American Jesse Smith holds the ball during a men's preliminary water polo match against Romania on Tuesday in London. The United States rallied from two early deficits to win 10-8 and remain unbeaten. The win puts the U.S. even with gold medal-favorite Serbia atop Group B with four points.
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LONDON -- The U.S. men's water polo team rallied from an early two-goal deficit to edge Romania 10-8 on Tuesday and stay unbeaten at the London Olympics.
Ryan Bailey and Peter Varellas each scored three goals for the Americans, who haven't won Olympic gold in men's water polo since 1904 and fell just short four years ago in Beijing, where they took silver.
"We had a slow start," said Bailey, who at 36 is playing in his fourth Olympic Games. "We were trying to shut them down from the beginning. It's just a matter of kind of waking up, of looking around at each other and saying, 'Hey, now it's time to start playing.' "
With 10 players back from the 2008 Olympic squad, the Americans decided to forgo lucrative contracts playing in Europe to train together for London, hoping it would the difference between silver and gold.
U.S. captain Tony Azevedo said hard-fought games like Tuesday's against Romania showed that all the time spent together is paying dividends.
"It's the games like this when you start slow that you learn the most," he said. "Romania came out great, came out hitting and punching, and the referees let it go and our team responded well toward the second half.
"That's why we trained for seven months together, to be in better shape than everyone else, and we wore them out toward the end and we closed the deal."
The victory puts the U.S. even with gold medal-favorite Serbia atop Group B with four points after two matches. And with Serbia and three-time defending champion Hungary still ahead for the Americans in the group stage, the win over Romania was key to easing the way for the Americans into the quarterfinals.
Trailing 5-3 midway through the second quarter, the Americans cranked up the defense and shut down the Romania attack, while scoring four unanswered goals take control of the match.
Bailey said the U.S. knew Romania, led by captain Cosmin Radu's four goals, wouldn't be an easy team to beat, despite the fact that the country is playing in its first games since 1996 in Atlanta.
The U.S. next plays Britain, which lost to Serbia 21-7, on Thursday.
The 12-team field has two groups of six for the preliminary stage, and the top four teams from each group advance to the knockout round.