There's no easy way around it. The world's fifth-ranked U.S. men's national volleyball team is in trouble. The Americans put themselves in the strange possibility of not reaching the FIVB World League Final.
It seems an impossible task. The U.S. (4-4 in pool play and in fifth place) must beat the world's top-ranked Brazilian team, twice, on their home soil and then hope for Poland and Bulgaria to split its two matches this week.
The U.S. plays its final pool play matches of the FIVB World League on Saturday and Sunday at Maracanazinho Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, which clinched its spot in the final round, enters the matches with a pool-leading 7-1 mark.
The U.S. is still emphasizing its own improvement. The Americans do have the best libero in the world to date in Stanford grad Erik Shoji, who leads all World League players in digs with 98 or an average of 3.06 per set.
"We need to watch video of ourselves and see some areas where we need to improve," U.S. captain Matt Anderson said after the U.S. Men's second loss to Poland. "We need to serve better and we need to make plays."
Anderson leads the United States in scoring with 138 points on 112 kills, 19 blocks and seven aces. Opposite Carson Clark is second with 100 points on 85 attacks, one block and 14 aces. He's second among all players with an average of .44 aces per set.
Brazil's leading scorer has been opposite Leandro Vissotto who has 116 points on 97 kills, 14 blocks and five aces. Ricardo Lucarelli Santos de Souza is second with 109 points on 87 kills, 13 blocks and nine aces.
Lucas Saatkamp is the team's leading blocker with 16 and an average of .5 blocks per set. Brazil's libero Mário Júnior is sixth among all World League diggers with 69 digs and an average of 2.69 digs per set.
No matter what happens in Brazil, the U.S. will be playing again in August and September.
USA Volleyball announced Wednesday that the men will get their own three-match USA Volleyball Cup series against Japan to be played in Southern California at locations to be determined.
The matches will be played Aug. 14, 16 and 17 in a similar format to the women's team, which plays its second match against Japan on Friday at Long Beach State.
"I am excited for this chance to connect the U.S. men's national team with Southern California," U.S. coach John Speraw said. "We view this as a chance to renew our relationship with our current fans, but also to make new ones."
The U.S. Men last played international matches in Southern California when USA Volleyball hosted the NORCECA Men's Continental Olympic Qualifier in 2012 in Long Beach.
"When people think volleyball, they think Southern California, so we will have a lot of fans attend, I hope," Anderson said. "It can do nothing but help create publicity for our sport."
The men's USA Volleyball Cup will also help the U.S. Men's team prepare for the NORCECA Continental Championships on Sept. 21-29 in Langley, Canada.
World University Games
The women's epee team finished eighth overall, reaching the quarterfinals, where the U.S. lost to Poland.
In the round of 16, the U.S. edged China, 45-43, as Stanford grad Francesca Bassa recorded a pair of winning bouts.
Ashley Severson won all three of her bouts while Bassa had a tie in the 45-39 loss to Poland.