Team USA vs. Canada - LM's Staff 'Best Bets'
Since wild speculation is nothing but fun for all involved, a few of us were kicking around some thoughts about who might win tonight's FIL World Championships opener between Team USA and Canada yesterday evening at our hotel. To spice it up a bit, we also throw out our picks for who might be the game's MVP, and who might be some kind of an 'X-Factor', since speculating that Paul Rabil or Brodie Merrill would have a big impact is pretty easy to do.
And since there's no reason to not be held accountable for the folly of what you think will happen before play begins, we decided to share those thoughts with the world. Feel free to share your take on things in the comments or by tweeting using #worldlax.
Our thoughts - in reverse alphabetical order by prognosticator.
After defeating the United States 11-9 in the Duel in Denver in 2012, Canada will be looking to do it again, but this time, on the international scale. For Team USA to take home the win means stopping a high-scoring offense, including 2013 MLL MVP Kevin Crowley who was recently traded to the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Look no further than the American defense to make some key stops,led by goalies Drew Adams and Jesse Schwartzman. Schwartzman currently leads the MLL with the lowest GAA (10.62).
As last year's Tewaaraton winner, Rob Pannell has been on a hot streak as of late, leading the New York Lizards with 43 points, third overall in the MLL. Of those 43 points, 27 were rapid-fire goals, third most in the league and tied with USA teammate Kevin Buchanan. Even Wheaties has recognized Pannell's talent in his race to become the next face on this box of cereal.
USA all the way, but given this game kicks off the tournament, both teams will put on a show. In the history of USA-Canada world championship games, they will certainly rack up the goals. USA 13-12.
Face-offs are the tempting, and perhaps obvious answer to this question, but I'll pinpoint end-of-game scenario instead. In a close game, which I am predicting, who will have the ball on their stick during the clutch possession? In the MLL All-Star Game, that player was Rob Pannell. So my X-Factor is Pannell and Team USA's ability to execute offensively in a "need-a-goal" scenario.
It's hard to pick an offensive player as MVP in a relatively low-scoring affair, unless of course somebody sets himself apart with a three-goal, two-assist performance, so I'm picking the MVP from the defensive end. I'll go with Jesse Schwartzman as the difference in goal for Team USA.
Team USA 9, Canada 7
|Will Thursday see the dawn of #Thulkamania via a dominant performance by the U.S. Men's Garrett Thul? (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
For Team USA, why not go with the ultimate X factor, 6-foot-4, 240-pounder Garrett Thul? I won't label him my position, because I'm curious to see how the U.S. staff elects to deploy Thul, who made his name through the tryout process as an attackman, but has also shined at midfield when asked, and ran through the box in the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game. He's a matchup nightmare for any defense, and the U.S. staff just might want to keep Canada guessing on where they will use this "difference-maker," as Team USA offensive coordinator Jeff Tambroni. I'll pencil Thul in for at least one extra-man goal, and maybe another running in through the midfield. If the game is a close one, he can make a play happen.
For Canada, keep an eye on attackman Curtis Dickson, who scored four against the U.S. two years ago here at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Before this summer, when he decided to play with MLL's Denver Outlaws to prepare for the world championships, Dickson hadn't played outdoor lacrosse full-time since leaving Delaware in 2010. But he's picked it back up just fine, scoring four goals in each of his first two MLL games, and forcing teams to decide whether to put a short- or long-stick on him. If Canada is to get going against what figures to be a very strong Team USA defense, Dickson will play a primary role, either racking up some points or attracting attention so that others do.
I think the faceoff battle will be key and given how Chris Eck performed against Geoff Snider in an MLL matchup two weeks ago – 16-for-25 – I think Eck is primed to have a major impact on this game. Snider has been banged up a bit since the tail end of his NLL season with the Calgary Roughnecks and was wearing a brace on his knee at practice this week.
A lot of people forget or don't know that international rules lend themselves to more ball-control offenses and valuing each and every possession like gold. There's no shot clock or two-point line. The last time these teams played in the "Duel in Denver" there were long stretches between goals at times. For fans, I hope that's not the case again, but I think the U.S. pulls out a relatively low-scoring 10-8 win.
