The NLL is growing, and good portion of its growth is happening in the United States. The league has long been relatively short on Americans, but are there more in the NLL now than before?
Going back to 1987, the NLL has never had 14 teams like it will in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Back in 2020, the league had 13 competitors, which matched peaks that were also seen in 2002 and 2007. The most stable period in terms of number of teams from year to year was from 2012 to 2018 when the amount remained at nine.
NLL fans know that time frame was loaded with franchises moving, so “stable” has to be taken with a pretty big grain of salt. But purely in terms of total teams, and more importantly player spots, it was pretty locked in for a while.
So, that brings me to looking at the number of Americans who are aiming to crack NLL rosters as we speak. In theory, they have the best chance they’ve ever had right now. The logical question becomes, do they really? Are there actually more American lacrosse players in the NLL now than in past years?
Are There More Americans in the NLL?
To figure this out, I looked at the day one rosters for those 13-team seasons in 2007 and 2020 (I left 2022 off because sadly the NLL.com stats database doesn’t go back that far). By comparison, I also checked on 2016 when there were just nine teams, and it became a very hard time to be an American player trying to find a home in indoor lacrosse.
I chose 2016 because it was after the large exodus of American veteran indoor players as they prepared for the 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championship, and it was also right after the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship when USA Lacrosse took over from US Indoor Lacrosse in managing the US Senior Men’s Box Lacrosse team. That year stands out, because you had still-in-college Blaze Riorden alongside Casey Powell as his indoor career was winding down, but also players with little-to-no NLL experience, like Drew Snider and Matt Abbott, playing with NLL regulars such as Ryan Hotaling, Kevin Buchanan, and Brett Manney.
So how did things break out year-by-year, and how are we looking now?
2007 (13 Teams)
Rochester – 4/18: Chris Schiller, Regy Thorpe, Scott Ditzell, Pat Cougevan
Colorado – 6/18: Mike Law, Josh Sims, Jamie Hanford, Brian Langtry, Tom Ethington, Dave Stilley
Buffalo – 0/18
Portland – 2/18: Jed Prossner, Ryan Powell
Arizona – 0/18
San Jose – 3/18: Tim Booth, Steve Holmes, Eric Martin
Philadelphia – 8/18: John Christmas, Kyle Sweeney, Marc Morley, Keith Cromwell, Dan Marohl, Shawn Nadelen, Kyle Fiat, Jake Bergey
Edmonton – 0/18
New York – 15/18: Erik Miller, Casey Powell, Brendan Mundorf, Bobby Horsey, Matt Alrich, Brian Tower, Jarett Park, Ryan Boyle, Rich Brzeski, Bryan Barrett, Joseph Ghedina, Jeff Spano, Nick Schroeder, Kevin Galbraith, Roy Colsey.
Chicago – 3/18: Bill McGlone, Zach Heffner, Chris Panos
Minnesota – 0/18
Calgary – 0/18
Toronto – 0/18
Total – 41/234 (17.5%) of Game 1 rosters were American
What really jumped out to me on this list was not that there were a few NLL teams with no Americans in Game 1 (although Arizona was a little surprising), but seeing the New York Titans all the way up there at 15 of 18 players being American. It’s hard to imagine the Riptide pulling that off this year despite an already American-heavy roster. Also, 2007 Edmonton had zero Americans while being coached by Paul Day, who is now the head coach of the American-heavy Philadelphia Wings.
2016 (9 Teams)
Buffalo – 0/18
Calgary – 0/18
Toronto – 0/18
Vancouver – 1/18: Chris O’Dougherty
Rochester – 2/18: Joe Walters, Joe Resetarits
New England – 5/18: Ryan Hotaling, Kevin Buchanan, Brett Manney, John Ranagan, Brian Megill
Georgia – 3/18: Joel White, David Earl, Mitch Belisle,
Colorado – 1/18: Greg Downing
Saskatchewan – 0/18
Total – 12/162 (7.4%)
I knew things were right in these years, but I didn’t think they were THIS tight. In just nine years, the NLL lost about a quarter of its teams, and the number of Americans also reduced by about the same margin. Going from 41 down to 12 is a huge drop, especially when you figure that fielding a national team with those numbers inherently means you cannot put together a squad of current professional indoor players. This was a period when plenty more Americans were in training camps to start the year, but when those final rosters came around, they were regularly on the outside looking in.
2020 (13 Teams)
Buffalo – 0/19
Calgary – 0/19
Toronto – 1/19: Tom Schreiber
Vancouver – 1/19: Chris O’Dougherty
Rochester – 0/19
New England – 4/19: Brett Manney, Joe Resetarits, Joe Nardella, Dave Emala
Georgia – 1/19: Matt Dunn
Colorado – 1/19: Tim Edwards
Saskatchewan – 0/19
Halifax – 1/19: Cory Becker
San Diego – 4/19: Connor Fields, Mark Glicini, Eli Gobrecht, Garrett Epple
New York – 6/19: Connor Kelly, Mike Manley, Kieran McArdle, John Ranagan, Cody Radziewicz, Gale Thorpe
Philadelphia – 6/19: Matt Rambo, Trevor Baptiste, Blaze Riorden, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Liam Byrnes, Kevin Buchanan
Total – 25/247 (10.1%)
The raw number of Americans going from 12 to 25 from 2016 to 2020 is incredible. It’s also notable that several names were on rosters last season but weren’t on that Game 1 roster that is the basis of comparison, including Mikie Schlosser, Joel White, Alex Woodall, Myles Jones, and Greg Downing.
But from where the number was in 2007, there’s a long way to go. So, what do we have in store now?
2022 (14 Teams) – What’s Next?
With the addition of Panther City to the mix, every team had to reshuffle the deck going into this weekend. But the question at the root of everything is, will there be enough spots?
It’s hard to imagine a drastic turnaround from last season to bring the numbers from 25 up past 2007’s 41. But that doesn’t mean American box is failing. On the contrary, 2007 was benefiting from several years of more teams in the league to allow teams to draft more American players from the get-go. That’s exactly where teams are sitting right now.
But with training camps happening as we speak, we can’t say for sure how many Americans will actually be on these Game 1 rosters. What we can say is that more have opportunities than we’ve seen in well over a decade. No matter how you look at it, there is plenty of optimism surrounding both the expanding NLL and opportunities for field-first players to learn the box game and excel at the professional level.