January 26, 2014

Blue-White Analysis: 12 Who Impressed, Lingering Question Marks

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

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Former Syracuse star Matt Abbott continued to show off a versatile and valuable skill set as short-stick defensive middie on Sunday in White's 12-5 win over Blue on Sunday at Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacorsse event. (Scott McCall)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Almost immediately after the post-game handshake line flamed out, the 50 players left in the running for the 2014 U.S. men's national team picked up their equipment bags, and walked across the field toward an adjacent meeting space at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Underneath an open-air tent, Team USA head coach Richie Meade addressed them all, sitting in a semi-circle around him, while family, friends and fans waited nearby.

"You guys aren't privy to the conversations," Meade told the players about talk among the U.S. coaching staff. "It's a matter of trying to figure out subjectively, 'Who is it?', because everybody is good. That's just the way it is. I hope you guys appreciate being here, because we certainly do being with you guys."

Sunday's Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage at Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacrosse event, marked the final time this particular group of U.S. players would be together. The tryout pool will be trimmed to 30, with those names announced Feb. 5. From there, the final 23-man roster will be named ahead of July's Federation of International (FIL) Lacrosse World Championship in Denver, after the U.S. plays a group of MLL All-Stars on June 26.

The scrimmage, won 12-5 by the team dubbed White, didn't change much in the eyes of the coaching staff, Meade said afterward, but instead validated evaluations that had been made heading into the weekend. He said during the ESPN broadcast of the game that four or five players were on the bubble to survive cuts.

"We had a list coming in," Meade said after the game. "I don't know that much is going to change. The staff will get on the phone together and we'll go over what we've gone over and see if we'll make any changes and move forward."

But, as has been the case with previous stops in the evaluation — a 90-plus-player tryout in the summer, scrimmages at the Play for Parkinsons this fall and a weekend of practices outside Philadelphia — there are some takeaways. Here's some post-game thoughts:

12 Who Impressed (or Continued to Impress)

There were certainly more than 12, but you have to stop somewhere. Rob Pannell, for example, quarterbacked the winning offense much of the day, but he would be an obvious choice. All of the below should survive cuts down to 30.

Matt Abbott, SSDM White
Not only is he versatile, but Abbott seems to be good at all the things he can do, too. From playing the wings on faceoffs, to playing short-stick defense on the world's best and even a little bit of offense, the "Human Clear" can do it all. He scored a goal Sunday, and understands needed tweaks to his game in international play compared to the MLL with the Chesapeake Bayhawks.

"Possession is key here, with the lack of a shot clock or counts anywhere on the field," Abbott said. "My role so far, and hopefully in Denver should I make the team, is on the defensive end. You still want to spark that transition, but in the MLL if you have a turnover, you know you're getting it back a minute later. Here, you turn it over you may not see the ball for four or five minutes at a time."

Ned Crotty, A/M Blue
The former Tewaaraton Award winner from Duke displayed versatility, scoring one goal from a traditional attack spot and another from a midfield location. He also has international experience, having been part of the U.S.'s gold-medal winning team in 2010 in Manchester, England.

Michael Evans, D White
Evans anchored a lockdown unit that allowed only five goals, despite having the several of the tryout pool's more established defenders such as Lee Zink and Mitch Belisle, as well as up-and-comer Tucker Durkin, playing on the Blue team. Evans and company forced the opposition to their weak hands consistently all game.

Brian Farrell, LSM White
Farrell yet again sparked transition in a Team USA evaluation setting, connecting with Abbott for the game's second goal. He also played well on the defensive end, helping a unit that also included perennial MLL All-Pro Michael Evans and Joe Fletcher, the lone collegian in the game, and Charlotte Hounds defenseman Brett Schmidt.

John Galloway, G White
All four goalies played at a very high level, but Galloway may have raised his stock the most with a brilliant performance. Galloway allowed just one goal and made about 10 saves, unofficially.

"Drew [Adams] was great in the first half, and it's always nerve-wracking to go in after a performance like that," Galloway said. "I thought defensively we did a tremendous job sticking to [defensive] coach [Pietramala's] plan and gave me shots I could see early."

Marcus Holman, A White
The Holman, Pannell, Stanwick line, if nothing else, promises a bright future for Team USA. Holman brings an instant energy when he's on the field, which should not be overlooked. He was one of three players to score two goals, the others being Crotty and Garrett Thul.

Matt Mackrides, M Blue
Mackrides had a wrist injury that kept him out of the fall's Play for Parkinsons event, where the U.S. played each other, Loyola and Towson. He started for on the Blue first midfield with Max Seibald and Kevin Buchanan. Between them, two of the three on the line had been coached by USA offensive coordinator Jeff Tambroni; Mackrides for one year at Penn State and Seibald of course at Cornell. Mackrides scored Blue's first goal of the game, brought good energy and played a bit of defensive midfield, too.