With possession at such a premium in international play, LSM Kyle Hartzell's ability to negate Brodie Merrill in faceoff wing play and transition will be key to Team USA's success. Expect Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian to look to make it a scrum with Geoff Snider at the X, freeing up wing players like "Swiss Army Knife" Matt Abbott to pick up critical ground balls.
Basing this one purely off point production: I'm going with Rob Pannell. I expect the former Tewaaraton winner to thrive with the world's best pure finisher (and newly minted team captain) Kevin Leveille lurking inside to gobble up RP32's feeds. Should Canada prevail, crafty Outlaws attackman Curtis Dickson is a leading candidate to take the alpha dog role vacated by John Grant Jr.
In a reversal of fortune from the Duel in Denver back in September 2012, I'll take the U.S. in this one, 11-9.
I'm looking at the Dillons: Canada's Dillon Ward and Dillon Roy. Ward, the presumptive starting goalie, is used to getting shelled with shots in fast-paced, run-and-gun games. That's the way it was at Bellarmine, where he enjoyed a breakout All-American season as a senior in 2013, and that's certainly the way it is with the Colorado Mammoth, for which Roy is a leading National Lacrosse League Rookie of the Year candidate. How will Ward fare against a more patient, incursive U.S. offense in a game likely to be played at a more plodding pace? Roy, a Denver native whose grandfather is Canadian, opted to drop out of the U.S. team pool (after advancing to the 52-player round) to play defense and long-stick midfield for Canada. He gives the Canadians another ball-hawking threat alongside Brodie Merrill and Jason Noble and also can spell Geoff Snider on faceoffs.
Brodie Merrill is as cool a customer as they come, never one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but he is the clear leader on a Canadian program that has lost two goalies (Chris Sanderson and Kyle Miller) to cancer in the last two years. At practice Wednesday, the team wore reversible red and white pinnies with Sanderson's No. 17 on the front and Miller's No. 35 on the back. Merrill has created a centrifuge for Canadian field lacrosse talent at The Hill Academy, where several of his now-teammates played for him. With all of that swirling around him, look for Merrill to back it up with his play on the field, giving Team USA's midfielders fits and sparking one or two transition goals.
At the risk of sounding un-American, I see Canada pulling out a 10-9 victory in front of an expected crowd of at least 12,000 fans at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and in something of a home game for 11 Canadian players with ties to the Denver area.
|Is there another player with a more diverse array of tools in his arsenal than Matt Abbott? (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
For a 23-man roster, you need versatile players, and few can do more as well as "Human Clear" or 'swiss army knife' Matt Abbott. If the face-off battle is a fight between Snider and Eck, and Hartzell is neutralizing Brodie on one wing, Abbott is a huge advantage in coming in on those groundballs. And he can go defense to offense well, and keep opposing midfielders on the field, and do whatever his team needs.
If its possible for a Tewaaraton winner and second-time Team USA participant to be kind of forgotten about, Ned Crotty somehow fits that mold. But with his midfield/attack versatility, he can create matchup woes for Canada depending on where he goes, and for whatever reason, I could see him having a big night under the lights here at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
As much as a part of me wants to go with Canada - the fact that the teams are playing in the memory of Chris Sanderson and Kyle Miller, a pair of world games veterans who passed away in the past two years - and for John Grant Jr. who can't play after his theraputic use exemption request was denied - I have to go with the U.S. on this one, but definitely a close one. Lets go with the 'reversal of Duel in Denver' call and 11-9 USA.
The loss of John Grant Jr. hurts, but I am looking for attackman Curtis Dickson to step up and fill the void left by Grant. Dickson is a quick and powerful attackman with the ability to play inside and outside. The U.S. defense will have to keep its head on a swivel and know where he is at all times tonight.
In what is sure to be a trendy pick, I'm going to take Paul Rabil. He is the face of lacrosse who never ceases to amaze. With playmakers all around him, he will have plenty of opportunities to rack up his assist total while adding a few goals of his own with that rocket shot.
Getting its revenge on Canada from the 2012 Duel in Denver, I'll take the U.S. to outlast Canada this time around, 13-10.
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