August 28, 2013

Spectrum of Skills Highlight Team USA Defense Candidates

by Sean Burns | | Twitter

Gallery: Team USA Tryout Invitees - Defense

Some of the best shut-down close d-men in the world are vying for roster spots with Team USA next month.

After the announcement of the Team USA Tryout Invitees (Analysis) earlier this month, took an in-depth look at each position and the players vying for spots on the 2014 edition of Team USA. We will be running updated versions of each leading into this weekend's tryout at Goucher college.

See Also: Attack | Defense | SSDM | Face-Off | LSM | Midfield | Goalies

As a one-time defenseman, you don't have to sell me on how important the close defenders are to the overall chances of any team going places. Luckily for Team USA, there's a large group of great candidates to choose from this season, ranging from seasoned veterans with professional and world championship accolades to college stars, and everything in between.

The Returning Champion

  • Kyle Sweeney - Ohio Machine/Philadelphia Wings (Georgetown University)

As mentioned in the goalie breakdown, the enduring image of the 2010 games for me was the post-title moment where Kyle Sweeney gave goalie Brian Dougherty a kiss on the side of the head while wrapping him in the American flag.

Four years later, Sweeney – who was named to the All-World Team in 2010 – is the only returner from that roster to make it to this point. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank, judging from his All-Star appearance this season for the Boston Cannons and his continued employment in both the MLL and NLL, so that mix of leadership potential and skill could make him a strong candidate for the roster.

The Redemption-Seeker

  • Nicky Polanco - Chesapeake Bayhawks (Hofstra University)

One of the most decorated defensemen in Major League Lacrosse history, Polanco didn't play with the gold medal-winning Team USA squad in 2010, but he was on the roster when the Canadians took their only world championship in history back in 2006. Much like Casey Powell on the offensive side, Polanco is looking for one last shot at gold before he has to hang 'em up.

Since graduating from Hofstra in 2002, Polanco has been one of the stalwarts of the MLL, earning two defensive Player of the Year awards and consistently bringing a fearsome presence to the back end of the field. He once again played on a championship team in 2013 with the Chesapeake Bayhawks (his third title), but he ended a long All-Star appearance streak, so we'll have to see if he's still got what the coaching staff needs out of its defensemen.

The NLL Guys

  • Mitch Belisle - Boston Cannons/Minnesota Swarm (Cornell University)
  • Mike Manley - Rochester Rattlers/Philadelphia Wings (Duke University)
  • Chad Wiedmaier - Ohio Machine/Philadelphia Wings (Princeton University)

If we're honest, this team is going to be built mostly to take on Canada, which has faced the USA in each of the last four FIL finals and took gold in 2006 before Team USA wrenched the crown back in Manchester three years ago. So who better to bring on board than guys who see the Canadians every game in the NLL?

Belisle has been a key contributor in both leagues since his graduation from Cornell, playing 91 indoor games, averaging over 10 loose balls a contest and notching 37 points, including a career-best 10 assists this past season with the Minnesota Swarm. He can also play on the grass, having notched All-MLL honors in 2011. Manley is newer, having just made his first all-star team in 2013 with Rochester in the MLL, but plays an old school shutdown style and won an NCAA title with Duke in 2010. Wiedmaier gets a double-bonus on the Canadian interaction, playing with the Hamilton Nationals after four first-team All-Ivy selections at Princeton.

The 'John Grant Jr. Sweepstakes Winner'

  • Lee Zink – Denver Outlaws (University of Maryland)

Speaking of the team being built to take on Canada, somebody's going to have to take on John Grant, Jr. – the ageless wonder who has played in seven FIL world championships for Canada but still has enough in the tank to do things like capture the MVP award in the MLL finals. (He is also a two-time All-World attackman and was the best attack winner at the 2010 games). Enter Zink, who has become something of a Grant adversary over his long career in Denver. And was an alternate to the 2010 team. The two-time Defender of the Year in the MLL, Zink has been one of the best in the business ever since his time back at the University of Maryland, where he won the Schmeisser Award as the nations top defenseman in 2004.

The Archetype Close-D Guys

  • Tucker Durkin - Hamilton Nationals (Johns Hopkins University)
  • Michael Evans - Chesapeake Bayhawks (Johns Hopkins University)
  • John Lade - Rochester Rattlers (Syracuse University)
  • Matt Lovejoy - Hamilton Nationals (University of Virginia)

Michael Evans has been one of the best poles in the game ever since he earned significant playing time at LSM while a freshman at Hopkins even though his catching and throwing left quite a bit to be desired at the time for a position that has evolved into being about starting transition more often than not. Evans has made the All-MLL team all four years he has played in the league, and has been one of the most consistent on-ball defenders in the league since he joined after capturing the Schmeisser in 2009. Another Schmeisser winner, Lade brings a tenacity that belies his smaller frame (5-10, 195) and won gold with Team USA in the 2008 U19 games in Coquitlam, B.C.. Durkin is the youngest of the three, but made a big splash in his rookie year with the Nationals, earning All-MLL honors as a rookie after winning the Schmeisser in both 2012 and 2013 at Johns Hopkins. While Lovejoy lacks the pedigree that the other three have, he has shown a tendency to shut down some of the top attackmen in the game, like games in 2010 where he handcuffed Grant Catalino of Maryland and Jordan McBride of Stony Brook in key games for Virginia.

The Converts

  • Barney Ehrmann - Chesapeake Bayhawks (Georgetown University)
  • Brett Schmidt - Charlotte Hounds (University of Maryland)

One of the best longstick midfielders in the game while a player at Georgetown, Ehrmann comes from that Georgetown pipeline of two-way talent that produced All-World stars Kyle Sweeney ('03) and Brodie Merrill ('05). With a very big body (6-foot-5, 230) and speed, Ehrmann certainly has the physicality to make it as a close defender. Schmidt also wavers between the positions, having played both at Maryland doing the same for the Hounds, where he was an All-Star this season and helped them reach the MLL finals against Chesapeake.

The Global Citizens

  • Brendan Buckley - Boston Cannons (United States Military Academy)
  • Ryan Flanagan - Charlotte Hounds (University of North Carolina)

You have to take into consideration the coaching staff when breaking this stuff down, and coach Meade is definitely fond of 'character' guys, embracing that aspect of his teams at the U.S. Naval Academy. Buckley is both a skilled player and came out of that same service academy background at Army, winning both the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award and the Loews Senior CLASS Award winner this spring. Flanagan is a two-time MLL All-Star and has been deeply involved with the Fields of Growth program as well as founding Team 24/7, which helps grow the game through camps and tournaments.

The Token College Guy

  • Joe Fletcher - Loyola University

The ECAC's defensive player of the year in 2013, Fletcher is the only current college player to get an invite on the defensive side of the ball. A long and lanky 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Fletcher was Loyola University's first first-team All-American since Gavin Prout in 2001 this spring.

The Persevere-ist

  • Michael Simon - Chesapeake Bayhawks (Stevenson University)

A true story of perseverance, Simon graduated from Stevenson in 2009 after a solid career but spent three years on the Bayhawks practice squad before making it into the regular rotation. Simon saw substantial time in 2013 (9 games) for Chesapeake, but sat out the MLL final after suffering a back injury in the MLL semifinals. Hopefully he will be back at 100 percent by this weekend to take his shot.

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