Ningbo, China, May 25 - Benjamin Patch's match-leading 23 points helped the United States get their 2018 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League campaign under way with a gritty 3-2 (25-27, 24-26, 26-24, 25-21, 15-10) victory over Argentina on Friday.
But the win wasn't without its worries for the world's number two-ranked team as they had to claw their way back from two sets down. They had opposite spiker Patch and, as the match wore on, wing spiker Taylor Sander (19 points) to thank for keeping level heads in face of sustained pressure from their seventh-ranked opponents.
The Argentinians were led by wing spiker Ezequiel Palacios and middle blocker Pablo Crer with 17 points each but shared the spoils among themselves with four players in total reaching double figures.
They had a chance to seal the match in the third but the Americans dug themselves out of trouble thanks mainly to the imposing presence of the 23-year-old Patch, who kept finding places to put the ball away.
The United States came to China ranked only behind Brazil in the world and were on a 3-0 streak against Argentina at the world level, winning their last encounter 3-1 at the 2016 FIVB Volleyball World League.
Argentina obviously forgot to carry the form book with them on the flight in, though, and relentless pressure in the first two sets, set in motion by Crer's six spikes and three blocks, had the Americans looking for answers to the upstarts.
For a while in the third it looked like only a question of whether or not the South Americans could hold their nerves. But the United States grew in confidence - and Patch seemed to grow in size. His tally included 21 monstrous spikes.
There is a feeling that there is a point to prove for the United States men's team at the VNL. No doubt the exploits of the American women - who have ended two rounds of play on top of the rankings with an impressive 5-1 record - would have inspired. But it's been two years since the US men's climbed the podium at major world level competition, bronze at the Rio Olympics.
There were no signs of panic from United States coach John Speraw - "stay pressing" was the message he conveyed in every time out - but he'll be looking for much better performances when the Americans face the world 14th-ranked Bulgaria and the 20th-ranked Chinese to complete the first round of matches