June 30, 2014
Attackman Ned Crotty - Photo by John Strohsacker
Attackman Ned Crotty - Photo by John Strohsacker

Rapid Reaction: Team USA's Ultimate X-Factors, Final Roster Thoughts

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive | 2014 World Lacrosse Tickets

Garrett Thul has played attack through most of the U.S. tryout process, but ran through the box as a midfielder in Thursday's MLL All-Star event. He's one of several versatile pieces on the final 23-man Team USA roster announced Monday. (John Strohsacker)

After about 10 months since Team USA tryouts began in earnest with a 90-plus player pool last August, the final 23-man U.S. roster for next month’s Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship is now set.

Thirty-one players remained in the running through Thursday’s matchup against a group of Major League Lacrosse stars in the MLL All-Star event, after which the U.S. staff made their last roster decisions. Head coach Richie Meade notified players of their status over the weekend before the list was publicly announced Monday.

A — Ned Crotty, Marcus Holman, Kevin Leveille, Brendan Mundorf, Rob Pannell, Garrett Thul
Left off: Steele Stanwick (alternate)

M — Kevin Buchanan, Kyle Harrison, David Lawson, Paul Rabil, Max Seibald
Left off: Drew Snider, Matt Mackrides, JoJo Marasco

D — Mitch Belisle, Jesse Bernhardt, Tucker Durkin, Michael Evans, Kyle Hartzell, Lee Zink
Left off: Joe Fletcher, Brian Karalunas

SSDM — Matt Abbott, Dan Burns
Left off: Jeff Reynolds

G — Drew Adams, Jesse Schwartzman
Left off: John Galloway (alternate)

FO — Chris Eck, Greg Gurenlian

It’s a fully-loaded, star-studded lineup across the board, but there are a couple of players that bear watching a little closer starting with the opening matchup of the world games: the U.S. versus Canada on July 10 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. Not just because of their skill sets, but also how they may be employed as the U.S. looks to defend its gold medal.

Meade, and assistant coaches Kevin Cassese, Dave Pietramala and Jeff Tambroni have talked about the importance of versatility throughout tryouts. Let’s call these six the Ultimate X-Factors:

Matt Abbott, SSDM
Abbott’s all-around game improves the overall level of any team he is on. From playing the wings on faceoffs, marking high-quality opponents on defense and challenging for and winning ground balls all over the midfield, with a little offense sprinkled in, Abbott’s versatility is invaluable. In an international game that values two-way midfielders, having Abbott as a key cog on the roster can help more traditional offensive midfielders flourish.

Ned Crotty, A/M
The 2010 Tewaaraton Award winning attackman out of Duke has played some midfield throughout the U.S. tryout process, but he’s also shown capable of leading the attack unit if called on to spell Rob Pannell, who is the lead quarterback of this group. Don’t forget Crotty has big-time international experience, being asked to make game-changing plays off the bench as a midfielder during the 2010 gold medal game, where he scored the two most important goals of the game —  the tying and go-ahead markers in the fourth quarter — to propel the U.S. to the win.

Garrett Thul, A/M
Thul, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound matchup nightmare, started Thursday’s All-Star event running out of the box as a midfielder, something he hadn’t done since very early in his career at Army, before being shifted full-time to attack. But Thul showed capable as a downhill dodging force, once again impressing as he has since the first day of Team USA tryouts last summer. With only five true offensive midfielders on the roster, Thul could bump up in Denver. If there is one player who improved his stock most throughout the rounds of evaluation, it’s been him.

Brendan Mundorf, A
Held out with injury for most of the tryout process, Mundorf looked healthy Thursday in the MLL All-Star event and threw in an off-handed (righty) goal dodging from X. To have a former MLL MVP as a waiting-in-the-wings attackman of sorts at this point in time in this group is a luxury. A healthy Mundorf figures to have pushed Steele Stanwick into an alternate role.

Jesse Bernhardt, D/LSM
Bernhardt has had a similar tryout arc as Mundorf, making it through after Champion Challenge despite being held out with injury. The U.S. staff has long been impressed with Bernhardt, a ground ball force and faceoff wing savant who has shown in a young MLL career with the Chesapeake Bayhawks that he can play both close and long-stick defense.

Mitch Belisle, D/LSM/SSDM
Belisle drew the only penalty by either side in Thursday’s Team USA vs. MLL matchup, but it was the short stick that Belisle used when drawing a holding call that was probably the most significant thing. In high school, Belisle was an offensive midfielder, switched to long pole defense in college at Cornell and has since played with both a short- and long-stick in the MLL with the Boston Cannons. He primarily has played with a pole in the U.S. mix, but the fact he was using a short-stick late in the game Thursday was a sign he was all but on the final roster, with the staff throwing in another wrinkle to what may be asked of him come Denver.

Odds and Ends

The two oldest players left in the tryout pool, Kevin Leveille and Lee Zink, who were both Team USA alternates in 2010 in Manchester, England, made the U.S. roster for the first time in their careers.

Leveille, 32 and two months older than Zink, became MLL’s all-time leading goal scorer earlier this summer and represents an inside finishing presence Team USA lacked in its last game against Canada at the 2012 Duel in Denver.

Since being an alternate in 2010, Zink has won two MLL defensive player of the year awards and is expected to mark his now Denver Outlaws teammate, John Grant Jr., when the U.S. faces its biggest rival Canada to open play. Zink, Michael Evans and Tucker Durkin are the three pure close defensemen on the roster. The lone MLL rookie in the mix, former Loyola defenseman Joe Fletcher, was just on the outside looking in.

Dan Burns’ presence on the teams serves as a reminder not to be defined by outside forces or expectations. The short-stick defensive middie was a walk-on to the Maryland men’s lacrosse team in college. “I hope my story helps a couple high school students attempt to walk on a college team that normally would not consider it,” Burns has said.

As expected based on the numbers left at each position group, the midfield saw the most attrition in the final round of cuts, with Matt Mackrides, JoJo Marasco, Drew Snider and short-stick defensive midfielder Jeff Reynolds among those left off the roster.

Former Duke midfielder David Lawson is heading into world championship competition hot, having just scored four goals with two assists on Sunday in the Rochester Rattlers’ 19-14 win over the MLL-leading Denver Outlaws. Kevin Buchanan has shown over time he can create his own shot and work to get open off-ball. He’s got good chemistry with Paul Rabil as Boston Cannons teammates for several seasons. Kyle Harrison, at age 31, will have another chance to win his first gold. He was part of the U.S. 2006 squad that finished second to Canada and didn’t make the 2010 roster. Listed a short-stick defensive midfielder after Champion Challenge, Harrison appeared to be one of the U.S.’s primary dodgers in the MLL All-Star event.

John Galloway was the odd-man out in the three-man goalie race, but was tabbed as an alternate and will be in Denver, and long-stick midfielder Brian Karalunas was squeezed off a back-end that features several flexible pieces on the 23-man list.

In the end, going with the two-man faceoff monster of Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian looks like the smart and most effective move as they significantly titled possession in the U.S.’s favor in the MLL All-Star event. Both have also dealt with their share of injuries in the past, including Gurenlian presently playing through pain of a torn labrum in his shoulder, and the U.S. is to play likely six or seven games throughout the tournament in Denver. Plus, with the amount of versatility on the rest of the roster, it allowed the staff to take two specialists. In MLL action Saturday night, Eck went 16-for-25 for Boston against the Charlotte Hounds’ Geoff Snider, who will be Canada’s primary faceoff man. It was Snider's first game of the MLL season.

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