The 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championship was the largest gathering of men’s national teams ever. 38 teams played in the 2014 FIL event, there was a HUGE festival that spanned the ages from youth to old men, and we got to see a glimpse of the future right now. I caught a ton of international lacrosse games during my time out in Colorado, and I’m going to run down some of the nations, and regions, that really impressed this Summer!
I can’t talk about all 38 teams (as much as I’d like to!), but I’m going to hit up a LOT of international programs, so buckle up and get ready to learn more about the new world game.
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2014 FIL Blue Division Teams
Canada obviously looked good, and they played close to flawless lacrosse in the finals against a stacked USA squad. I would talk about both of these teams a lot more, but I already did that. Also, Jeremy Noble was awesome as an X attackman. That young man is incredibly diverse as a player. Truly impressive. His US equivalent is probably Eric Law. Big fan of his too, even if he didn’t make Team USA. They both went to the University of Denver? Yup. Weird? Nope.
Ok, let’s move on to the Haudenosaunee Iroquois! The Nationals finished third at the 2014 FIL, and won a medal for the first time ever. They brought their youngest team to date, and proved that their hyped upward-facing trajectory in the field game was a legitimate storyline. When a guy like Kedoh Hill plays LSM the way he does, and then reveals that he has been playing with a long pole for less than 3 years, you get taken aback just a bit. Warren Hill was electric in net, and I personally thought he had moments where he looked like a Top 3 goalie… in the world. He is 22 years old, and will be around for a while.
(If Warren Hill follows in the footsteps of Australia’s Warren Brown, he could play for the Nationals for the next 19 years! That’s right, Brown is 41 years old. Look out for Brown’s son as well. Right now he’s only 12, but the kid can ball.)
The Iroquois have a ton of recent college experience on the team now. 15 of the guys listed in the WLC program are between the ages of 18 and 22. Imagine all of the guys coming back, a couple of veterans returning, and some members of the next generation of Iroquois players… that is probably the team coming to Manchester, England in 2018, and it has to be scary for the rest of the world. A number of these players just played the best field lacrosse of their lives. In four years, they will be that much more prepared. It’s a good time for the Iroquois program, and that should continue for the next 2 World Championships, at a minimum.
Scotland started out in the White Division, won all their games, and then marched straight into a Top 6 finish after knocking off Blue Division team Japan. It was an incredibly impressive run, and their talent was on display from Game 1 when they ran a hidden ball trick for a goal within 30 seconds of the game starting.
This team was loaded up with names you should already know like Kyle Buchanan (Philadelphia Wings), Jimmy McBride, Jordan McBride, Jesse Fehr (Philadelphia Wings), and a couple other top notch Canadian players. But there were also a really good number of top level Scottish players on the roster and players like Stefan Wyroslawski, John Goodwin, Tom Loake, and a number of other guys, and that most recognizable accent could be heard a lot more often than not.
The Scottish players had good size, and seemed to be very well conditioned. Their prep before games, and the team stretching afterwards showed their overall dedication. The guys were excited, skilled, tough, and wanted to succeed. Having a couple professional players on the team seemed to help this process along, and as far as the top level players in Scotland go, this tournament helped to set a new standard. This taste of success could be just what Scotland needed.
Scandinavian Lacrosse – Oh, WOW!
Finland, Sweden, and Norway were all impressive at this tournament. Sweden has long been the power of Scandinavian Lacrosse, but the playing field is really starting to even out in a major way. The Swedes still looked incredibly strong, and I liked their athleticism and style of play. Sweden finished in 11th place with an 8-6 win over New Zealand.
Finland also finished in a pretty solid official position, as they beat the Czech Republic for 13th place overall. The Finland program has grown by leaps and bounds lately, and you can see some of their box experience shine through when they play field. These guys get after it hard, and are truly dedicated to the game. There are also a lot of home grown players for Finland, and the older guys seem very invested in making sure the program continues to grow and improve.
Norway was, for me, pretty close to be a complete unknown. They finished 25th officially, but looked much better than that placement at times, like when they beat the Netherlands in a thrilling group game. In 2010, they finished 24th, so their 25th place finish might seem like a step back, but when you look at how many more programs are now playing lacrosse, you see there are now many more teams behind Norway than there were before. With the rapid expansion and improvement of lacrosse, I actually view 2014 as a solid step forward for the Norwegian program. These guys had great size, played hard, and bought in to what their coaches were implementing. The vast majority of their players are in their mid-20s, and if the energy they had in Denver goes back to Oslo (and other areas) with these team members, the trajectory for Norway Lacrosse is steadily improving.
