Legendary Serbian trainer, Dejan Udovicic is starting his second Olympic quadrennials as the head coach of the American men’s national team. The team has earned their first medal with him at a major FINA competition since 2008, a silver medal at the 2016 FINA World League Super Final. Really outstanding result did not come in Rio at the Olympic Games (the United States placed on the 10th position) so many water polo fans thought Udovicic would retire from this type of work. The US team has had the possibility of surprise in them for several years, they might amaze the fans and the viewers in Budapest during the 17th FINA World Championships.
Merril Moses, Nikola Vavic, Alex Obert, Jackson Kimbell, Alex Roelse, Luca Cupido, Josh Samuels, Tony Azevedo, Alex Bowen, Bret Bonanni, Jesse Smith, John Mann, Baron McQuin –they were in the roster of the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016te.
One name will surely miss from the squad in Budapest, the biggest one. The five-time Olympics participant Tony Azevedo has confirmed his retirement from playing in February. He has been part of the national team for 16 long years and he is told to be the biggest star of the American water polo history with playing in 4 countries’ national teams.
„It was a tough decision. I love the sport, I wanted to play—but in our sport, you have to play overseas and it’s time to come home and be with my family. My wife and I just had our second baby and I didn’t get to see any of them for two months before the Olympics” – silver medallist of Beijing 2008 Tony Azevedo justified his decision. He will stay near water polo, he wants to organise youth tournaments in his hometown, Long Beach so can continue his life as an authentic ambassador of this sport.
It was expected to have big announcements and changes after the Olympic Games. USA Water Polo announced on 24th of January, one month before the draw for the 17th FINA World Championships that it has signed Adam Krikorian (Women’s National Team) and Dejan Udovicic (Men’s National Team) to new four-year contracts through the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
„We are delighted that both of our Olympic coaches have chosen to return to the arena for another quad” said Christopher Ramsey, USA Water Polo Chief Executive Officer. „Strong organizations are built on stable leadership. The continuity that Adam and Dejan bring to our Olympic program, along with their extraordinary coaching gifts, will absolutely strengthen our high-performance foundation. Dejan took over a program in need of a rebuild and has been up to the challenge, transforming the team and roster in a short period of time. Adam's and Dejan's commitment to USA Water Polo is evidence that their competitive fire still burns brightly. We are delighted to support their efforts over the next four years.”
Photo: USA Waterpolo
„I have to thank USA Water Polo, Chris Ramsey and our Board of Directors for their continued support and belief in our plan for long-term success with the USA Water Polo Men's National Team” said Udovicic who has been in this position since May 2013. „We accomplished a lot in the last four years, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. I'm excited for the challenge and look forward to guiding this team through the next four years and to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo!”
The United States men’s team won the Panamerican Games in 2015 while in the last year Americans gained the silver medal from the World League Super Final and with this result they took the seat to the Olympic Games in Rio long before the rest of the international field.
Dejan Udovicic follows the Serbian traditions and training methods in the United States. He became an integral person of USA Water Polo through junior, youth, cadet level. Crisscrossing the country to find the future of Team USA wherever it may reside, he has reopened the National Team pool to athletes from coast to coast – as webpage of USA Water Polo says. Those senior players who don’t play in Europe can train together for several months. A lot of water polo players love this sport in the United States especially in California so Udovic has a big facility to his selection method.
American water polo is often underestimated but it is causeless! Just think about the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. The United States could play in the final against Hungary after beating Serbia in the semi-final. Beside this silver medal they had another one in that year, in the World League. They don’t need to feel shame about the past: Americans had won silver Olympic medal in 1984 and 1988 while bronze in 1924, 1932 and 1972. They also won the World Cup in 1991 and 1997!
Americans can play this game and it is a big euphemism. Several players from the roster of the Rio Olympic Games have earned their living playing for European teams before (or at present): John Mann was the member of Crvena Zvezda squad, Jesse Smith played in Olympiakos Pireus and Alex Bowen now is in the bond of Hungarian club, Miskolc.
Photo: USA Waterpolo
By the way, United States was in a really strong group in Rio although they had the chance to qualify for the quarterfinal. Croatia (5-7), Spain (9-10) and Montenegro (5-8) were better but they beat France (6-3) and then Italy (!) in the last round. Finally, Udovicic’s roster finished in the tenth position which was worse than in Kazan.
In the last World Championships in Russia, American players beat Italy and the home team during the preliminary stage and finished at the second position behind Greece. After beating Brazil (7-3) on the next round, Serbia was the end station of the dreams in the quarterfinal. In the end, they stepped over Australia (10-6) for the 7th place.
As a result of the draw, United States will fight for the best positions of group D against Japan, Russia and Croatia at the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest.
The United States in the FINA World Championships
4th placed (1986, 1991)
5th placed (1978)
6th placed (1982, 1994, 2003, 2011)
7th placed (1998, 2001, 2015)
8th placed (1975)
9th placed (2007, 2013)
11th placed (2005)