It is getting tougher for the Americans with each passing day at the Goodwill Games.
Tonight, the U.S. water polo team was beaten by the Soviets, 10-5, in a game that wasn't very close. The score at halftime was 6-0 and the American performance perhaps was best summed up by Steve Heaston, who said, "We were awful in the first half."
At least the water polo team had a chance to compete for the gold medal. The U.S. wrestling team was reduced to wrestling Mongolia this evening for the bronze medal (it won) after losing to Bulgaria in preliminary competition.
As for the creator of the games, the Turner Broadcasting System, low attendance and low TV ratings continue to plague the network. All week, TBS' executive vice president, Bob Wussler, has pleaded with Soviet organizers to do something about the embarrassing attendance at many of the venues.
When the weather turned cold and rainy tonight, any chance for a decent turnout for the water polo final was dashed. Perhaps 1,500 showed up in the 10,500-seat Olympic Swim Stadium for the final game. At halftime, the public address announcer encouraged fans sitting in the end areas to move to choice seats where TBS cameras were aimed.
"TBS was not behind that," said spokesman Ken Bastian. "It's certainly true that Mr. Wussler has been in contact with the Soviet officials during the last week about attendance and that may have been the reason for the announcement. But there was no direct request made by TBS."
Last week, Wussler said: "I've been jumping all over these guys" about the attendance. Apparently, this was the response.
TBS has also tried very hard to create the illusion that at many venues there is a small, but enthusiastic band of American fans. In most cases, they are TBS employes who show up with American flags, signs, ("Crush the Russh" read one) and chant, "U.S.A., U.S.A." They pulled the routine at the U.S.A.-U.S.S.R. volleyball match Friday and did it again tonight at the water polo.
In both cases, it did no good.
The Americans hit the goal post four times in the first half tonight, but could not score. In the first minute of the game, Alan Mouchawar had a penalty shot and fired the ball off the crossbar. Things went straight downhill from there for the Americans.
"You should never miss a penalty shot," Mouchawar said. "When you miss one, it's really bad. It just sets a bad precedent, especially early in the game. The whole first quarter after that, we were miserable."
The Soviets consistently beat the Americans back in transition. Twice, they had breakaways and, on other occasions, they were able to get off quick, point-blank shots before the American defense set up. If goalie Craig Wilson had not been heroic at times, the score could have been worse than 6-0.
"I can't ever remember being behind 6-0 like that," said the U.S. captain, Terry Schroeder, one of six holdovers from the 1984 Olympic team that finished second to Yugoslavia in Los Angeles. "I think right now, they're clearly better than we are. But this is a much less experienced team than '84 and we're still learning. I think a year from now we can be as good as they are. But we aren't there yet."
This was the first time the U.S. and the Soviets had met since 1984, when they played in a pre-Olympic tournament in Hungary. The Soviets came from 4-0 down to win that game, 10-7. But that was a much different American team.
"The last five years, we've been able to play pretty evenly with them (4-4-2 since 1981) most of the time," Schroeder said. "But the '84 team we had an average age of 27. This team averages 23. That's why a game like this can only help us in the long run. We need experience like this to get better."
Schroeder, with all his experience, is cautious after a wipeout. Mouchawar, who scored two goals late to make the final score respectable, has less experience and lots more cockiness. "I still think we have more talent than they do," Mouchowar insisted. "But they've played together for 10 years and we've played together for one. I think that showed up tonight. The next time we play them, I think things will be different."
Next time isn't very far off because the two countries will be in the same preliminary round group at next month's world championships in Madrid. They are scheduled to meet again Aug. 9 in preliminary competition.