June 27, 2014

Evaluating Team USA's Performance on the Eve of Selection

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | WorldLacrosse2014

Related: Recap - Team USA 10, MLL Stars 9 | Photo Gallery | Video Highlights

2010 Best and Fairest Player (MVP) at the World Games, Paul Rabil was running with Garrett Thul and Ned Crotty to start - a unique midfield set up, considering both Crotty and Thul are generally attackmen. (Bill Danielewski)

BOSTON — The MLL All-Star Game was the first in-game look the lacrosse world got of the United States National Team since the Champion Challenge at the end of January.

Team USA won the game 10-9 on a goal by Rob Pannell with just over six seconds remaining. The main objective, however, was to get the players used to playing with each other ahead of the 2014 FIL World Championship, opening July 10.

"I thought we played very well in the first half and probably didn't get our just reward because their goalie [Jordan Burke] played very, very well," Team USA head coach Richie Meade said. "I thought we played a sloppy third quarter. We failed to clear the ball three times, had a couple of turnovers. They had the ball a little bit more. I thought we played pretty well in the fourth quarter. Obviously we faced off well, which was important. We played good defense at times. Offensively when we had the ball and did the right things, we did well."

In front of the goal seemed to be the area of focus for the U.S. at both ends of the field.

Offensively, specifically in the first half, the offense relied on carrying the ball down the alley, getting it behind the cage, then feeding a cutter down the middle or the man on the crease. For the first two goals Team USA scored, Garrett Thul and Pannell found Kevin Leveille — who seemed to catch everything — on the crease and he finished.

The midfield combinations in the first half saw Kyle Harrison, Kevin Buchanan, and Matt Mackrides together; Paul Rabil, Garrett Thul, and Ned Crotty; and JoJo Marasco, David Lawson, and Drew Snider.

In the second half, Marasco joined Harrison and Buchanan while Lawson joined Rabil and Crotty. Crotty joined Leveille and Steele Stanwick on attack in the fourth quarter.

While the team took a 5-4 lead into halftime, the offense sputtered terribly in the second half. The team went scoreless in the third quarter. Their spacing was poor, playing almost on top of each other, and the team had a couple 60-second shot clock violations.

"It's all about sharing the ball. We're all used to playing with the 60 second shot clock where you have to make something happen in 60 seconds. The international game there is no shot clock. It's about finding the right matchups and getting in the offense the coach wants us to get in," Harrison said. "Coach [Jeff] Tambroni did a great job making it clear to us that if we weren't in an offense where we didn't get exactly what we wanted and we ran out of shot clock, he was ok with that."

Pannell had one goal and two assists and was named Coca-Cola All-Star MVP. He played most of the game at attack at the X position and the offense seemed to move through him, but his lone goal came from the top of the field.

While Pannell and Crotty, teammates on the Lizards, were on the field at the same time, they were not playing attack together.

He felt the team's transition game could have been better.

"Six-on-six we did a good job but we turned the ball over in the clear," he said. "We need to ride harder and clean it up there to give us extra possessions and certainly not lose any, which is what we did today and gave the MLL Team some extra opportunities to score."

Defensively, the team seemed to pack in the middle while leaving some space on the outside for Team MLL to shoot and dodge.

"My opinion, we're not going to play a better team than [Team MLL]. Tonight was the best collection of talent you'll see on Earth ever."

-Team USA face-off specialist Greg Guerenlian

Tucker Durkin seemed to have the toughest night as he struggled in his matchup with Matt Danowski. Danowski often drifted wide to the wing and cut back, burning Durkin back to the goal on a couple occasions. Danowski had two goals and one assist.

"We had two practices before this. The biggest thing was getting used to playing with each other," said defender Jesse Bernhardt. "It was nothing crazy. Just trying to get on the same page as the team works into July so once we get there the team is meshing well."

Where the United States looked strongest was on the face-off. The combination of Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian won 16 of 23 faceoffs. Eck took 17 faceoffs while Gurenlian — who rejoined the Team USA process this week after pulling himself out due to a shoulder injury in January — took six faceoffs.

Gurenlian had New York Lizards teammates Brian Karalunas and Kyle Hartzell on the wings.

"I think Chris Eck and I make the best tandem in faceoff history," Gurenlian said. "Now it's about communication after we get the ball. We did a great job of winning most of the possessions. I think now it's about how can we fan out, how can we make sure we don't give it away afterwards."

Jesse Schwartzman started the game in goal, followed by Drew Adams and finally John Galloway. Schwartzman made the most saves (six) while Galloway allowed the most goals (four).

The players felt that Team MLL provided them with great competition that best prepares them for the World Championships, where they will play Canada and the Iroquois.

"My opinion, we're not going to play a better team than [Team MLL]," Gurenlian said. "Tonight was the best collection of talent you'll see on Earth ever."

Two U.S. players — midfielder Max Seibald and defenseman Michael Evans — were not active in the contest as precautions to allow for injury recovery.

Meade has some final decisions to make on the roster, cutting eight players. The final roster will be revealed on Monday.

The U.S. did not play the cleanest game and struggled mightily in the third quarter. Meade did like the fight his team showed to overcome miscues and to come from behind and win the game, however, and was overall pleased with the effort.

"We wanted to see them play really hard, which they did," Meade said. "We wanted to see them do what we asked them to do in practice, which they did, and we wanted to see different combinations of guys playing with each other. We got a lot accomplished. It's nice to win a game. This isn't the game we have to win."

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