US Lacrosse held its Spring Premiere this past Saturday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida as 44 players competed for 23 roster spots on the Men’s National Team. Coaches divided players into Blue and White squads and scrimmaged under international rules, with Team Blue edging Team White 9-7 in double overtime.
The level of lacrosse on display reflected the fact that some of the best players in the world want the privilege of wearing the red, white and blue this summer. The Blue squad jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first quarter, as Rob Pannell started the scoring off a Jordan Wolf pass. Those that expected the Blue squad to run away with rest of the game found themselves astounded as the White squad reeled off four straight goals in the second to tie the game at halftime. The White squad extended their run into the third quarter and led 6-4 until Ryan Brown scored off a Paul Rabil assist halting White’s momentum. Myles Jones then tied the score early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded goals in the remainder of the fourth quarter and then to the surprise and delight of many, overtime ensued. As the first overtime proved scoreless, a second overtime that shocked many in attendance. There had been enough lacrosse played for the coaches to make a determination, right? Wrong! Playing double overtime provided some intense physical play as members of both squads stood on their heads and turned in spectacular performances. Connor Kelly scored the go-ahead goal for the White squad and Matt Abbott put the icing on cake with an empty-net goal as Blue pulled their goalie to create a turnover.
For many fans of Major League Lacrosse, the pace of the game seemed slow, but international rules lack a shot clock. The Blue squad exploited this as they ground out their possessions and scored their first four goals off assists, while White scored three out their four goals unassisted. The temperatures dropped with the sunset, but the late fourth and double overtime held spectators in their seats. This intensity provided brief spurts of action closely resembling MLL play as every player gave an all-out effort to win a roster spot. Interestingly, the four specialist slots proved as equally tight as the score on the field. Face-offs ended with both squads going 11-22 while the four goalies combined for 15 saves for Blue and White. White outshot Blue 45 to 33 and gathered one more ground ball than Blue. Neither side took advantage of their extra-man opportunities as they combined to go 0-8. Blue committed five penalties for a total of three minutes and this is something that may prove a problem when facing potent man-up teams like Canada and the Iroquois Nationals. Both squads finished perfect on clears, as there is no time limit to advance the ball in international play. The closeness in the final score reflects how close and competitive this tryout was.
Coaches deliberated and US Lacrosse announced the roster with the majority of the Blue squad making the 23-man roster. Marcus Holman was the only member of the White squad to make the team. Debate and discussion always follow these decisions, but the roster is set for now and barring injury, this will be the squad traveling to Israel for the FIL championship. The coaches chose the players they feel give the US the best chance of winning gold. Cases for why this player found himself left off or debates about why that player made the roster began the moment the roster hit social media, but the talent pool this year showed that it is deep and the US could legitimately field two teams. Canada, the defending champion, always proves to be a threat to the US, but do not sleep on the Iroquois and the talent they possess. This roster represents the team competing for the gold and looking to make their mark on lacrosse history. It should prove entertaining to watch these players as they enjoy the privilege of representing their county in the greatest stage playing the greatest sport.