Courtesy of Colin Watson
USA's Luca Cupido

County stars help U.S. men qualify for Olympics


Former Newport Harbor standout Luca Cupido scored three goals and veteran goalie Merrill Moses added 17 saves Monday night in Toronto as the U.S. men's water polo team held off Canada, 9-8, in the semifinals at the Pan American Games and later qualified for the 2016 Olympics. (Check the link for video of the fourth period)

Cupido scored with 1:38 left in the fourth period on a direct shot outside 5 meters to give Team USA a 9-6 lead but the Stars and Stripes survived a late surge by Canada -- including a red card on U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic and a penalty strike -- in the final 1:16 to advance to the gold medal match against Brazil on Wednesday night (5 p.m. Pacific).

The U.S. men claimed the Olympic berth after Brazil defeated Argentina, 15-9, in the second semifinal. Brazil qualified automatically for the Games as the host nation, leaving the Americans as the qualifier from the Pan American Games.

Team USA also received key contributions from center John Mann (Corona del Mar) and attackers Josh Samuels (Villa Park) and Bret Bonanni (Mater Dei). Samuels played a team-high 24 minutes and finished with a team-high three steals and two assists. Cupido also added two assists while Bonanni scored in the second period. Mann drew a fourth-period penalty coming out of a timeout that captain Tony Azevedo converted for a 7-5 lead with 4:17 left.

Moses sealed the victory in the closing seconds with a save and held the ball to kick off the U.S. celebration.

Udovicic received the red card for a delayed substitution and will not face off against Brazil coach Ratko Rudic in the final.

Team USA went 6 for 12 on the power play and held Canada to a 3 for 11 effort with the extra attacker.

In other water polo news, the U.S. men captured the bronze at the World University Games.

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