RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 11, 2016) – With its back against the wall, the U.S. Men’s National Team broke through and defeated host and world No. 1 Brazil, 25-20, 25-23, 20-25, 25-20 on Thursday in an Olympic match in front of 8,779 at the Maracanazinho stadium.
The victory improves the United States’ record to 1-2 in pool play and improves its chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. The U.S. Men will play France (2-1) at 4:05 p.m. ET on Aug. 13. Brazil (2-1), which suffered its first loss of the tournament, will play Italy (3-0) at 9:30 p.m. ET that same day.
The U.S. Men had not beaten Brazil in an FIVB match since the 2014 World League final. But after losing their first two Olympic matches to Canada and Italy, the U.S. Men viewed Thursday’s match as having the importance of a final.
“That is what we needed tonight,” U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw said. “This is the Olympic Games and we haven’t been playing well. In order for us to get a win against a great team in this environment we were going to have to fight for every point. Our guys did a great job at that.”
The U.S. passing improved dramatically, led by U.S. libero Erik Shoji, who was credited with 13 digs. Outside hitter Taylor Sander was credited with five digs and 10 excellent receptions.
“They have really good servers,” Shoji said. “We just had to fight off the serves. Some of (the passes) weren’t perfect. We can go back and make some of those betters. Overall, we just stuck together as a team with the three of us passing (Sander, Shoji and outside hitter Aaron Russell) and even Matt (Anderson). We’re just solid and that’s USA Volleyball and we’re really happy with that.
The U.S. Men cut down their errors, particularly in the first set where they scored eight points on Brazil’s errors while committing only four.
The U.S. led 9-6 in aces, led by setter Micah Christenson with four, and 8-6 in blocks, led by Sander with three. Opposite Matt Anderson led all scorers with 24 points on 23 kills and one ace. Russell added 19 points on 17 kills, one block and one ace.
“I was very pleased with the continued improvement of our team,” Speraw said. “I thought we played a much better match against Italy than Canada and we played an even better game tonight especially at the service line. Our games were very aggressive and maintained that pressure throughout the course of the volleyball match. Ultimately, as in most volleyball matches, the serve and pass was the difference.”
Setter Micah Christenson helped the team to a .363 hitting efficiency while Brazil hit .306.
“I think it was a collective effort,” Christenson said. “It took every single person scrapping every single ball to pull that out and to inspire everyone… Matt is scoring points for us and Aaron’s scoring points for us. But Erik Shoji’s making digs and Max Holt’s laying out making digs and he’s a middle blocker. You don’t expect a ton of those.”
The score was tied 13-13 in the first set when Anderson scored on a kill and Christenson followed with two straight aces. Brazil scored with a block, but then hit the ball out of bounds and Sander nailed a kill from the back row to put the U.S. ahead 18-14 and Brazil never pulled closer.
Brazil led the second set 22-20 when the U.S. called timeout. Anderson came out with a strike off the block and Holt followed with a block of Evandro Guerra. Brazil called timeout. Sander came back with a block of Evandro and a Christenson ace gave the U.S. set point at 24-22. Christenson’s next serve was out, but Russell finished the set with a kill.
Brazil jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third set. Speraw tried different things to help the U.S. pull closer, including subbing Thomas Jaeschke for Sander, but the U.S. never closed the gap.
The U.S. turned the tables in the third set, taking a 9-3 lead. Brazil pulled back to within two at 11-9, but couldn’t get closer. The U.S. reached match point at 24-20 on an Anderson kill and won the match on Brazil’s hitting error.
U.S. Starters vs Brazil
Outside hitters: Taylor Sander and Aaron Russell
Middle blockers: Max Holt and David Lee
Opposite: Matt Anderson
Setter: Micah Christenson
Libero: Erik Shoji
U.S. Statistics vs Brazil
Kills: Matt Anderson 23, Aaron Russell 17, Taylor Sander 7, Micah Christenson 4, Max Holt 2, David Lee 2
Blocks: Sander 3, Holt 2, Lee 1, Christenson 1, Russell 1
Aces: Christenson 4, Sander 2, Anderson 1, Holt 1, Russell 1
Digs: Erik Shoji 13, Christenson 6, Anderson 5, Sander 5, Russell 3, Holt 2, Lee 2