The United States men’s national team began its final stretch of practices on Sunday leading into the World Lacrosse Championships, which kick off on Thursday. Rather than talking about plays or schemes, the coaches began by touching on pride and what it means to represent not only yourself and US Lacrosse, but most importantly, your country.
Pride in one’s country has been abundant with the World Cup and is always prevalent during the Olympics. For the sport of lacrosse, the World Lacrosse Championships serve as the avenue to play for your nation. That’s what these championships are all about. Put aside talent; most teams (especially the United States, Canada and Iroquois) are loaded with talent. The country that walks home champions on July 19 will likely be the team that plays with the most pride.
Pride has been a theme within the United States. Another is versatility. Head coach Richie Meade has admitted that he and his staff look for versatile players. With a roster of only 23 and a demanding game schedule (games almost every day), having players who can play multiple positions is essential.
Versatility is evident in many ways, whether it’s Matt Abbott who is a defensive midfielder, but is more than capable on the offensive end, or Ned Crotty who will run in the midfield for the U.S. but can play attack as well. Garrett Thul is also an asset. After playing attack in college, he’s been running in the midfield for the Florida Launch and will do the same for Team USA.
The United States is loaded with talent. More than looking at the players on the team, look at those who did not make the cut. One of the best examples is 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner Steele Stanwick who will be traveling with the squad as an alternate, but did not make the 23-man roster. It’s hard to argue against any of the attackmen in front of him: Marcus Hollman, Kevin Leveille, Brendan Mundorf and Rob Pannell.
However, talent doesn’t win championships. The team is using this week’s experience as the first real opportunity to gel and build chemistry as a unit. Every mini camp leading to this point has included some sort of evaluation. Even with the most recent camp leading into the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game, the coaches needed to trim the roster from 31 to 23 so it was difficult to fully put systems in place when they didn’t know who the pieces would be. The team got to work on Sunday for its most important stretch of practice.
The Red, White and Blue midfield is led by Paul Rabil of the Boston Cannons. He is joined by Cannons teammate Kevin Buchanan, David Lawson of Rochester, Thul of Florida and Crotty and Max Seibald of the New York Lizards. Kyle Harrison was expected to be primarily a defensive midfielder, but he may see consistent time on the offensive end with the way he’s emerged for the Machine (21 goals and five assists in 10 games).
Abbott and Dan Burns of the Cheseapeake Bayhawks are the primary short-stick defensive midfielders. Burns is a great story, making Team USA after walking on to the University of Maryland.
The defense is stacked with a pair of Johns Hopkins alums (Tucker Durkin and Michael Evans) for Dave Pietramala who is Team USA’s defensive coordinator. Among these long poles will be the long-stick midfielders. Jesse Bernhardt of Chesapeake and the University of Maryland is well known for his success at that position. Rounding out the long poles are Mitch Belisle of Boston, Kyle Hartzell of New York and Lee Zink of Denver. Hartzell is another great story, coming from Division III Salisbury to a spot on the U.S. National Team.
Drew Adams of the Lizards and Jesse Schwartzman of the Outlaws have the tough assignment of replacing legendary goaltender Brian Dougherty between the pipes. With Adams being a lefty and Schwartzman a righty, the two should complement each other and give Meade solid options between the pipes.
Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian are the faceoff specialists. For a long time, Eck was the only faceoff man for the U.S. until Gurenlian rejoined the squad following an injury. With such a grueling schedule, it will help to have two players who are more than capable, keeping each other fresh as the tournament progresses.
The U.S. features a nice blend of veterans who have played in the World Lacrosse Championships before, along with newer, younger talent. Crotty, Mundorf, Harrison, Rabil and Seibald all have experience at the big stage and will look to lead the way and show the younger players the ropes.
The best part about this U.S. team is that it truly is a team. It’s not an All-Star Team of best talent; it’s the best collection of players to come together and win. One example is Burns who made the cut, but Stanwick didn’t. You need a strong role player like a defensive midfielder on any lacrosse team in order to win.
Fans will see a collection of teams play for a World Championship out in Denver, not a collection of best players, and the U.S. hopes that pride and chemistry will lead to the country’s 10th championship (in 12 attempts) come July 19.