The 2014 World Lacrosse Championships in Denver, CO are still almost 2 years away, but the best head to head preview we’ll see for at least the next year took place in the very same city last weekend. The Duel in Denver is far from a perfect predictor of what will happen in 2014, but we certainly learned some things, and the game is sure to impact how both national teams approach their eventual roster selections.
Below I will cover what both teams did well, where they were ok, where both teams struggled, what it means for 2014, and at the end I go into a mini-rant on why the “US excuses” we’re hearing from some in the lacrosse world are patently ridiculous.
The Good - The US was able to get separation with their midfielders, and did well at face offs, especially with good wing play. The team committed limited penalties, and swarmed the ball well at times on defense, making Canada work for all 11 of their goals. The team cleared the ball well, and looked athletic at most positions.
The Bad - Shot selection was really only ok, and execution was awful. The US middies had a rough night shooting, and the offense overall looked stagnant for much of the night. With practice, this group could be much better, but I was a little surprised to see just how much the US struggled to effectively play team ball. Sets were slow and off ball movement was uninspired.
The Middle - The US defense needs to tighten up on some of their interior play, but with limited practice time, I was still impressed with their effort for the most part. The Canadian goals often came when the US did breakdown or lapse, but more often than not, the Canadians had to work for it.
The Good - Canada had size, some speed, a lot of toughness and a whole lot of skill. They played team ball on offense and possessed when they needed to slow it down. Their young goalies both did well and were able to see shots all night long. The defense played team ball just like the O, and forced the Americans into predictable shots.
The Bad - The weakest spot for the Canadians was their midfield defense as the US was able to generate the best offensive looks from their middies. However, the Canadians didn’t slide hard, were content to allow players to shoot off alley dodges, and showed great confidence in their keepers. Maybe this wasn’t a bad thing at all… maybe the Canadians wanted to make the US predictable and have ball carriers shoot the ball instead of men on the crease? I wouldn’t put it past them.
The Middle - To me, face offs are the biggest issue for Canada. Not now, but in the future. Geoff Snider has been a stalwart “FoGo who is more than a FoGo”, but how much longer can he keep it up? Who is waiting in the wings? My only concern here is that he took all of Canada’s draws… so what happens if he gets hurt? Guys like Jordan MacIntosh do well in the NLL… maybe he could make an impact? Or there is some young Canadian Snider has been teaching. Still, I’m curious.
What It All Means For 2014:
Canada brought a younger team on average, and to me this screams that the 2014 Team Canada tryout process could be the deepest and most difficult ever. There are so many impressive Canadian guys NOT on the team, and even more young guys clearly chomping at the bit. This Canada team played together, played with passion and purpose, and brought an A-grade TEAM. They will do the same in 2014, and will be dangerous.
The red and white will likely be even MORE athletic in 2014, and their team play will certainly be better with additional practices. Coach Mearns had these guys prepped and ready, and the ability to control games while keeping the goals coming could be Canada’s biggest strength. Judging solely by how the Coaching Staff was able to get this crew to come together, Canada could easily be considered the favorite for 2014.
The US, on the other hand, has more issues to digest and look at, but none of that should come as a surprise. The US team in Denver was an interesting bunch of players getting a look, and a number of those players might not be on the team in 2014. Some were old, some were young and others were back after long absences. Most had just finished an MLL season, and all should have been prepared to play at the highest levels.
I think some guys’ stock may have gone up a bit (Harrison, Stanwick, Gurnelian) while other guys’ stock may have taken a small dip, but the real test will be the actual tryouts for Team USA, and how the guys can work their way into this team’s system. The TRULY big test exists for the coaching staff, and it revolves around whether or not they can select a team from over 140 quality guys and game plan for what Canada will bring to the table in two years.
Stop With The Excuses:
I’m not going to call anyone out by name here, but the veiled excuse making simply needs to stop. It’s been coming from writers, fans of Team USA and other. Canada is good at lacrosse. Just as good as the US. We need to deal with that and stop making excuses. The players aren’t making excuses. We shouldn’t either. Let’s investigate a few:
The adjustment for the US players from MLL to FIL rules was hard on the US. - Probably true, but I can’t imagine it was harder than the adjustment to international field rules from Summer box lacrosse.
The US players were tired from playing in the MLL. Seems reasonable at first, but since these guys are pro athletes who played 16 games (max) over a couple months, I’m going to assume the ones who played were pretty healthy. Since the US has so much depth, why pick a guy who is hurting any way? Also, Canadians play in the MLL and Summer Box leagues. Does it not affect them too?
The US just needed to shoot better. When the vast majority of your shots are from sweeping or dodging middies, your offense can be labeled as predictable. Goalies can lock on to shooters early and if they do their research, they can make a ton of saves. THAT is what happened in Denver. The US needed to threaten the inside more with team possessions THEN work the outside as a second option. Make the other team respect you all over, then play to your strengths… it just seems like a better approach. Saying “the US just needs to drop more shots from middies” simplifies things too much.
The US needs to be younger on defense. I don’t know about this one! The US guys played well for the most part, and their experience certainly helped them out nicely. Michael Evans, Nicky Polanco, Lee Zink and others did well with JGJr and the rest of the attack (most of the time), only giving up a couple of sloppy goals. Overall, they played together, and with more practice could be an excellent group. I would have liked to see more young guys playing for the experience, but the veterans still have it.
In the end, the loss can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the US offense. This is true, and my big reason why the US lost. It was predictable, midfield dominated and lacked off ball movement. It reminded me of the US U19 team in their first game against Canada (which was their first loss ever) this Summer… predictable offensive lacrosse, lacking in good team play. The bright spot here is that in less than a week, the U19 team was able to fix things, so with just under 2 years to go for Team USA, I think they’ll be just fine.
A loss is a loss. All one can do is suck it up, move on and get better. It’s the only way.