June 10, 2014

Faceoff Man Gurenlian Added Back to Team USA Mix

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

Faceoff man Greg Gurenlian, who is still battling a shoulder injury, has been re-added to the Team USA tryout pool and will play for the U.S. in the MLL All-Star Game June 26. (John Strohsacker)

The Beast is back in the mix.

New York Lizards faceoff man Greg Gurenlian has been added back to the tryout process for the final 23-player Team USA roster that will compete for gold next month at the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship, U.S. head coach Richie Meade confirmed Tuesday.

Gurenlian had withdrawn from the process, citing a shoulder injury, ahead of January's Champion Challenge, where the U.S. held an ESPNU-televised intrasquad scrimmage. The tryout pool was trimmed from 50 to 30 players after the event, and it included only one faceoff specialist, the Boston Cannons' Chris Eck.

But Meade said Tuesday that the coaching staff is now considering taking both Eck and Gurenlian to the world championships July 10-19 in Commerce City, Colo.

Both have dealt with injury issues in the past and the tournament will include likely six or seven games for the U.S. during the course of the event at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where a record 38 nations will compete.

"If it was one faceoff guy, he would have to be an ironman to take all the faceoffs in all the games," Meade said. "We're considering right now possibly taking two faceoff guys.

"We had kept Chris and we had kept the other spot open. It was kind of internal. After January, Chris had done very well and we didn't know about the other spot. Greg was injured at that point in time. We wanted to see how everything went. Tactically, if we take two faceoff guys then Greg's injury wouldn't be as big of a load."

Gurenlian, nicknamed "the Beast," and in his ninth Major League Lacrosse season, is currently leading MLL with a 60.6 faceoff win percentage despite still playing with a torn labrum, winning 97 of 160 faceofs in six games.

Eck is second in the league, with a 55.7 percentage, among those who have taken at least 100 faceoffs so far this season. Gurenlian won 16 of 25 against Eck in the Lizards' 11-10 win over Boston on May 30.

But it likely won't be one or the other in Denver.

"Coach Meade and the staff have given me a second chance to be part of the best 1-2 faceoff combination in history and I said yes," Gurenlian said. "With Chris and I working together and without the entire burden being on either of us from a health perspective, I believe we can do some serious damage and help USA earn a gold medal."

The U.S. will convene for training camp for four days in Greenwich, Conn., before playing a group of MLL all-stars in the MLL All-Star Game June 26. The team will hold another camp at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in July ahead of the world championship.

FIL rules mandate a 23-man roster. Meade said the team will bring 23 and two or three alternates to Colorado Springs.

Gurenlian said he is still battling the shoulder injury, which he played with last season and so far this season, and had been looking forward to taking time off to rest it by not playing in the league's all-star event. He'll now be there at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass., as a member of Team USA.

"I withdrew in January because I felt my shoulder getting worse and honestly didn't see myself making it to July let alone taking all of the faceoffs throughout the tournament," Gurenlian said. "I didn't want to get hurt and leave us without a faceoff man so I made the incredibly difficult decision to pull out."

"My shoulder is bad, I'll be honest," he said. "It is constantly hurting and at certain points in games this season the pain has been severe. Somehow our faceoff unit has been able to still be effective. ... I'll do what I have to and play through any pain I need to knowing if I go down out there, one of the best to ever play the position will have my back."

The U.S. and Canada have combined to win all 11 of the men's world championships contested since 1967, with most recently the U.S. winning in 2010 after Canada took the 2006 gold. The U.S. has won nine times overall and Canada twice, the first coming in 1978. This year is the first time the event will be held on U.S. soil since 1998 at Baltimore's Homewood Field, where Team USA won an epic overtime contest for the gold against the Canadians.

Eck and Gurenlian project to square off against Canada's Geoff Snider, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player in 2006 and battled Alex Smith to a draw in the 2010 title game.

"The faceoff thing is not really relative to the MLL," Meade said. "It's relative to the competition we're going to face, from our perspective, in the world games. We have to try to figure out what gives us the best opportunity to be successful. If that means that we need to maybe take two guys, then we have to consider that."

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