August 30, 2013

10 Storylines to Watch at Team USA Trials This Weekend

by Sean Burns | | Twitter

The faceoff battle will be a key one to watch this weekend, with veterans like Matt Dolente vying to replace Alex Smith.
©Jack Dempsey 

Some of the best players in the world will be sweating it out this weekend trying for a spot on the training roster for Team USA leading up to the 2014 FIL World Championships in Denver next summer.

Tryouts run from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, with a total of five sessions of work over the weekend, after which coach Richie Meade and his staff will come together and select the final 46 to train leading up to January's Champion Challenge event and the final cut-down.

We've broken down the individual positional battles and spoken to Meade about what he's hoping to see this weekend, but what are the biggest stories to watch as the weekend progresses?

See Also: Attack | Defense | SSDM | Faceoff | LSM | 
 |  Goalies | Meade Interview | Stocks Rising/Falling

What will the mood of the tryout be?

Ultimately, the style of the tryout will be determined by the coaches, and with Meade, assistants Kevin Cassese, Dave Pietramala and Jeff Tambroni, I don't expect it to be a light and airy mood for long up at Goucher. Meade's background as the longtime coach at the U.S. Naval Academy prior to his current job at Furman means he's used to players who leave it all on the field. Cassese was a two-time Team USA player himself and Pietramala and Tambroni are known as two of the fiercest coaches in the game.

Will the LXM guys be harmed in the grueling tryout process?

With the coaches in mind and assuming it'll be a dogfight all weekend, one has to wonder how the LXM Pro Tour players will fare this weekend. Billy Bitter, Sam Bradman, Kyle Harrison, Peter Baum, Graham Gill and Benson Erwin are as good of players as anyone else, but their games are infrequent and exhibition in nature. The intensity level will be high and they'll need to find that extra gear to keep up.

Will it be an all-star team, or a functional team?

With the luxury of a tryout roster featuring some of the biggest names ever to play the sport, this staff could go in one of two directions – pick the best 46 players on the field and figure out how to slot them, or build a team with role players for particular situations. The 2010 team helped by Mike Pressler was one of the latter and it succeeded in taking back the gold from Canada. I would expect similar planning by the USA staff this time around, though that may show more at the final roster trim-down than this weekend.

How will the faceoff battle be settled?

Geoff Snider's return to active duty late in the MLL season highlighted a huge issue for this team: Alex Smith isn't going to be back, and Snider looked on form, going 32-for-45 against USA hopefuls Anthony Kelly and Adam Rand on the weekend. Will that be on the coaches' minds as they evaluate? It seems unfair to judge Rand and Kelly harshly on that, seeing as none of the other hopefuls went up against Canada's x-man, but sometimes that's how things break.

Will the walking wounded find a way onto the squad?

Ned Crotty is out this weekend with pneumonia but has not withdrawn from team consideration. Players like 2010 World Championship Most Outstanding Player Paul Rabil and all-world selections Brendan Mundorf and Max Seibald are banged up after the MLL season along with several others. If any of them have a bad weekend, will their previous status as Team USA stalwarts get them through to the next round? Crotty in particular is an interesting question – he was a role player on that 2010 team but did play well in the final against Canada, but he's not going to be on the field at all this weekend.

What will the offensive complexion be?

This, again, may be more of a question for after Champion Challenge, when the final 23-man roster is picked. But the players that make it through this weekend may say a lot about the kind of offense that Meade and his staff want to run. Will they load up with hard-dodging midfielders like Rabil? Will they take two-way guys like Seibald? Will they go heavy on attack? Making a pick like one-man clear-happy goalie Brett Queener would say a lot about the direction the team is going in.

An All-World selection in 2010, Paul Rabil is among those participating this weekend while injured.
©John Strohsacker 

Who will take the leadership roles?

Many of the veteran leaders of past U.S. teams are gone, like 2010 captain Ryan Powell and, with his recent withdrawal, 2006 captain Casey Powell. That leaves the leadership roles largely up for grabs. Rabil's skill level and success at in 2010 could make him a logical choice, but the same could be said for guys like Lee Zink (a 2010 alternate) or Brendan Mundorf. With Meade's leadership style, it could also be a role guy like Chris Schiller – also on the 2010 roster – who leads in the clubhouse.

Will any college stars make the cut?

Seven current NCAA players will be on the field with their professional counterparts this weekend. Tom Schrieber (Princeton), Chris LaPierre (Virginia), Brendan Fowler (Duke), Kevin Massa (Bryant), John LoCascio (Villanova), Joe Fletcher (Loyola) and Austin Kaut (Penn State) all have the talent to contribute – just by making this tryout, they had to be a cut above – but it'll be interesting to see how they look against the older guys who are used to the higher physicality of the professional game, particularly those with NLL experience.

Who will be the quarterback?

Crotty is a natural behind-the-goal type of guy, but he won't be there this weekend and he played more of a midfield/invert role in 2010 anyway. Mundorf is a great playmaker and QB'd the team quite a bit in 2010, though it was a midfield alley-dodge-happy group. Rob Pannell and Steele Stanwick are naturals at this position but are among the new guys on the potential roster, so it'll be very interesting to see who's taking the work behind the goal at the tryouts and beyond.

Who replaces Doc?

Brian Dougherty was the heart and soul of that 2010 team, and he had a huge showing against Canada to capture the gold before retiring. The goalies in this pool each have that potential, but their styles and personalities are all over the map. Queener likes to come out of the cage, but he has also had success as a stopper in the MLL. Jesse Schwartzman had a monster season for Denver but was roughed up in the Outlaws' semifinal loss to Charlotte. Jordan Burke has been among the best in the business, but had the worst year of his pro career this summer. The goalie race is as wide open as it could be, and this weekend should be interesting to see how they shake out.

Check back to all weekend long for coverage of Team USA tryouts. The list of invitees can be found hereRyan BoyleDavid EarlMatt GibsonPeet PoillonCasey Powell and Jordan Wolf have since withdrawn from consideration, and Kevin DrewJoJo Marasco and Jeff Reynolds have been added. Ned Crotty is out with pneumonia.

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