The greatest asset that all three of these nations now possess is strong rivals right next door, and that could lead to a lot of growth, if it shown in the right light. I can not see how a Sweden-Norway-Finland annual tournament would not do wonders for the game in all three countries. Travel costs would be relatively low, there is already a solid rivalry at play, and there could be decent parity. What was that? This is pretty much happening now and should continue on in the future? AWESOME stuff from Scandinavia, and good luck to Norway, Finland, and Sweden as they continue to climb the ladder!
Czech Republic & Slovakia
I am not grouping these two countries together because of their geographic proximity or share history. The Czech Republic and Slovakia both interest me in a major way, for the same reasons. Box lacrosse is king for both nations, but their field teams both finished strong this Summer. One difference was that the Slovakia program brought a mix of older and younger guys, while the Czech team was relatively young overall. A similarity was that the majority of the players seem to come from a limited number of clubs. Bratislava was the main focus for Slovakia, and LCC Radotin and LC Jizni Mesto were the top producers for the Czech.
If both of these countries can somehow see a rise in OTHER clubs within their borders, their depth and overall talent pool could increase dramatically. It might take a lot of giving from the more established clubs, which would be an enormous strain, but the end result could be a very impressive set of field programs, laden with box talent. A major issue will be funding, as the community is still quite small. Realistically, it may be a choice between box and field. One possibility is that small, select groups of box guys could hold monthly training camps for field. If the Czech Republic and Slovakia can somehow figure out a sustainable way to do this, there is a ton of potential there.
Spanish Speaking Countries
Lacrosse was relatively nonexistent in a number of Spanish speaking countries only a decade ago, but the game is definitely taking hold in an impressive way. From Spain to Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, the players were excited and looking to the future. Many of these teams had extremely high percentages of passport holders, and that was awesome to see. Growth in these countries might be small for now, but it is home grown in many ways. And this could definitely lead to continued growth in nearby nations. A lot of the guys that I spoke with had a pretty solid game grower mentality, and I think the Spanish speaking lacrosse nations could show marked improvement by 2018.
One example that struck me as very interesting was Spain’s desire to play a brand of lacrosse based off of the Barcelona FC’s free-flowing, creative style. This got me going for a couple of reasons: 1) I can see how it could work quite effectively, 2) I saw that newer lacrosse areas could have very good ideas on the game right away that should be tried, and 3) I saw a transfer of passion from one cultural emblem to another. It all speaks to truly embracing the game, and it made me very hopeful for the future.
Also, Colombia has two club teams, and both cities where they play the game are elevated. How elevated? Well, let’s just say that Denver is below one of these cities by about 3,000 feet, and above the other by only 1,000 feet… and Denver is the Mile High City. If lacrosse were to boom in Colombia, just think of their conditioning advantage. Just another interesting little fact. Bogota has almost 7 Million residents, and is located at 8,200 feet. Let’s hope lacrosse really booms there!
The Ever-Expanding Asia Region
While Japan did not garner the finish they may have been hoping for, and (relatively) nearby Australia finished outside the Top 3 for the first time ever, I would not recommend sleeping on lacrosse in Asia, Australia, or any of the surrounding areas. In fact, I think that 2014′s WLC could propel this large area to new heights, as a result of increased competition, both within their region and throughout the world.
Australia does not have a problem with quality, but they do lack quantity. Lacrosse is focused on small groupings of clubs, in only 3 cities, and that really could stand to change. I would love to see Australia Lacrosse continue to prep their national, state, and club teams as they have been doing, and think their club oriented system is great, but I also think a coordinated effort to Grow The Game is needed. Aussies love their sport, and if lacrosse can be put forward to a new generation of potential players in the right way, interest rates could skyrocket. With a homegrown manufacturer of goods, participation could follow suit. It would take a true community effort and a lot of teamwork, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Australian crew of lacrosse fanatics.
Japan has grown and will continue to grow, but their biggest obstacle is getting younger players into the game. Many top level Japanese players still pick up the sport later in life (end of high school or at university), but if lacrosse follows a similar path to youth soccer in Japan, the potential there is extremely high. I was incredibly impressed with the Japanese team’s conditioning, ball movement, and even their defense. They had good size, excellent footwork, and sharp sticks. The only thing that seemed to be lacking was a certain creative flair, and I think that comes from playing the game with few restrictions as a child.
