COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (June 14, 2016) – Just in case you forgot what was happening later this year, the U.S. Men’s National Team begins its 2016 FIVB World League campaign on Thursday in the Olympic city of Rio de Janeiro.
But the teams will not be playing at the Olympic volleyball venue, a stadium known as the Maracanãzinho, which is home to the Brazilian national volleyball teams. Instead the teams in Brazil will play at Carioca Arena in the Olympic Park, which is where basketball is scheduled to be played at the Summer Games.
The World League format is also different this year due to the Olympic Games. There will be only three weekends of pool play with four teams competing against each other at each stop. This weekend, the U.S. will play teams from Belgium (Friday), Australia (Saturday) and Brazil (Sunday).
Heading into the first weekend, U.S. Men’s Head Coach John Speraw was most concerned about the health of his team.
Setter Micah Christenson (Honolulu, Hawaii) and outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke (Wheaton, Ill.) both suffered what appeared to be minor injuries during the team’s trip to Cuba for two friendly matches. Outside hitters Aaron Russell and Taylor Sander both needed to do some extra rehab work after their professional seasons in Italy.
“Once we get all of our guys, I feel like we can work on getting a little better,” Speraw said.
Playing Olympic host and favorite Brazil, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, as well as No. 6 Argentina and No. 8 Iran, both of which have also qualified for the Olympics, will be interesting for the No. 5 ranked U.S. Men. There may be some gamesmanship as none of the team will want to show all their cards before Rio.
Brazil and the United States played five times in 2015, with Brazil going 4-1. Four of the matches were part of the USAV Cup friendly series around Southern California, where Brazil went 3-1.
The other Brazilian victory came in the United States’ first match of the Final Round of World League, which was held in Rio. The South Americans won, 28-26, 22-25, 25-22, 27-25. However Brazil lost to France and the U.S. Men beat France. Brazil lost the tie-breaker and were eliminated from the Final Round in their own country.
The U.S. Men went on to win the bronze medal. It lost a heartbreaker to Serbia in the semifinals before beating Poland in the third-place match. This was a year after the U.S. Men won their second World League title.
The U.S. Men played Iran five times in 2015 and went 3-2 against the winner of the Asia Olympic Qualifier. The two matches the U.S. lost were World League pool play matches in Tehran. The U.S. won their two home World League pool play matches and also beat Iran at the FIVB World Cup.
Overall, the U.S. has won World League twice (2008, 2014), finished second once (2012) and third three times (1992, 2007, 2015).
Argentina has been a tough opponent for the U.S. Men. In 2014, Argentina beat the U.S. at the FIVB World Championships, eliminating the U.S. from the competition. However at the 2015 World Cup, the U.S. Men beat Argentina in the final match of the tournament, winning it all and qualifying for the Olympic Games.
World League pool play matches will be show on NBC Sports Channel and live online on the NBC Sports streaming site.