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THE 1987 PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Water Polo : U.S. Beats Cuba, 6-4, to Win Gold Medal

August 23, 1987|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — That familiar Pan American Games story line was played again Saturday night when the United States met Cuba for the gold medal in water polo.

It was another pairing of the home team and its political and geographic rival from the south. This is the third and last weekend of this United States vs. Cuba jousting, and judging from the near-capacity crowd that cheered every Cuban penalty, every Cuban mistake and every U.S. goal, the fans have not grown tired of this geopolitical dance.

This time the tune played, 6-4, in favor of the United States (6-0) as it won its third consecutive Pan Am water polo gold medal. That is what most of the estimated crowd of 4,000 at the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis Natatorium came to see. But what makes this rivalry so intense is that the U.S. players find the Cubans an inspiration to play against.

No better example was Jim Bergeson, the U.S. driver from Newport Beach. He scored three goals and could hardly think of any team he enjoyed beating more than Cuba.

"There's a lot of animosity between the U.S. and Cuba," he said. "There's not much friendship on the deck when we play. Maybe it's the politics, maybe it's the way they play, but whatever it is, we don't get along."

A lot of it might be the world-class level of play between these familiar and closely matched rivals.

The United States defeated Cuba in their previous five meetings this year, including a 5-3 victory in a round-robin game Wednesday. The games were decided by a total of 9 goals, none by more than 3 goals.

In their most important meeting of the year, the United States won, 8-7, in May at the World Cup in Greece. The United States finished fourth, and Cuba was seventh in the tournament.

The teams finished 1-2 in four of the previous five Pan Am Games, with the United States winning the gold each time. Only in 1975 in Mexico City, where Mexico won the gold, the United States the silver and Cuba the bronze, had it not come down to these two teams meeting for the gold.

"Whenever you have two good teams in water polo, you're going to have a close game," U.S. goalie Craig Wilson said. "That's the way it's been with us and Cuba. Neither of us gives in."

That starts with Wilson. He played a nearly flawless tournament. He made 10 saves Saturday to increase his tournament total to 39. In six tournament games, the United States allowed only 20 goals while scoring 65.

"Defensively we played very well," Wilson said. "We really shut down what the Cubans like to do. We kept them out of the middle, and that was the key."

As for the natural dislike between the two teams, Wilson said it stems more from the competitive nature of the game than any social or political phenomenon.

"Some of the guys like to tell stories about going down to Cuba to play--how tough it is," Wilson said. "They play hard. It gets rough out there, but it does in any big game.

"I don't think it's capitalism vs. communism, just two good teams playing each other."

Like their first meeting in the games, this match quickly turned into a defensive struggle.

The United States took a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Jody Campbell and Bergeson. Campbell scored with 5:14 left in the period, a high shot from 10 feet out that went under the right side of the crossbar. Bergeson scored the first of his three goals on a power play with 2:23 remaining.

It appeared that the United States might be on the way to a rout until Cuba (4-2) drew to within a goal when Jorge Del Valle scored the first of his three goals with three seconds left in the first period.

The United States answered with power-play goals by Alan Mouchawar and Bergeson in the first three minutes of the second quarter, quelling the Cuban threat and taking control for good at 4-1.

"I liked having a three-goal lead, but I was a little worried," Wilson said. "The referees have a way of wanting to even up the matches. They like close games."

But this one never got closer than two goals again.

The teams exchanged scores the rest of the way. Pablo Cuesta scored on a second-quarter penalty shot, and Del Valle scored a power-play goal in the third period and closed the scoring with 4:13 left in the game when he slammed home a shot high into the left corner.

The last two U.S. goals came on on power-play goals by captain Terry Schroeder with 3:11 left in the third quarter and a shot by Bergeson that from the right side that crossed right in front of Cuban goalie Jose Ramos and into the cage.

"I thought we were two or three goals better than them, so this win was expected," Bergeson said. "They were really never in the game."

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