Pressure to Perform Mounts for USA, Israel, Australia
Editor’s Note: 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championship intern Declan Swartwood joins LaxAllStars.com to report on the massive weight Australia, the USA, and Israel must’ve been carrying for the past four years.
Forty-six countries will compete in Israel for lacrosse supremacy and only one can walk away winners of the world. With the sport reaching some corners of the globe within the last 10 years or fewer, every team comes in with different goals and expectations. A few have their eyes on gold, others the podium and some simply showing up is an accomplishment itself.
For the United States, Australia, and Israel, the pressure is on. These three programs will have more to prove than most of the field, and the time to perform is now. Success at the 2018 World Championships would mean a restoration or affirmation of glory; failure would mean another long four years of waiting for the opportunity for redemption.
The pressure for the United States to win gold this summer in Netanya is at an all-time high.
After placing second at the 2014 Denver Games to Canada, USA had many questions left unanswered. The Americans have taken the title in nine of the 12 World Championships. Every four years, the United States has one expectation: gold or bust. With the largest field of countries to compete this summer, and with the competition growing globally, more eyes than ever will be on these titans of the game.
The United States consistently churns out top-tier talent that goes through months of rigorous training to make the squad. Plenty of pressure will fall some individuals’ shoulders. Midfielder Paul Rabil, who is seen as a pioneer for the growth of the sport, has high expectations set by not only himself the entire lacrosse world. Face-off specialist Greg Gurenlian, who made the decision to retire from the MLL for health reasons, will take draws for USA this summer. The pressure for him to perform well at the X is pivotal for the squad and will ultimately dictate how far the U.S. can go in this tournament. In a tournament where the margin of error is so thin, every possession counts. Not having taken an in-game face-off in several months, all eyes will be focused on if Gurenlian can get the ball to America’s powerful attack unit. At least he’s got a sidekick in the young phenom Trevor Baptiste to split the labor.
The 23-man roster the United States selected to take to Israel competed against the MLL All-Stars, comprised largely of players Team USA bypassed for its squad, in an exhibition on June 28 at Harvard Stadium. The All-Stars overcame a 14-8 deficit in the second half to defeat Team USA, 15-14. The final marked the first time the national team ever lost in the MLL All-Stars in the four times the World Championships warm-up has been played.
Exhibitions don’t matter in the grand scheme but losing a game like that is never a good look for team that expects to be the best in the world. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the coaching staff to prove that it did choose the right squad to win gold this summer.
Australia enters the 2018 World Championships as the fourth-ranked team in the world, but to the Aussies that’s a title that doesn’t sit well. After a disappointing 2014 World Championship, failing to earn a medal for the first time since 1974, the Aussies are looking to get back onto the podium. With a trophy case that includes three silver medals and seven bronze medals, not finishing in the top three in 2014 left a sour taste in Australia’s mouth. With the standard of Australia Lacrosse being to bring a medal back home, the title of “fourth best” is not good enough.
This Australian team has a roster full of talent top to bottom, including MLL and Division-I players. The expectation to get back onto the podium is achievable; Australia is poised to get back into the conversation of the world’s best.
However, the game of lacrosse has grown exponentially, and as Australia has gotten better, so too have other countries around the world. The Iroquois replaced Australia in 2014’s top three, finally breaking through to win its first World Championships medal, and will be right back in the mix again. With this summer’s tournament hosting the most teams ever in its history, the pressure of handling business against teams that improved skill-wise in the early stages of the tournament is key to the long-term success of this team.
Israel comes into the tournament with big aspirations. These are the first World Championships to be hosted by a country other than the United States, Canada, England or Australia. Bringing the world to Israel is already huge for the sport’s legitimacy in the country, but imagine what a successful campaign in the Holy Land could do for lacrosse’s growth.
There’s plenty of talent on this team. That includes midfielder Max Seibald, a five-time MLL All-Star and Tewaaraton Award winner. No rookie to the world stage, Seibald represented the United States in 2014, and is now suiting up for the Blue and White this summer. Face-off specialist Max Adler of the Denver Outlaws and former MLL player Ari Sussman, a goal machine four years ago and named to the 2014 President’s Team, help round out a roster loaded with international, professional and collegiate experience.
At the program’s first World Championships, Israel finished seventh, narrowly missing out on the top six and a spot in the 2018 Blue Division. It all came to a close with a 10-9 overtime loss to England. Since, Israel found success at the 2016 European Championships, grabbing the silver medal after, again, barely falling to the English 7-6, and the 2017 European Box Championships, taking home the country’s first-ever team gold medal in any sport.
Israel has been gaining momentum since its inception in 2011. The chance to grow the game within its borders as hosts of the biggest international lacrosse tournament ever is obvious. The stage is perfectly set for the Israelis to make a deep run and prove that the balance of power in world lacrosse is shifting. There won’t be many better opportunities than this. The time is now.