August 30, 2013

Everything Counts: Meade Talks USA Tryout Weekend

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Team USA head coach Richie Meade and his assistant coaching staff will evaluate 93 of the game's best players over three days of tryouts at Goucher College in Baltimore. Cuts will be made to 46 afterward.
© Jack Dempsey

As Team USA head coach Richie Meade drove into downtown Baltimore on Thursday morning, he noticed what a lot of other visitors will as well this Labor Day weekend: large barricades, fences, grandstands and other infrastructure for the annual Baltimore Grand Prix. Of course, that's not really what he's interested in.

About 20 minutes north at Goucher College, tryouts for the 2014 U.S. men's national team will be held Friday through Sunday. Meade, also the head coach at first-year NCAA Division I men's program Furman, and U.S. assistants Kevin Cassese (Lehigh), Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins) and Jeff Tambroni (Penn State) will evaluate 95 invitees through a series of scrimmages. (Six players from the original list of 98 withdrew, three were added and one, Ned Crotty, is out with pneumonia but will still be considered for 2014.)

They all seek a spot on the final 23-man roster that will represent the U.S. at the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships July 10-19 in Denver, hosted by US Lacrosse.

After tryouts this weekend, the staff will make cuts down to 46 players, six more than originally announced. The goal is to evaluate two teams worth of players through January's Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacrosse event in Florida. Final cuts will be made after that. caught up with Meade, the former Navy coach (you'll notice at least one military reference in his answers), as he arrived in Baltimore. He talked about what to expect this weekend, what he and the coaching staff are looking for and a little bit about getting off the ground with the new Furman program.

With so much talent at these tryouts, what are you and the coaching staff looking to evaluate?

There's a lot of talent. There are a lot of very good lacrosse players. There are a lot of very good lacrosse players that aren't going to be there. It always comes down to similar things: there's confidence, which is lacrosse ability or lacrosse assets. If you want to break it down and make it very simple from an offensive or defensive standpoint, it's being able to play on the ball, being able to play off the ball and the intangibles, the decision-making. Those are the common things.

The goal is basically stopping the ball and throwing it to our team. The faceoffs are the faceoffs. We've got to try to gauge not only about the guys who are there, but the opponents that we're going to face. And then there are the intangibles. Confidence is one side of it, and what I would call character is another. Intangibles are things like leadership, selflessness, commitment, courage, all those types of things that you can't reach out and touch and put a number on. At the end of the day, given talent is similar, you win with character and intangibles.

If it were black and white, who runs fastest, it would be track. That's not the way it is.

What is the coaching staff's mindset going into the weekend?

We have a coaching staff, and the coaching staff has a personality. We've spent a lot of time over the past year talking every week about what we're looking for and how we need to play this game, and the types of things that need to happen for us to be a success as a team.

We don't want the coaching to overshadow or inhibit the talent, but the talent has got to be able to play for the coaches and vice versa. That mix has to work well. That balance of, we want to empower the guys on the team to play the game the way we need it be played to be successful, not the way we want it be played.

What's going to be the format of this weekend? International rules, correct?

Yes. Mostly scrimmaging. We went round and round and round, but you can overthink this. That's probably the worst thing you can do. We don't come into this blind. We've done a lot of research, we've discussed a lot of the players extensively, and we've seen a lot of the players on the field. Everybody comes in with a track record. It's a little bit different than trying out for a Little League team. Guys have a record, in confidence and character. But you don't hold any of that positively or negatively. This tryout is a chance to validate or overcome some of those things. When you go to field school, your reputation starts the minute your boots hit the sand. Their reputation is going to start when they hit the field.

Everything counts. What happens on the field, what happens in the hotel, what happens coming to and from the hotel. Everything counts. Everything falls under performance. We want to evaluate performance.

With many guys from the 2010 team retired, there will be a lot of new starters at a couple positions, like attack, faceoff and goaltending. What are you looking for out of candidates for spots like those?

You're looking for a mesh, guys that can play well with other guys. You may think that you're looking for a certain thing, but what you have to do is look at the best players that you have and how you're going to put them together to play the game you want to play. It would be foolish to come in and say, 'We're looking for this or that.' On the offensive side of the ball, somebody's gotta run by somebody and after they do that, they have to be able to throw it to the right guy. Be efficient with the ball. That's something we've talked about a lot on the offensive end, in transition and on the defensive end of the field.

"Everything counts. What happens on the field, what happens in the hotel, what happens coming to and from the hotel."

— Team USA head coach Richie Meade

We're not talking about a game with a shot clock or necessarily with an advanced pace. One of the things we learned in Denver [an 11-9 loss to Canada at the 'Duel in Denver'] is that ball possession is pretty important. Guys that make good decisions, those guys are important. If you're a guy who can run by everyone that's great, but if you throw the ball away, that's not great. If you're a guy that can run by people and play off the ball, that becomes another asset and another skill set that works in your favor.

What we're looking for offensively are guys that are well-rounded, that can do different things. We're not talking about a million players here, either. A guy that can run in in the midfield and also play attack, a midfielder that can also play off the ball and play a little bit of defense, or a guy that can also face off, that becomes another skill set that goes into you're assets. That's all stuff that's going to help you.

Defensively, this is my opinion and what I've shared with the staff is, most of these guys are from the MLL, for the most part, and they're the best players right now. That game is different from the game that they're going to play. In the MLL, none of these guys have had to defend for three-minute possessions. That may happen. As much as you think this is going to be a transition game, it could be a possession half-field game. In most championships, in most situations where you're playing for something, defense is going to have a lot to do with winning. Defensive involves a lot of stuff, containing the ball, playing off the ball, making the other team attack from places you want it to attack from and taking away things you want to take away. Guys have to be able to do that.

Defense also involves having the ball on offense. It's hard to have the ball on offense if you're willing to take a lot of chances. But it's hard to win without taking chances. What does it come down to? It comes down to efficiency and decision-making with the ball.

How are things going at Furman? The team arrived this week?

All the kids are in. We had a team meeting yesterday. It was fun for me; it's been a couple years since I've gotten in front of a team. We're starting a program. It's exciting. I'm really pleased with the kids that have come in and their attitude, and really pleased with our coaching staff. I'm good at getting guys that are better coaches than me. That will be a source of strength for us. There's a lot of challenges ahead, but that's OK.

Check back to all weekend long for coverage of Team USA tryouts. The list of invitees can be found here. Ryan Boyle, David Earl, Matt Gibson, Peet Poillon, Casey Powell and Jordan Wolf have since withdrawn from consideration, and Kevin Drew, JoJo Marasco and Jeff Reynolds have been added. Ned Crotty is out with pneumonia.

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