The Soviet Union defeated the United States, 3-2, for the men's volleyball gold medal at the Goodwill Games tonight, climaxing a three-hour battle. The Soviets won their third consecutive five-game match, 8-15, 8-15, 15-11, 16-14, 15-10.

The U.S. team, which beat the defending champion Soviets in the 1985 World Cup, had match point in the fourth game today but couldn't put it away.

"I hate to lose, but maybe this is a blessing in disguise," said Doug Dvorak, the setter for the U.S. team. "We've slacked off in training and gotten a little complacent. We need a little kick."

The match pitted the Soviets, which took the gold medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, against a U.S. team that won the gold in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. The United States had beaten the Soviets seven of the last nine times they had played, but both teams were unbeaten in this tournament going into the final.

The Americans won the first two hard-fought games, pulling ahead with a combination of set plays and strong defense.

When the U.S. scored 15 straight points to go from 4-8 in the first game to 4-0 in the second, the 8,300 Soviet fans in the Lenin Sports Arena quieted down and stopped waving their red flags.

"We won the first two games and we weren't playing particularly well," said Dvorak. "The Soviets came back and played better and better as the match wore on."

The Soviets came on strong in the third game, taking a 13-5 lead. But the U.S. team saved six game points at 14-7 and won four straight points before the Soviets recovered to win, 15-11.

In the fourth game, the Soviet team took a 13-10 lead, but the Americans came back to tie it on a two-handed spike by Steve Timmons. When Doug Partie blocked the next shot for a winner, the United States had match point.

Alexsandr Sorokolet saved it with a block and the Soviets won the next two points on their serve for match point at 15-14.

The Americans' Karch Kiraly saved it with a spike, but the Soviets won the serve back and took the game, 16-14.

Coach Marv Dunphy said the U.S. team was not distracted by the deafening whistling and jeering that erupted every time it served in the final game.

"On the contrary, we like it when it gets exciting like that," he said.

In that final game, both teams showed signs of fatigue. The Soviets pulled ahead to an 11-12 lead, but the Americans closed to 11-8. The U.S. team managed to save two match points, but Kiraly got stuffed on the third one.

"The Soviets are a good blocking team but we didn't pass well," Dvorak said. "If we run our offense to perfection, they can't get up to the net. But it was hard to get in a groove."

On a day heavily weighted with Soviet victories in boxing, judo and weightlifting, U.S. flyweight fighter Arthur Johnson won a gold medal with a 3-2 decision over the U.S.S.R.'s Rinvidas Biljus.

Golds in yachting -- the races took place off the Estonian coast -- were won by Mark Reynolds of San Diego in the Star class; Morgan Reeser of Miami in the men's 470 class; John Kostecki of Richmond, Calif., who tied with the Soviet Union's Georgi Sharduko in Soling, and Kathy Steele of Annapolis, Md., who tied with Poland's Joanna Buzinska in women's sailboarding.

The Soviets, on their most productive day of the games, took 26 gold medals, bringing their medal total to 105 golds and 222 overall.

Johnson's victory and the four gold medals in yachting left the U.S. a distant second with 40 golds and 131 medals.

The 17-day, 18-sport games, conceived by Ted Turner, president of Turner Broadcasting System, will end Sunday with competition in rowing, judo and weightlifting, with a total of 16 gold medals at stake.

In boxing, the Soviets, with 20 of the 24 fighters in the finals, won 11 gold medals and nine silver.

The Soviet women's gymnastics team, led by Yelena Shushunova, completed a sweep of the golds, finishing 1-2 in each of the four individual events after winning the team and all-around titles earlier.

Today, Shushunova won the vault with 19.863 points, the uneven bars with 19.950 and the floor exercises with 19.875. She finished second to teammate Vera Kolesnikova on the beam.

Joyce Wilborn of Passaic, N.J., was third in the vault, becoming the only American -- man or woman -- to win a medal in gymnastics in the Goodwill Games.

In weightlifting, the Soviets' Yuri Zakharevich, competing in the 100-kilogram class, swept the golds for the snatch, clean-and-jerk and overall honors.

In the boxing, all 12 fights went to decisions, with Johnson's triumph over Biljus extremely close. The judges voted, 3-2, against Johnson, but the jury overruled them, 5-0.

After the decision was announced, the U.S. amateur champion at 51 kilograms (112 pounds) danced happily around the ring.

"I wanted to do my best here, so I went all out and, overall, I've got to say it was a whale of a performance," Johnson said.

"I thought they were going to give it to him, because we have suffered in so many close decisions here."

One of those decisions involved middleweight Parker White of Richmond, Calif., who lost, 3-2, to the U.S.S.R.'s Ruslan Taramov.