I hope everyone had a GREAT holiday with their families! I know I had a great time down in Myrtle Beach with my family!
This week for Take 5, I’ll be doing my top five favorite midfielders to watch! I’ve had the opportunity to play with some of the best midfielders to ever play this sport, and I’ve learned a lot from these guys. Keep in mind I’m not saying these are “the best” middies to ever play the game. I stay away from words like “best” for things like this because everyone’s opinion is different. But, I will say that throughout my career, for one reason or another, these are my favorite five guys to watch and play with because of the way they carried themselves on the field as players and leaders.
#1 Jay Jalbert (UVA)
I’m not sure we’ve seen a dude dominate both ends of the field the way Jay did throughout his career. He was as reckless of a lacrosse player as we’ve ever had, and the cat could flat out BALL! I was fortunate enough to play with Jay on the US team back in 2006, and he is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen. From his swim move to splitting either direction and letting one go on the run, there have been very few (if any) more exciting midfielders to watch than Jay Jalbert.
#2 AJ Haugen (HOP)
The first time I saw AJ play, I had never seen anyone shoot the ball on the run (with either hand) as hard as he did. AJ had an awkward athleticism where he wouldn’t really shake people up, he’d just spilt hard one way, get his hands free, and let one go in the mid 90’s on the run. I learned so much from watching him play and seeing how efficient he was on the field.
Early in my career, I was so concerned with making move after move after move trying to completely lose my defender, where as AJ would make one small move, get a little bit of space, and shoot the ball. From watching him I learned the importance of making one hard move, creating a little separation, and shooting the ball. I consider one of the highlights of my career getting to wear a jersey that had USA on the chest and playing on the same midfield as AJ Haugen and Jay Jalbert.
#3 Paul Rabil (HOP)
Not too sure how much explanation is needed here if you’ve watched homeboy play recently. A lot of people compare Paul to Jay, but Paul’s a bit bigger than Jay. They’ve definitely got the same competitive nature, same attitude at both ends of the field, but as far as size goes I’m pretty sure Rabil’s a bit bigger. Either way, his ability to shoot on the run with either hand at a speed that most of us only shoot with when we have time to wind up is what separates Paul from other midfielders and makes him so exciting to watch.
I got to play with Paul early in his career (I was a senior, he was a freshmen), and you could already see how much of a monster he was going to turn into. I remember 3 games into that season, we went down 7-1 to Cuse up in the dome, and Paulie had 4 goals to bring us back into it and eventually win. Paul is proof that the lacrosse athlete is changing, and he does things consistently on the lacrosse field that we’ve never seen before.
#4 Benson Erwin (HOP)
I may be a bit biased because he’s been my best friend since 3rd grade, but I’ve been able to watch Benson Erwin develop as a lacrosse player at every level and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. As a defensive midfielder during our 4 years at Hopkins, he was the heart and soul of our team. The fact that he scored the game winning goal in the Final Four to put us into the Championship was no surprise. I’ve never seen a guy control the game as a defensive midfielder the way Bense did when we were at Hop. WE literally wouldn’t slide (or even think about it) when he was on the ball.
One big highlight was the strip he had against Duke to get us the ball back with 30 seconds left when we were tied at Homewood Field senior year (home winning streak on the line). More often than not, he covers the top dodging midfielder on the other team and still continues to make plays. There are very few defensive midfielders that are able to control the game like Bense does, and that’s what makes him one of my favorite guys to watch.
#5 Chris Rotelli (UVA)
I respected Chris’s game because similar to AJ Haugen, Chris had a SERIOUS shot on the run and never did anything too flashy. The guy would just out work dudes on the defensive end of the field (at the time, he was one of the few O-middies that stayed in and played D), and when he got to the offensive end of the field, he could let it go with either hand on the run. He split one way or the other (no crazy shake), got his hands free and made a play.
What impressed me most about Chris is that he understood the game better than most. What made him so exciting was that he would ALWAYS initiate offense for his team and make the right play. When he dodged, it wasn’t always his goal to get a shot off, but to create and make the offense run. He won the Tewaaraton Trophy, a National Championship, and definitely was/is one of the most exciting midfielders that I’ve had the opportunity to watch.
As I said, there are TONS of other middies who I’ve learned from and love to watch play. From old guys like Josh Sims, Jeff Sonke, Adam Doneger, Kevin Boland, to younger guys like Stephen Brooks, Stephen Peyser, Max Seibald, Dan Hardy and more! And this list is also just pure midfielders – there are guys that play attack and midfield who I’ve left off (Joe Walters, also one of my favorite players to watch). Maybe in the future I’ll share my five favorite players to watch of all time!
We’ve been fortunate the past 10 years by having a A LOT of great midfielders playing the game, and I’ve learned something (even if it’s been small) from most of them! Who are some of your favorite middies to watch?
About the author: A Tewaaraton winner now playing for the MLL’s Denver Outlaws, Kyle Harrison has been a star in college and the pro’s. He is one of the few lacrosse players embracing social media and giving fans a way to connect with him online daily.
Check out all of Kyle’s posts here.