JoJo Marasco, M White
Marasco stung an early outside laser past Jesse Schwartzman while playing on a starting midfield line with U.S. elder statesman Matt Striebel, and star Paul Rabil. The coaching staff continues to trust Marasco and the former caretaker of Syracuse's iconic No. 22 continues to deliver.

Paul Rabil, M White
In his first extended playing time since undergoing abdominal and adductor muscle surgery in the fall, Rabil appeared healthy Sunday and throughout practices on Friday and Saturday. He ran on his team's first midfield line with three-time Team USA member Striebel and Marasco. Rabil scored a goal Sunday and even found himself playing some defensive midfield at times.

"You don't want to disrupt all the chemistry that's built thus far but you certainly want to make an impact," said Rabil, who has largely been an observer through tryouts thus far. "I think the guys were great in helping by moving around and finding good spots. My game can sometimes be chaotic, going right and left, but it worked out."

Steele Stanwick, A White
The 2012 Tewaaraton Award winner has flown under-the-radar somewhat during the tryout process but was part of a dynamic offense when he was in the game Sunday. He ran with fellow Tewaaraton Award winner Pannell, with either Marcus Holman or Kevin Leveille as the third attackman. The combos combined for three straight goals in the third quarter, with Holman, Stanwick and Leveille each getting one apiece. Stanwick, finished with a goal and two assists, including a beautiful helper on Leveille's highlight-reel goal with multiple defenders draped on him on the crease.

Garrett Thul, A White
The mammoth attackman continues to impress, earning game most outstanding player honors with two second-half goals on outside shots. Since summer tryouts, Thul has done nothing but show he can be a matchup nightmare on attack. Even Team USA's best defenders have had trouble guarding the big lefty from Army. He played well off of Pannell and thrives in his role. "Our skill sets complement each other," Thul said. "It makes spreading the ball around that much easier."

Drew Westervelt was one of many who had impressive showings Sunday in Team USA's Blue-White intrasquad game at Champion Challege. (Scott McCall) 

Drew Westervelt, A Blue
Perhaps a righty version of Thul, Westervelt was strong as well, notching one goal and one assist. Opposing goalie John Galloway said Westervelt was a threat every time he turned the corner and can slip one past you with his indoor finishing skills. When he was on attack with Eric Law and either Ned Crotty or Matt Danowski, the offense was running through the big man Westervelt. He drew a penalty going hard against Brett Schmidt.

Faceoff Questions...

The U.S. staff of Meade, Tambroni, defensive coordinator Dave Pietramala and Kevin Cassese have some decisions to make, particularly around faceoffs and goaltending — for different reasons.

New York Lizards faceoff man Greg Gurenlian withdrew from final Team USA consideration this week, leaving three — veterans Chris Eck and Anthony Kelly, and second-year MLL pro Mike Poppleton — in the running to be the primary faceoff man. Eck and Kelly were originally slated to be on the same side, but Sunday morning Kelly was told he'd be switching from White to Blue, meaning he'd split time with Poppleton facing Eck. No one really distinguished themselves Sunday as there weren't a ton of faceoffs given the low score, although Kelly was the best going 7-for-9, unofficially, to Eck's 7-for-13 and Poppleton's 2-for-7. The final faceoff selections may have as much to do with who the staff thinks can stay healthy and pose a matchup problem for Canada's Geoff Snider more than anything.

"Faceoffs are a concern," Meade said. "We have to continue to evaluate the faceoff situation."

Kelly, 33, for one, desperately wants to make the final roster.

"Everybody is just a little nervous here," Kelly said. "This is something I want so much. Being 33, I'm the third oldest guy here. The two guys older than me have both played on national teams before. Hopefully, they see what I believe in myself."

Goalie Power

The circumstances surrounding the goalie battle are just as uncertain, but because of their strength in numbers. In addition to Galloway, starters Drew Adams and Jesse Schwartzman, and Kip Turner, didn't play with any noticeable flaws.

"The goalies, it's like pick one of them," Meade said. "They're all great. All four of them are really, really good. They're stopping the ball, leading the defense all those types of things. You can look at the one thing that has been very, very consistent is the goalies have been very, very good. We feel like we have maybe four of the best goalies in the world on one team. That's going to be a strong position for us. It's going to be difficult to get down to the two we're eventually going to keep."

Final Thought...

It's important to keep in mind in all of this that the team will not be decided solely on performances from Sunday, or even necessarily on individual efforts during any other evaluation event. Meade mentioned again Sunday after the game that "body of work" will be taken into consideration. Team USA's biggest competition this summer is Canada, and any team is going to built in the mold that the U.S. staff thinks can best beat the north-of-the-border foes, and play the type of efficient game the U.S. staff wants to play.

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