July 20, 2014

Team USA Unable to Dictate Pace in Loss to Canada

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

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The sounds of Canada's championship celebration echoed down a hallway at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and around the corner to the quiet United States chamber. It was stunned silence for Team USA in the moments after an 8-5 gold-medal game decision in favor of the Canadians on Saturday night, the end of a two-week tournament and year-plus effort in earnest to win a world title.

First, the 23 U.S. players and coaching staff reluctantly accepted silver medals from Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) officials. Then, assistant coach Kevin Cassese, standing at the end of the line nearest midfield, gave a signal to walk back to the sideline to collect equipment and head off the field as Canada started partying on the turf.

"You make one mistake in this tournament and it can bite you," U.S. captain Kevin Leveille said while heading to the locker room. "We just weren't in our game. We didn't get into our game plan much at all. They had a pretty good game plan to start but we should have still been able to dictate we just didn't do it."

Canada jumped out to a two-goal lead at the end of the first quarter and put the U.S. in a stranglehold, controlling the tempo with long offensive possessions and winning the ground ball battle, 18-8, in the first half on the way to a 3-1 halftime lead.

In the end, the faceoff battle was a dead heat between Canada's Geoff Snider and Team USA's Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian, with each side winning 7-for-14, and although the U.S. scored the game's final three goals, it wasn't enough as Canada had previously scored five straight to build an 8-2 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"They played the game they needed to play to win," Team USA coach Richie Meade said of Canada afterward. "We go up-and-down the field, I don't know if that happens. They spread us out and they were very methodical. They got the ball up off the ground and got it in the goal. If you watch the film, you're going to see there are four or five goals that occur off the ground and that was one of our goals, to cut down the trash goals, the goals off the ground, and obviously that didn't happen, so they win the game."

Attackman Kevin Leville scored three goals, but Team USA got only two more otherwise in an 8-5 loss to Canada in the FIL World Championship game on Saturday night. (Scott McCall)

Indeed, the second bullet point on a giant white board in the U.S. locker room listing defensive keys was "Ground ball play – No Second chances," written in purple marker. It came after only win the point of attack.

Rebounds or loose balls led to Canada midfielder Kevin Crowley's three first-half goals.

"Sometimes the bounces just don't go your way," Leveille said. "A lot of the rebounds and things like that just seemed to skip by our sticks early and right to their sticks. They had a good effort going and good energy. Not getting the ground balls early is not a good way to set the tone for the game."

Canada ended up winning 35 ground balls to the U.S.'s 22, with many of them were in the middle of the field, too, off of what statistically would be considered faceoff wins.

"The thing that I was most disappointed in, and I think we're all disappointed in it, is when the ball went on the ground in their offensive end of the field we didn't come up with it. That was different than the other game," Meade said, referring to Team USA's 10-7 win on opening night of the tournament ten days ago.

Team USA's loss continues a streak of alternating world champions between the U.S. and Canada dating back to 2002, the same year in which one of the rivals last won both the pool play and championship game matchups between them. The U.S. did it then in '02. Canada has now won the championship in 2006 and 2014, sandwiching a U.S. title in 2010 in Manchester, England, where they won in the waning moments.

"Now I know what that feeling is like," said Team USA attackman Rob Pannell, who had a goal and three assists Saturday. "It's a feeling that's going to stick with me until I get another shot at this three of four years from now when the tryout process starts again, and if I'm fortunate enough to make the team."

The U.S. took nine shots in the first quarter, but put only one of them on cage and then only had two shots at all in the second quarter. Canada's zone defense and shutting off of Paul Rabil, who had zero points, disrupted the offense as only inside finisher Leveille, who finished with three goals, seemed to be able to get anything going.

The starting midfield of Rabil, Kevin Buchanan and David Lawson shot a combined 0-for-10 and Max Seibald was 0-for-6.

"We just didn't get into a rhythm," Leveille said. "We had five goals offensively, which is sub-par for us. We just didn't have the flow today. I'm not sure why. We'll have to figure it out. It's one mistake in a 10-day thing at the wrong time."

After Crowley notched his fifth goal to give Canada a 6-2 lead with 9:05 left in the third quarter, the U.S. defense started to press out, hoping to force turnovers with the Canadians burning time when they had possession.

"With the clock moving like it was, we felt we needed to press out," Meade said. "We weren't getting that many possessions. They were averaging probably four minutes a possession. That's a lot of time. We couldn't get the referees to pull the trigger on a stall warning in the first half. It was apparent that was the way they were going to call it. In the third quarter, we felt could fight our way back into the game get a couple goals and close the gap. That didn't happen."

After it was all done, players trickled out of the locker room to the team bus. There would be no celebration, but reflection on the process that led them here, which started just about a year ago with a 98-player tryout pool, followed by several rounds of cuts and evaluation events culminating with the two-week tournament in Denver.

"I just told them, there's always this tendency when you lose to say that everything is wrong," Meade said. "This is a gigantic game and everybody is disappointed. We didn't expect to lose, but through this whole process, every guy in that room did everything right. They behaved correctly, they gave great effort, they worked hard.

"This was kind of an aberration of the way we played. The game just didn't unfold the way it needed to unfold for us. For us to be successful in this game, we needed to get the lead. We needed to put them in a position where they had to attack us. Once that didn't happen, the momentum was on their side, and we are chasing them instead of last time [in the opener] when they had to chase us, which made them play a much faster pace and made them come to us. That was to their advantage. They played like a team that had lost their last game."

It will be some time before the U.S. has a chance to avenge this one.

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