For the third time in two weeks, things went from neat to nyet for the U.S. national water polo team against the Soviet Union.
The United States scored twice in the final 1 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to tie the score, but the Soviet team scored with 19 seconds left to play to win, 7-6, in an exhibition match Saturday at Newport Harbor High School. It marked the third consecutive one-point loss for the U.S. team and the second in as many days. Friday night in San Diego, the Soviet Union won, 12-11. And at the Goodwill Games 10 days ago, the United States blew a 4-1 advantage and lost, 6-5.
Dmitri Apanasenko scored easily from the right side for the winning goal Saturday. When a pass went into the two-meter man, Apanasenko drifted free, allowing him to be open to receive a pass and get off the winning shot.
Apanasenko, who scored twice, was about seven meters out on the right and was being guarded by Kirk Everist when the pass went into the two-meter man. Everist went back to help two-meter defender Charlie Harris, but before he could get there, the ball was already being passed back out to Apanasenko.
When asked about the play, Harris had an embarrassed smile and said, “Oh, you saw me there? It’s a tough call (whether Everist should have left his man). But I think that Everist had to come back and help. In that situation you have to.”
The United States was fortunate to be in that situation anyway.
After racing out to a 3-1 first-quarter lead, the United States started to slow and the Soviet defense began to tighten. The U.S. team scored only one goal from the end of the first quarter until 1 1/2 minutes remained in the game.
“It seems like we’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Harris said.
That lone U.S. goal came on a penalty shot by John Vargas, who also is the water polo Coach at Corona del Mar High School.
In that same period of time, the Soviets scored five times to take a seemingly insurmountable 6-4 lead.
But the United States took advantage of a man-up situation when Everist passed to Jeff Campbell near the left post and Campbell tipped the ball in with 1:33 left to play.
One minute later, Erich Fischer scored from the left wing on another six-on-five situation to tie the match.
Then Apanasenko scored the winning goal with 19 seconds left.
The United States had several opportunities to tie the score again because it was able to set up its offense quickly, but sloppy passing and strong pressure by the Soviet team kept the U.S. team from getting off a shot.
“This was just a case of missed opportunities,” U.S. Coach Bill Barnett said. “Like at the end there--we just were flustered with the ball. A couple of times today we went to sleep out there.”
Barnett is the head coach of the Newport Harbor High School water polo team, which creates the interesting situation of coaching Vargas.
But Barnett says there is really not that much to it, that Vargas does not offer many different points of view.
“He doesn’t say enough,” Barnett said. “I wish he talked more.”
Soviet assistant coach Mait Riisman said he hasn’t talked to the U.S. team much, either, but he thinks both teams are a lot better than when they met at the Goodwill Games.
“I think the play is both more interesting and better,” Riisman said. “In Seattle, we did not play our best game. Today, we showed what we have to show.”
That should be encouraging for the United States. Going into the Goodwill Games, there were five new members on the U.S. team and it has played competitively with the Soviet team, which is essentially the same team that played in the Olympics.
“These games are good, not just because we get to experience America, but because we get to experience the American school of water polo,” Riisman said. “The Americans have much movement and have many hard passes. The U.S.S.R. is more tactically minded, more tactical defense. It is good for us both.”