For the rest of the region, there is still a lot of space between them and Japan or Australia, but there was also a lot of good to be seen. Thailand (I was the GM for Thailand) took huge strides during the tournament, and it was clear to me that many of the players on that team will take back increased expectations for the current level of play and dedication. It was an eye opening experience for many, but the team also learned how important it was to come together in support of one another, and that kind of lesson can pay dividends in the long-term struggle of advancement. As with the Norway team, there was a certain level of excitement for the future with Thailand, and it was great to see that from a first time participant.
China was also a first time participant, and their game against Thailand showed just how good that burgeoning rivalry could become. China had a great sense of team and pride and they put forth a very young team. Mike Elefante did a great job of leading this group, and while some of the players were still very raw, they played incredibly hard. This was another team that experienced a week of eye opening lacrosse, but there was no hesitation whatsoever. The lessons learned will help China lacrosse greatly for 2018, and I hope that everyone in Shanghai asks the players who went to Denver a million questions. I’m sure they will have a lot to share about the level of world lacrosse. Again, increased expectations will lead to growth and improvement.
Hong Kong finished well at the tourney, defeating Turkey, for 21st place. In 2010 they finished in 22nd place, so with more teams this was an improvement in a couple of ways. Their roster is relatively young, and bolstered by some Ex-pats, which is a good way to do well at an FIL event. I’m curious to see if a lot of development work can be done in Hong Kong, and to get more youth or high school players involved. If that happens, Hong Kong would have improved depth, and could really start to challenge Japan within the region.
At the end of the day, one of these three programs will truly step it up and compete in the near future, and they all play each other somewhat regularly. The Asia region is definitely one to watch, especially if it continues to grow. Malaysia and the Philippines seem to be up next for national teams.
Uganda – What’s Next In Africa?
Uganda Lacrosse is alive and well, and has quickly become the darling of the lacrosse world. They drew great crowds consistently, played hard for every minute, gained incredible experiences on and off the field, and played on a lined grass field for the first time. Yup, you read that last part right. Ugandan Lacrosse made a quantum leap during their time in Denver, and as my main man Liberty keeps telling me, it is only going to get more popular from here. I believe him! He also tells me there is a growing desire to spread this game in Africa to other nations, and this gives me great hope, but also raises a question.
When the lacrosse community in Uganda is ready to Grow The Game in another African country, will the larger community support them again? The push for Denver was a tough one, and could have fallen through many times, so will the same level of dedication and help come for the next African nation that wants to play lacrosse? From meeting the Ugandan players, I know that the passion exists. The drive is most definitely there. Where will the fuel come from?
Turkey finished in 22nd place officially and was bolstered by their strong defense and excellent goaltending. The team performed quite well, and by the look of things, they are aiming at becoming a truly top level defensive team. Some of their star guys were Americans, but this was a very good thing, as it showed the homegrown Turkish players what an elite level defender really looked like. Turkey had 7 players between the ages of 16 and 19 on their team, and that right there is the future of the program at some level. An experience like the one they got is invaluable. The question becomes, how fast can the game grow in Turkey and how many new players can they pick up? If interest is generated, the sport could potentially boom, and with more internal support, this large nation could do big things.
A lot of people were talking about how the 2014 Israel team had a lot of American/Israelis on their roster. It was an especially hot topic with European teams I spoke with, and to a certain extent it’s a fair point. There were a lot of American born and raised players on the Israel roster. But we have seen this before, and for a country’s first entrance in the FILs, it has been historically acceptable. The question is always: What happens next?
With Israel, I have been honestly impressed by development efforts. Youth programs, free stick programs, financial backing, clinics, and leagues… they’re doing all of that. One of the team members said he would love to see a team in 2018 that only has primary residents of Israel on the roster. The idea of development on Israeli soil seemed 100% legitimate, and I definitely had my initial doubts. People may focus on Israel’s 7th place finish in 2014, but I am much more focused on their 2018 finish, and what that roster looks like. If it’s 100% Israeli in 2018, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit, so keep an eye on what’s going on in Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, and other areas. It seems very much legit, and that’s a very good thing for the game.
A number of other nations impressed in a number of ways, and if your country didn’t make this list, don’t think you didn’t see success. I was impressed by every country in attendance one way or another. These are simply the nations that stand out in my memory, and I recognize there was so much that I missed. If anything, use the above observations as fodder for discussion on how you can improve your region, nation, or team, and maybe I’ll be talking about you in four years!