The U.S. Men’s National Team went 4-1 in the first phase of the 2019 FIVB Men’s World Cup in Fukuoka, Japan. Having beaten Italy, Poland, Japan, and Tunisia and lost to Argentina, the USA sits No.2 in the standings, trailing only undefeated Brazil.
Mostly, head coach John Speraw relied on his usual starters so far in this tournament, and Aaron Russell and Matt Anderson lead the team in scoring with 71 and 62 points, respectively.
Against Tunisia to close out Phase 1, however, Speraw started a new lineup, with Josh Tuaniga setting, Ben Patch on the right, Russell and Garrett Muagututia on the left, and Mitch Stahl and Jeff Jendryk in the middle. Stahl led the team with 10 points on three kills, five blocks, and two aces, while Patch topped the kills column with nine.
“I thought Joshua Tuaniga and Ben Patch played well today,” Speraw said after the match. “Josh is a talented setter and Ben is an opposite with a bright future. He is an exciting player. It is good to get them playing time against meaningful opponents.”
Perhaps the most exciting match of the first phase for USA was Friday’s meeting with reigning world champion Poland. The U.S. won the match 25-19, 25-20, 24-26, 27-25 with Anderson blasting a match-high 23 points. Middle Max Holt led all players with five blocks and three aces.
Outside hitter Thomas Jaeschke came into the match off the bench in the fourth set, replacing Muagututia, and at 24-all made an incredible sprawling save to keep the point alive and allow USA to reach match point. But the 26-year-old injured his shoulder in the fall and had to leave the match (7:20 in the video below). Jaeschke tore his ACL last year and has only recently returned to form from that injury.
“I want to give enough praise for Thomas Jaeschke,” setter Micah Christenson said. “He made a massive change for our team. He’s a great example for the way we should play.
“We will carry some of the amazing hustle that was shown. Thomas Jaeschke leaving his body on the line for us… Words can’t express how great an example that is for us.”
Middle Holt had his best match versus Japan, leading all players with 12 points on four kills, five blocks, and three aces.
USA’s only loss, the tournament opener versus Argentina, was a battle in which the Americans rallied back from down 0-2 to push the match to five but couldn’t keep possession of the momentum in the fifth. Russell led Team USA with 18 points in that match, but Jendryk starred as well, with 12 kills and three blocks.
Argentina’s Martin Ramos led all players with 20 points.
“I am pleased we had the ability to push it to a fifth set,” Speraw said. “We hope to learn as much as we can from this. They are one of the best defensive teams and the play of our backcourt was not good today.”
The remainder of the tournament will be played in Hiroshima where the USA will take on Iran, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Russia, and Egypt. Since the tournament is played in a round-robin format, there are no playoffs. After every team plays each other, the team with the best record walks away with gold.
For USA, that means Thursday’s match versus 5-0 Brazil holds extra significance.
Remember, you can tune in to every World Cup match live or on-demand right here on FloVolleyball.
USA World Cup Schedule - Phase 2
(All times ET)