July 24, 2010

Five Things Team USA Needs to Beat Canada

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Live Game Blog

A pedestrian performance from goalkeeper Brian Dougherty won't do Saturday, writes LMO's Matt DaSilva. Team USA needs Doc on top of his game.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

MANCHESTER, England -- Let’s not kid anyone. US Lacrosse does not take losing lightly.

Immediately following the U.S. national team’s 15-10 loss to Canada in the gold medal match of the 2006 world championships, the organization overhauled its selection process, hired a no-nonsense head coach and required more commitment from its athletes.

The result of those four years will bear out today at 4 p.m. local (11 a.m. Eastern) when Team USA, the underdog, meets Canada in the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship final at the University of Manchester. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.

The U.S. leads the all-time series 13-3, but those three losses have stung like heck. Two of them have come in Manchester. The most recent loss, a 10-9 defeat exactly a week ago in the round robin, was Team USA’s first in preliminary play. The first loss in the series was in 1978, when Canada stunned the U.S., 17-16, in overtime in the final here.

On Friday, Canada invoked the ghosts of ’78. The team visited Edgeley Park in Stockport just outside greater Manchester, the site of its miraculous win 32 years ago. Head coach Dave Huntley, a player on that team that defeated the U.S. in the final after getting lambasted 28-4 in the preliminaries, went so far as to wish for rain Saturday. “I hope there’s a deluge,” he said, citing that it rained during the ’78 final.

Team USA, on the other hand, superstitiously avoided the memory of that game, taking its team picture about 100 yards away from where the 1978 team once stood on campus here. When Kevin Cassese, Ryan Powell and Chris Schiller unknowingly sauntered to that spot and put on sunglasses for some goofier photos, head coach Mike Pressler told them the significance of where they stood. They left immediately.

Here are five things the U.S. needs to do to beat Canada:

1. Push the tempo. Team USA was timid in its round-robin loss to the Canadians, too often settling for six-on-six sets rather than fast breaks. A higher scoring game bodes better for the U.S., given its depth and speed advantages over Canada. “We played a little bit tight last time, so we’ve got to just let the horses go right from the opening whistle and get up and down the field,” Powell said. “We’re good at running and gunning. That’s what we need to do. I think we tried to slow the ball down a little bit too much the first time we played them. So we’re going to be looking to transition and get up and down the field.” Both teams are dangerous off the quick endline restart.

2. Limit Canada’s second-chance opportunities. The U.S. defense actually did a good job against Canada in the round robin. But the Canadians’ will power around the cage won out in the fourth quarter. “We need to pick up loose balls. If we get the ball to the ground -- whether it’s a save, a rebound, a forced turnover or an unforced turnover --we need to be coming up with those 50-50 balls,” said Team USA defenseman Ryan McClay. “The first time we did not. If we give them multiple opportunities on a possession, that’s when they’re going to hurt us.”

3. Take high-percentage shots. Playing a fast tempo does not mean wailing away from 20 yards out (Pressler called those “turnover shots”), but rather making an extra pass or pulling out for a dodge and dump on the crease. Team USA needs a better shooting performance than its 9-for-37 showing last week. Canadian goalie Chris Sanderson joked afterward that “luckily, these chubby little legs got in the way of a lot of shots.” Team USA had more success shooting high on Sanderson than it did shooting low. Either way, assistant coach Joe Alberici said, “We need to make him a goalie.”

4. Get strong performances from Alex Smith and Brian Dougherty. Faceoffs and goalie play can be such strengths up the middle for the U.S. if these two get hot. Neither has played his best at these world games. Doc has been pedestrian, but loves this big stage. Especially if Team USA forces an up-tempo game, it will need Doc making a few point-blank stops on the defensive end. Smith has traditionally had Geoff Snider’s number, but the reigning world championships MVP had a monster semifinal against Australia.

5. Communicate better on defense. The Americans were so focused on John Grant Jr. and Zack Greer, they let guys like midfielder Rhys Duch beat them. And when Grant got hot in the fourth quarter, the slides were too slow. “They’re real crafty off ball, so we have to be on the same page moving together,” McClay said. “I think we did a good job last time on the defensive end, but it could be better."

Perhaps Schiller put Saturday’s challenge best when he said, “We had a miscue in every facet of the game last time. So we’ve got little things that we’re going to try to correct tomorrow. It all happens in execution of the game on Saturday. You can throw everything out the window when our two teams play.”






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