The Deal With the US Box Lacrosse Team

Team USA will have a team at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2015 at Buffalo. For the past four years we have been left to wonder how the team would be run. US indoor lacrosse has been going down hill for decades with less and less Americans transferring to the box game and playing in the NLL.

Of course, this means that the quality of the team has suffered, and things still look rather bleak. Israel is an up and coming team looking to medal and the Czech Republic has some pro quality players, including in net. Last year only 26 American lacrosse players were on NLL rosters, and just one goalie who never got into a game. How can they expect to continue to compete with this?

The truth is, they can’t.

There are no options for American indoor lacrosse players and we have hit a dead end. The NLL is not a viable option especially with the shortened rosters and Philadelphia, the one American lacrosse player haven, now no longer in existence. Players based in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other lacrosse hotbeds don’t have many options.

Some travel to Canada and play Sr B, but that’s still not the highest quality. Rochester, one of the American teams in the CanAm, is now gone. Americans playing there often will sit behind Canadians as well, making it impossible to improve.

Any option of American indoor lacrosse popping up as it once did is almost hopeless. The United States Lacrosse League is waiting in the wings but it is probably too late even for that to save American indoor lacrosse. If the North American Lacrosse League were around today, there is almost no doubt that most of the players who will make the roster will be improved and more viable options. Now most of them haven’t played pro lacrosse in over a year.

This isn’t to say there are no good players. There are plenty and most of them will never get the chance to prove that because raw ability gets no better from not playing.

Players like Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty and others who elected not to play in the NLL shouldn’t get a chance to be on this team. Of course, since US Lacrosse is running it, they likely feel differently and commend their players for choosing the US field team first. However, the lack of commitment to box lacrosse is concerning and players working hard to desperetley find a league deserve the roster sports.

There are three options how this team turns out and it’s hard to predict. Since we don’t know who is running the team from the executive box we don’t understand their approach. It will either be all field lacrosse players and names (like Rabil), American indoor players looking for a chance to break out (the best option for improvement) or they will import foreign players.

The idea of foreign players, as rumors have been said, is the worst idea possible for a nation that is supposed to be a lacrosse powerhouse. As soon as they bring in a Canadian to man the pipes is as soon as American indoor lacrosse dies for good.

It might be too late already, at least for this generation of players. We like to fault those in suits who fought over the leagues, but maybe its time to point the finger in another direction.

Why hasn’t US Lacrosse stepped in?

The reputation of US Lacrosse is that it hates box lacrosse. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it certainly isn’t treated like field lacrosse is. The indoor team is an afterthought, they have often sold it off to a bidder, and they’ve done nothing to develop players. There are plenty of sanctioned field leagues from youth through high school. Where is this for box lacrosse?

Why are the Canadians so good? They start playing at a young age and the Canadian Lacrosse Association mandates it. If US Lacrosse had any system in place then maybe by now, players would be ready for the big stage.

Here is the travesty of this all: If US Lacrosse figured it out today, at this very moment, it’s far too late for an entire generation of lacrosse players. This leaves the question of what they should do in 2015. Bite the bullet and go in with your best American talent and watch it develop? Or try to win now with foreign players?

In my opinion, it’s not an option to win now. These players have worked hard their entire lives and as the best players available should represent their country.

Coaching will determine the direction, and sources have told me Tony Resch and Adam Mueller will be coaching the team. This leaves me confident that we will see true, American indoor lacrosse players, which at least is doing the right thing for those who actually care about the sport and where it is at.

At this time, for 2015 and beyond, it is time for us to step up and fix this battered program. I expect a contending and competing team in 2019. How can this happen? It’s unfair to even say this without presenting a true solution but we need someone in the sport to step up and create a league for the players to play in now. It’s not fair to expect everyone, who have true jobs, to go and play in Canada every year. There needs to be local teams against real, pro quality players. The amateur leagues are nice but it’s not pro lacrosse.

This is where US Lacrosse can step up as well and build programs for the future, for the years 2023 and 2027. They also can contribute by creating box lacrosse events and opportunities including scrimmages for their club, like the upcoming Bowhunter Cup and against teams in the Sr B leagues.

Next, the NLL can step up. The league is mostly Canadian and at this point it’s hard to blame the teams. They want to win, as pro sports teams, and have the best players. They use CLax as a feeder league for Canadian talent onto their practice roster. Where is the chance to bring in Americans? Is it the fault of the American indoor lacrosse industry already by failing with our leagues while Canada hasn’t? Does the NLL have it in their power to develop players, or is that beyond their responsibility?

What can Major League Lacrosse do? When I spoke to the commissioner David Gross this week I asked that question, and he said the league is in a position to worry about themselves. This is true and MLL is an amazing product and organization. If a league were to come around, running and funding itself, I have no doubt MLL would support it if it worked around the MLL schedule and allowed the field players to improve in box.

Finally, what can we, as American box lacrosse fans, media, and players do, if anything? For starters, us in the media need to be better, and I point that finger at myself as well. Where is the coverage? Sure, we cover the leagues and their disasters and revisit the closed wounds and blame everyone around us. But what can we do to provide that these players get the coverage and exposure to be noticed at get better?

Where is the coverage for the youth leagues, or the Vermont junior lacrosse team that plays Canadian, and the NLL jr teams in Minnesota, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Colorado? It’s getting better and is a start, but it’s time to look towards the future and present ideas instead of problems.

As fans, we can support our players by presenting our desire for a league and then going out to games and supporting it. We can attend events like the Bowhunter Cup and support the cause.

As players? There’s not much more they can do. They’ve played to their level, played in what should have been a successful pro league, traveled literally all over the world to play and represent themselves. Still, there is no support on any executive level to create a place to play and succeed.

Team USA might still medal this year, but it will be difficult. There are some great players that should or could be in the NLL today if they had bigger rosters, a true feeder league system, or if the NALL succeeded. A lot of the players picked might be for political reasons and I expect and fear this possibility. Some obvious players should make this team who are true box players but won’t. This is why we need to get better and grow the game for real. Not just talking about growing the game but actually do that.

We can’t sugar coat it. US indoor lacrosse is not in a great place and it’s been deteriorating for a decade. There are a lot at fault but also a lot that are trying. The questions now should be how can we get better, how can we be fair to those who deserve it, and how can we improve the program? Is it too late for the next two WILCs, and if that’s the case, how should we handle this?