TJ Defalco sets the ball at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo.
Everything was on the line for the U.S. men’s volleyball team on Sunday.
Facing Argentina in the final game of pool play, the math was simple. Win, and go to the quarterfinals. Lose, and go home.
At the end of a heartbreakingly close and decisive third set, the U.S. was out.
Argentina swept the U.S., 25-21, 25-23, 25-23, and for the first time since 2000, the U.S. men will not advance out of pool play.
The U.S. entered the match in fourth place with a 2-2 record in Pool B. They got a late start after waiting for a match between Japan and Iran to finish up, and Argentina took the first set thanks to a strong serving game. The second was closer, but the U.S. couldn’t finish the rally and fell into a 2-0 hole.
Argentina opened an 11-8 lead in the third and the U.S. called a timeout. Tied at 19-19, the U.S. pulled ahead but Argentina answered, and that’s how it continued until the score was knotted at 23-23.
A service error by the U.S., something that plagued the team throughout the match, gave Argentina match point and the U.S. hit the ball out of bounds to end its Olympic run.
The U.S. opened the Olympic tournament with a decisive sweep of France, 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-22). Taylor Sander, who started at outside hitter along with first-time Olympian T.J. DeFalco, led the team in scoring with 15 points followed by opposite Matt Anderson with 13.
That success didn’t carry over to the next match against the Russian Olympic Committee, however. Although Team USA pushed for a fifth set, they weren’t able to get there and fell 3-1 (25-23, 27-25, 21-25, 25-23) to even their record at the Games. A boost from Mitch Stahl and Garrett Muagututia coming off the bench to make their Olympic debuts in the third set gave the U.S. a win after dropping the first two. They led in the fourth, 19-15, but couldn’t shut the door on the ROC and force a tiebreaker.
Next up was Tunisia, and despite dropping the second set the U.S. rolled to a 3-1 (25-14, 23-25, 25-14, 25-23) victory.
The men came up against longtime rival, Brazil, on Thursday. Their Olympic history favors the U.S., with victories in the gold-medal match at both the 1984 and 2008 Games, and another win during the semifinals in 1988. The U.S. also beat Brazil during pool play in Rio, but Brazil turned the tables on Thursday with a 3-1 (30-32, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20) win.
Anderson, who started at opposite in the match, said they were serving and passing without hesitation early on to get the first set win, but that changed.
“We were playing freely,” he said. “We shut down their runs. As the match progressed, we didn't execute the game plan. They made some great touches. And we weren't as aggressive on the serve, especially down the stretch. Giving teams free balls is not the way to win the Olympics."
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.