LONDON — When Merrill Moses looks back on the 2008 Olympics, he sees a missed opportunity. His U.S. men’s water polo squad scored just two second-half goals in the gold-medal match and had to settle for second place in the tournament.
“I feel like we lost the gold,” he said. “We didn’t win the silver.”
Unlike his teammates, though, Moses lost silver, too. Last year he was celebrating his recent engagement with his family in Jamaica when burglars broke into his California house and stole his Olympic medal. Though the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee eventually helped deliver a replica replacement, the 34-year old is in London determined to win a replacement in London.
“I say everything happens for a reason,” Moses said. “Now it’s time for me to get a gold one instead of a silver.”
That determination surfaced for the entire American squad midway through Tuesday’s 10-8 win over Romania. The U.S. team trailed 5-4 at the half but came out for the third period with a renewed focus and energy.
Moses and the American defense held Romania scoreless for nearly 13 straight minutes, allowing the United States to score four goals and take a second-half lead it would never relinquish. Peter Varellas and Ryan Bailey each scored three goals to lead the Americans, while Adam Wright chipped in two.
It was sloppy at times, physical throughout and a bit unfocused for the Americans. But the U.S. team will certainly take the result.
“Two games down, six more to go,” Moses said.
Of the six teams in Group B of the tournament, the United States and Serbia are the only ones to win both their matches. The Americans next play Thursday against Britain, which has dropped both its matches here, scoring just 11 goals in the process.
For the U.S. squad, which squeaked out an 8-7 nail-biter over Montenegro in its opener two days earlier, Tuesday’s win highlighted a resolve that players hope returns the team to the medal podium.
“I definitely think we’re more determined,” said Tony Azevedo, the team captain. “We came in 2008 and no one really had faith in us. We tried to prove something. Now we don’t need to prove anything. We just want that gold. We have more confidence, more swagger and more experience.”
Coach Terry Schroeder hopes they’ll play more defense, too. That largely falls on Moses in goal, an emotional leader who helps direct traffic on the defensive end. After a sluggish start Tuesday, he had a couple of big saves in the third quarter to spark his team.
“For us to get back to the podium and have a chance to win a medal, we have to do it with defense first,” Schroeder said. “Our goal is to hold every team to six goals.”
That means the team’s first two games have fallen short of expectations. There’s room for growth, and the players say they know they’re capable of more. Ten of these players were on the 2008 squad and many have played together for the past decade. While that familiarity helps in the water, it also means the players know each other’s limits.
Pulling out close games and fighting back from deficits, as the U.S. team did Tuesday, only confirm for the Americans what they’re capable of.
“Some teams would fold,” Moses said. “This team’s not going to fold.”