Canada Lacrosse beats a seemingly unbeatable Team USA 8-5 in the World Lacrosse Championship finals and all hell breaks loose. Honestly, I’d expect nothing less!
To break through some of the static noise out there, I’ll take an in-depth look at the 2014 FIL games, explain how it all went down, and then offer up some thoughts on why we are seeing such a crazy and diverse reaction to the end results.
Blue Division Pool Play
Team USA was awesome in pool play, won all their games, and came out looking like one of the best international teams ever. They moved the ball like a hot potato, shot the lights out, played great team D, and won extra possessions all over the field with draws, hustle, and their athleticism. Of course Canada also looked ready to roll, even when they played tight games, and I remarked to numerous people how they did not seem set on winning every game. That sounded crazy, but from their first game with Team USA on opening night, you could tell something was different.
What team goes up 3-1 early in the game, and then decides to change their playing style completely? Canada Lacrosse does. They went from solid possessions and ball movement, with Hall running the show up top, and Noble behind, to more run and gun, and lots of slashing and penalties. USA came back, won the game, and looked invincible to many spectators.
Why would Canada do this? Sure, Team USA paid the price physically while getting the win. Guys got banged up in that game, and some sat out later games to rest. Canada also let the USA know that nothing would come easy. But there has to be more to it than that. Perhaps Canada Lacrosse was holding its cards close to the chest? Was the plan to try their game plan for a little, know that their system can work, and then show something different? In retrospect it sure seems that way!
And Canada wasn’t the only team using this approach. The Iroquois took a reverse approach with the red and white, and came out swinging. The defense used wooden sticks, but the real point was how violent the thrown checks were. Even with a metal pole these slashes would have done damage. The Canadians capitalized on the penalties, went up 8-3, but then it was the Iroqouis who changed their game, scoring 5 straight goals to tie it up, using longer possessions. Canada won the game, but a diverse approach helped the Iroquois almost pull off the upset.
Japan, Australia, England, and Team USA were less diverse in their game plans, and while both the US and Australia saw success in pool play, small cracks were showing for both teams. Both the US and the Aussies were extremely athletic, and could whip the ball around impressively, but neither team showed all that many different looks. They did what they did, and they did it very well, but there was also a potential limit to the scheme. England and Japan also fell prey to a somewhat short set of approach tactics.
Canada Lacrosse – A Limiting Scheme
Team USA played fast lacrosse all week. They won face off possessions, and had the best athletes out there. Canada was well aware of this. A run and gun shootout was not going to work, and Canada saw that in the tail end of game one. A high scoring, quick possession game also presented problems for Canada Lacrosse with Team USA’s face off duo of Eck and Gurnelian. Snider can win plenty of draws, but he’s better when he’s fresh. So less goals and less scoring also meant a potentially higher percentage of overall possessions, which played nicely into Canada’s efficient offensive approach.
The only perceived problem with a methodical slow down game was Team USA’s defense. This was a very strong group, and even long possessions didn’t guarantee goals. Canada really worked hard for every goal they got in the finals, and they rarely settled for mediocre shots on cage. By extending their offensive set for a minute or so, and then crushing in tight on one side, they created good chances from close range, while limiting potential slides. If the look wasn’t there, they pulled it out and started over. It was a fine display of high lacrosse IQ, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ebb and flow of conservative and risky play. They stuck to their guns, and got some huge saves from Dillon Ward, which they knew they would need.
Canada Lacrosse never let the US offense really run, did an excellent job on face off wing play, and took the air out of the ball, while tiring out the US defense. By the time Team USA realized how badly they needed the ball back, their defenders had already been running around for most of the game. Add on the fact that Team USA was not loaded up with takeaway guys, and a comeback became a tall order, even for this awesome group of players.
In the end, Canada Lacrosse came up with an impressive game plan, and executed it to near perfection.
The Iroquois also used multiple pace of play options against the Australians in the third place game. The end result was a convincing win for the Iroquois Nationals, and it marked the first time that Australia finished outside of the top 3. It was also the first time the Iroquois had earned a medal at the FIL World Championships.,
“CHANGE THE RULES!” Rabble, rabble, rabble.
FIL rules vary greatly from college or MLL rules, and many US-based fans are not accustomed to the differences. I saw a lot of people tweeting and commenting that the rules needed to be changed. I sincerely hope that these statements are not being made solely because Team USA lost. That approach shows pretty poor sportsmanship, and would reflect on our country poorly. This isn’t the America’s Cup, and let’s pray it never is.
Perhaps you’re just not used to the FIL rules, but it’s important to note that we are the only country in the world that doesn’t use them. It’s kind of like the metric system… we’re the only ones measuring things in feet. Do other countries benefit from knowing the international game better than the US? Since we don’t use the FIL format at all, my guess would be an emphatic yes. Just look at Team USA’s scrimmage/game with the MLL All-Stars. What rules did they use? MLL Rules? WHY?!?!?!?!?! The team had no chance to even experience slow down lacrosse in that game.
International Lacrosse has long had different rules, and if the US wants to be dominant on the world stage, then we need to play by those rules more. That’s pretty simple. The Australians weren’t complaining about the rules when they lost to the Iroquois, and they didn’t boo the slow downs. In fact, they cheered loudly, and recognized the Iroquois played a better game. That’s how you lose with dignity.
Of course we could always go in another direction and try to change the rules… couldn’t we?
Will The Rules Change?
Rule Changes are voted on by member nations of the FIL. At this point, I can only see one FIL member that would really want to change the rules, and that would be US Lacrosse. Pretty much every other country would likely oppose the changes if they had to do with shot clocks, clearing clocks, or anything else to really speed up the game. Why do I think everyone would oppose a change like that? Because it would increase the US advantage, which is already quite large in terms of numbers of players and funding. Without the chance of a slow down game, most countries can not hang with Team USA athletically. In terms of self-interest, it makes no sense to speed up the game.
The big push for rule changes would likely be made under the pretense of being “good for TV and fans”. More goals, less slow possessions, and more excitement. Lacrosse’s push to the Olympics could even be used in this argument, but again, on the world stage, I’m not sure it holds much water. Just look at the most popular sport in the world: soccer. Soccer is very slow at times, but fans appreciate long possessions and good chances. If international fans can stomach a 1-0 game after 120 minutes, I think they can appreciate an 8-5 game featuring two different styles of play.
Here in the US, we are very accustomed to fast play being valued. We loath methodical lacrosse and call it boring. The FIL rules certainly allow for this (no clearing clock, no shot clock, larger offensive possession box side to side, etc) and good teams use it to their advantage.
Instead of crying foul, we need to step up our international game. It’s as simple as that.