August 30, 2013

USA Hopefuls Open With Best Pickup Game Ever

by Sean Burns | | Twitter

Kevin Leveille was among the players who had a solid first evening at Goucher. 
©John Strohsacker 

BALTIMORE – For the first night of Team USA trials, coach Richie Meade and his primary staff set up chairs along the sideline of the field at Goucher College, split the hopefuls into four groups, rolled a ball out and watched.

That they could have been sitting there with popcorn may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the atmosphere of the evening was definitely loose and unstructured, even if Meade and company were keeping a close eye on the action on the field.

It was, as we discussed between the halves (and subsequently tweeted), essentially the highest level pick-up game that the game could ever produce.

"There's a million ways you can [evaluate]," Meade said. "You can do drills and try to see certain things, but at the end of the day, we thought that the best way to do it was to give [the players] some guidance and see what they could do."

And when you leave things wide open for some of the best players in the world to show you what they can do, you're going to see some fireworks.

"I told my wife on the phone [before the session], I'm probably going to see some things that I"ve never seen before," said Meade, who has coached at the Division I level since the late 1970s.

Highlights of the offensive prowess of the players invited are easy to point to – Rob Pannell finished with three goals and three assists in the first scrimmage, including playing a role in his team's first four scores. Matt Danowski scored four goals and an assist. Kevin Leveille had four goals, while Garrett Thul and Jack Rice had three apiece.

What doesn't show up in a "box score" is what drove much of the action on the evening, though. Things like all-world player Max Seibald sprinting full-bore into the corner on a pass that sailed 10 feet over his head, diving to try to keep it in bounds. In a tryout situation, you might see players try to make up for a mistake that they make with a huge effort play. Not as often will you see that kind of push just to save a sideline ball that wasn't even that player's fault.

It's also difficult to quantify what the defenders were doing – partially because defense is so much about developing a working relationship with the guys around you. It's easy to say that Kip Turner allowed two goals in his half of work in the second scrimmage, but harder to talk about the work that guys like Kyle Sweeney were doing in front of him.

The biggest question marks on the roster selection process – goalkeeper and faceoff – will be decided on much more than just one evening's work, but Turner and Drew Adams (four saves) both looked good, while Anthony Kelly had a 9-for-11 night at the X to take the spotlight on that front.

More than anything, though, the opening session was just the beginning of the final phase of the assessment process that Meade and his staff have been weaving throughout the process of selecting the folks who were invited to this weekend.

"We're not at the point where we're looking to coach these guys," he said. "We're at the end of an evaluation stage, so we just want to be able to sit back and evaluate and see how guys react."

Injuries Continue to Take Toll

A pair of the injured players going into the weekend – Brendan Munodorf and Paul Rabil – spent much of their evening with bags of ice on their persons. Rabil, who will undergo surgery after this weekend for a sports hernia, played in the first session and played well before icing himself down for most of the second session from the sideline. Mundorf, however, tweaked his knee before his second session debut and was scratched. He watched from the sidelines as well. Nobody seemed exceptionally banged up during the course of the action, though Billy Bitter took a very hard check to the arm, and it looked like he might have been feeling it for a bit – to the point where a teammate asked if he wanted to come off while the ball was on the other end. Bitter, however, shrugged the request off and continued on.

Weekend a Learning Process

Standing on the sidelines, it seemed like the games were also serving as a clinic on the international game for some of the folks on the field. Overheard was a referee warning more than one player about how hard they were checking, indicating that the international rules are much more about being under control than NCAA.

Managing Expectations

With the level of action on the field despite it being such an informal type of game, it was easy to get excited about the talent that Coach Meade and his staff have to work with. But in the post-game interview, he was quick to shrug off my suggestion that the talent of the USA prospects would mean that you could take just about anybody from this list and beat most team's in the world...

"There's a lot of great players here but I don't agree," Meade said. "We've got to pick the right guys and find that balance between coaching and playing. The worst thing you can do with great talent is over-coach it. And the worst thing you can do with great talent is under-coach it.

"You've got to identify that talent and come up with a system and a way to play that gives us the best chance to win."

Who They're Reppin'

There was an interesting mix of lids on the field for the session. Most of the players were rocking either their MLL team helmets (or college helmets for the current NCAA guys). But a few of the pros wore their college helments. Among them: Kyle Sweeney (Georgetown), JoJo Marasco (Syracuse), Billy Bitter (North Carolina), Brian Farrell (Maryland) and Chris Bocklet (Virginia).

Odds and Ends

Brett Queener didn't tone down his clearing style. He didn't burn up to the box and try to score, but he showed no hesitation to leave the cage and take the ball up on the clear and did so a couple of times in his half of work... Kyle Sweeney scored – not that shocking for a guy who is one of the better long poles in the MLL and who also plays in the NLL. But what's unusual is that he scored by taking a pass behind the net and curling around the crease to fire one high, not unlike a couple of the goals Pannell had... Meade seemed to definitely have Geoff Snider's recent resurgence in mind when talking after the scrimmages. "If you're a faceoff guy, we have to see how you do here, but we also have to project how you'll do against guys that we have to face," he said... Kevin Buchanan had two highlights of the night. Late in his game he split a double-team to score a nice individual-effort goal. Earlier, he made a great change-of-direction move -- my dad would have referred to it as "stopping on a dime and leaving nine cents change" -- to free his hands, then ripped a hard pass across the crease to Drew Westervelt for the finish.

Check back to for more coverage from Team USA tryouts, including video interviews, photo galleries and updates on sessions throughout hte weekend.

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