Toronto, Canada - July 13 - The U.S. Pan American Men's Water Polo Team defeated Canada 9-8 in a thriller earlier tonight securing a spot in the gold medal match of the 2015 Pan American Games 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(Newport Beach, CA/California/Newport) scored three goals, including the eventual game winner, to lead the offense. Merrill Moses (Palos Verdes, CA/Pepperdine/NYAC) was stellar in net turning aside a game high 17 shots. Team USA now moves on to meet Brazil on Wednesday evening at 8pm et/5pm pt for the Pan American Games gold medal. Live streaming/video is not available but fans can follow along via Twitter @USAWP.
In a physical, hard-fought battle, it was the United States that got off to the quick start. Cupido scored the first of his three goals less than two minutes into the match for a 1-0 lead. Alex Roelse (Maarssen, Netherlands/UCLA/Bruin) followed with a power play goal on the post for a 2-0 lead. Canada scored less than a minute later on a tally from Justin Boyd for a 2-1 match but Nikola Vavic (Palos Verdes, CA/USC/Trojan) had an answer with a score and a 3-1 lead after one.
Canada started to chip away in the second period. Alec Taschereau and John Conway scored consecutive goals in the span of a minute to tie the match at 3-3 with 5:00 to go. Bret Bonanni (Huntington Beach, CA/Stanford/Stanford) got one back for Team USA on their very next possession for a 4-3 advantage. The United States thought they had a 5-3 lead but a goal from Alex Obert (Loomis, CA/Pacific/Sac Polo) 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 when Oliver Vikalo connected for a power play strike with 2:47 to go in the period, evening the match at 4-4. Cupido responded with a power play score for a 5-4 lead. Alex Bowen(Santee, CA/Stanford/Stanford) 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.
It all set the stage for an epic fourth quarter. Conway opened up the scoring with a goal with 4:37 remaining to pull Canada within one at 6-5. On the next possession John Mann (Newport Beach, CA/California/NYAC) drew a penalty which Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/NYAC) 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 captain Kevin Graham tried to keep his squad in the match with a goal with 1:58 to play closing the gap to two at 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, Boyd scored to make it 9-7 with 1:16 to play. Then Canada drew a penalty and Conway lost the handle on his attempt only to end up having the shot sail into the net for a 9-8 match. Canada would get one last chance to try and tie the match with under 20 seconds to play but the Team USA defense held and pulled out the one goal victory.
Team USA went 6/12 on power plays and 1/1 on penalty shots while Canada was 3/11 on power plays and 1/1 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. Team USA's Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/NYAC), Roelse, and Obert all fouled out in a game with over 30 combined exclusions.
USA 9 (3, 1, 2, 3) L. Cupido 3, A. Bowen 2, B. Bonanni 1, N. Vavic 1, A. Roelse 1, T. Azevedo 1
CAN 8 (1, 2, 1, 4) J. Conway 3, J. Boyd 2, O. Vikalo 1, A. Taschereau 1, K. Graham 1
Saves - USA - M. Moses 17 - CAN - R. Randall 9
6x5 - USA - 6/12 - CAN - 3/11
Penalties - USA - 1/1 - CAN - 1/1