USA Lacrosse: An Inside Look Denver 2014
We now know the 23 men who will represent Team USA at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships this July in Denver, so it’s finally time to take a deeper look at USA Lacrosse, and their chances of repeating as World Champions. The team is stacked with field lacrosse talent, but is not a lock to win the gold, even if they are the favorites. Team USA is stacked, but is this a gold medal team?
As an added note, most USA players will be wearing STX, but approximately 8 athletes will also be wearing Nike Lacrosse gear. Now you know. Expect a gear deluge soon from both manufacturers including gloves, padding, custom shafts, and more!
USA Lacrosse Vs MLL All Stars
Let’s take the most recent USA Lacrosse scrimmage/game/dust up, and start from there…
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Team USA had played in similar contests back in 2006 and 2010, and Team USA won both of those games. In 2006 they lost to Canada, and in 2010, the US reclaimed its crown, after beating the MLL all stars. USA may win this match up (all 3 times!), but its often quite close, as these teams are both basically Team USA, and 18 of the 23 MLL guys were still on the US training squad late in the process. A guy like Joe Walters wasn’t a part of the process this time, but was on the US team in 2006. Kevin Crowley played, he plays for Canada. You get the idea. There is plenty of talent on both squads and all the players know each other well. It really should be a tight game.
But there is another aspect that we need to look at before we get into the game any deeper… this game is played by MLL rules, and not FIL rules. Why they do it this way makes no sense to me, but it is what it is I guess. This game is for the USA guys, right? So why not play by FIL rules to let them practice that? Oh well, missed opportunity I guess.
The important point here is that Team USA was built to win FIL games, and not MLL games. MLL games have a shot clock and a 2 pointer. FIL games do not. MLL games are stop and start on penalties. FIL games are not. MLL games are stop time, FIL games are not. FIL lacrosse requires more patience, and can be slower. This team was built to win games, yes, but really, they were built to win FIL games. It’s worth noting.
Would the outcome have been different if the game had been played by FIL rules? I can’t say for sure, but it would have been nice to see it in action before the World Lacrosse Championships begin.
Overall, Team USA looked good. They played patient lacrosse for the most part, even with the shot clock, and did very well on defense during the short possessions. My big concern is that the defense will not be used to longer, 4-7 minute possessions, that it could see in the World Championships. USA Lacrosse should be able to adapt, but longer possessions change a game.
The big takeaways were clearing the ball, which the US did well, and showing off positional diversity, which the US also did well. It was good to see the US find a way to win, and it was also good to see them compete for a full game that was tight throughout. I would expect a slower pace in many of the WLC games, and the US seems well positioned to play at multiple speeds.
USA Lacrosse Offensive Weapons
USA Lacrosse could generate shots from the midfield, and used their size and athleticism well, especially in that positional group. Garrett Thul gives them an added midfield punch, and guys like Mitch Belisle even played some short stick defense from the midfield. There were moments when the US pushed the ball without numbers, and multiple times this resulted in turnovers. This can not happen at the FIL level against teams like Canada, Australia, and the Iroquois.
I would expect the US to isolate short sticks quite a bit during the WLC. When you look at their midfield group, you find athletes who can break down defenders, and shoot the ball hard. These guys have also been instructed to draw and dump as much as possible, and that makes sense when you look at the attack unit, which complements the midfield well. Pannell, Holman, Leveille, Buchanan, and Mundorf will all share the ball, and can finish with the best of them in odd man situations. Draw and dump, and get it to the attack to finish. You should see a lot of that. Add in a guy like Ned Crotty who stretches the field from any angle, and you have a team with plenty of threatening players.
USA Defensive Diversity
On D, the US has two guys who really play anywhere on the field in Jesse Bernhardt and Kyle Hartzell. They are fast and rangy, and both have good transition games. Mitch Belisle could also see time up top or down low, and could even play some SSDM. Down low, Lee Zink, Tucker Durkin, and Michael Evans provide lock down toughness, and all three should match up well with Canadian and Iroquois attackers.
A number of midfielders will see time on both ends. Kyle Harrison could run Dmid in one game, and Omid in the next. Matt Abbott and Dan Burns could also see plenty of time going both ways, and players like Seibald and Rabil will have to pull their weight defensively at times as well. This is an athletic group first and foremost, and that will help with match ups from the get go.
USA Special Teams
In net, Drew Adams and Jesse Schwartzman will represent the USA. Both are top level stoppers, and I’m interested to see if either player gets the nod as the true starter any time soon. If I’m a USA coach, I want a loud goalie who will stay up for long 5 minute defensive stands. Looks like they have two good choices!
The same hold true for the face off spot. With Greg Gurenlian and Chris Eck both on the team, each should still get plenty of work. Two face off guys on the team has to be a direct reaction to Geoff Snider of Canada. Snider is a beast on the international stage especially, and the US keeping two guys reinforces this fact nicely.
When it comes to man up and man down, the FIL game is a little different. It’s rare to see man up or man down units come on the field (limited rosters and play resumes immediately after a penalty) so the players on the field often have to do the work. The US has a solid group of scorers, and good athletes, and should be fine in both situations.
Overall Look – USA Lacrosse
This USA Lacrosse team is rock solid. They have a good stable of athletes in the midfield, and plenty of defenders who can lock down tricky attackmen. Their goalies and face off men are as good as anyone’s, and the attack line should be a potent threat to put in goals. There is no apparent weakness for Team USA, but until we see this team play by the FIL’s rules, it’s hard to say they’re a lock to win anything.
USA Lacrosse is once again the heavy favorite, and rightfully so, but this thing is far from over.