RIO DE JANEIRO -- With their standing in group play already confirmed and no chance to advance to the quarterfinals the U.S. Olympic Men's Water Polo Team played Italy with nothing more than pride on the line. They turned in an inspired effort defeating Italy 10-7 in their final match at the 2016 Olympic Games. A balanced scoring attack paced Team USA as four different players scored two goals each with Merrill Moses (Palos Verdes, CA/Pepperdine/NYAC) and McQuin Baron (North Tustin, CA/USC/Regency) splitting time in net to post 10 saves. Veteran Team USA trio Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/NYAC), Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/NYAC) and Moses were subbed out with nine seconds left to a warm applause in their likely final appearance for the United States in their storied careers. Learn more about USA Water Polo at the 2016 Olympic Games by clicking here.
Italy started off strong in the first quarter going up 2-0 on goals from Francesco di Fulvio and Pietro Figlioli with 4:29 to play. Azevedo got the United States on the board on the next possession and Josh Samuels (Villa Park, CA/UCLA/NYAC) tied the match with 1:31 to play in the quarter. The Italians closed strong adding two more goals in the final 56 seconds to lead 4-2 after the opening period.
Team USA started to chip away at the deficit in the second quarter on a Bret Bonanni (Huntington Beach, CA/Stanford/NYAC) goal with 6:13 to play. Luca Cupido (Newport Beach, CA/California/Newport) followed with a power play goal with 3:51 left in the first half to tie the game at 4-4. After Italy went ahead 5-4, Thomas Dunstan (Greenwich, CA/Mater Dei HS/Regency) connected to tie the game again, this time at 5-5, with 1:59 to play in the half. Italy again found last second magic, scoring with four seconds to play in the quarter on a tally from Michael Bodegas to lead 6-5.
Alex Obert (Loomis, CA/Pacific/NYAC) came up big in the third quarter scoring with 6:47 to play to tie the game at 6-6. After Italy went back in front, Samuels scored his second goal for a 7-7 game with 4:14 to play. The period ended the way it started with the ball back in Obert's hand as he powered home a shot with just 15 seconds to play to give the United States their first lead at 8-7.
From there it was all Team USA. In the fourth they held Italy scoreless while the offense did the rest. Azevedo, the five-time Olympian and team captain, buried a shot to go up 9-7 with 5:57 to play. Then Bonanni put the game away with a goal with 2:41 to go in the match sending the United States out of Rio with a 10-7 win.
Team USA went 4/6 on the power player and 0/1 on penalty shots while Italy was was 2/6 and did not attempt a penalty shot.
Tony Azevedo (USA)
On USA finishing strongly in group play despite being eliminated from the tournament:
"It was good we finished strong. We had a couple of guys who hadn't scored a goal all tournament and they finally (did). We came out and we played together and we came out with a win. Unfortunately we aren't where we wanted to be, but when you are in the Olympic Games you are representing your country and you are representing a lot more than your individual self."
On whether he plans to play at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:
"Right now I'm just pretty depressed. I'm going to spend all day at the beach tomorrow and then go home. I'll finish my professional career here in Brazil and then I'll decide what I want to do in the future."
Merrill Moses (USA)
On his best moment as an Olympian:
"That's pretty hard to answer, I've had so many great moments. Obviously winning that silver medal (2008 in Beijing) was a special moment for our country and for myself. At that moment we really didn't realize what we had done because all we thought was we lost the gold medal. Now looking back, after two Olympics without competing for a gold medal I realize just how special that was."