada falling behind by 10 goals to three in the third quarter. If there was any consolation, the US rallied to score three times while holding Canada scoreless to end the historic match. Topping Brazil on Thursday helps their broadly accepted good chances to retain one of the top two places in the final standings, and thus qualify for this summer’s FINA Cup. But despite the valid reasons for the team’s poor performance it was still a jarring result for fans spoiled by last year’s exhibition victories over Croatia and Hungary.
“I’ve been beating the drums to get the Canadian press to cover it,” he laughed. “But from what I saw with a lot of veterans retiring [from the US team] it doesn’t surprise me. If there was a surprise it was the level of difference,” he said referring to the four-goal span.”No one expected a 10-3 score in the third quarter.”
Canada is often overlooked by the US, he added, and can compete against anyone when the opposition is not at its best. “For the past 5-6 years they’ve had consistently better and centralized training,” said Miller, attributing much of it to high performance director Dragan Jovanovic and head coach Alex Beslin, both of whom are “technically incredibly sound coaches.” And perhaps the US wasn’t prepared for Calgary’s withering high elevation. “If [the US] didn’t get ready for the climate, the Canadians are probably the fittest water polo players in world,” he said.
Former USA Senior Men’s assistant coach Marco Palazzo agrees that the Canadians are better than given credit, adding that Canada beat world champions Italy by a goal in one exhibition in 2012. Then they went 3-1 at last summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Edmonton, which included powerhouses Spain, Montenegro, Romania, and a strong Greek team to whom the Canadians lost in their final match.
“Even the US team may not have qualified from that tournament,” he speculated. As for the American loss, Palazzo was non-plussed. “Anyone can have a bad game. You want to see how they look at the end of the tournament. They’re probably going to play Canada again. That’s the game you want to look at.”
Miller was similarly re-assuring about a potential Canadian rematch. “The US team still has [Jeff] Powers, [Ryan] Bailey, Jesse [Smith]. They certainly have the talent, the ability to compete. I wouldn’t doubt that the next game will be tighter.” Both former international pros were less than sympathetic with those howling about the loss.
“People love to jump off the bandwagon,” said Palazzo. “You have to let the coaches coach, and the players play.” That may be a difficult sell, especially to those who recall a similarly disheartening loss to Canada in the 2010 UANA Junior Pan Ams, a defeat that some say helped force out former head coach Ryan Brown. It’s far too early to think in those terms, says Palazzo. New Coach Jovan Vavic comes from the Montenegrin school of water polo, which is among “the best in the world” he says. “I have total respect” for Vavic’s qualifications.
“This was just the first game. You have to be patient.”