July 20, 2010

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Following a heartbreaking loss to Canada, the U.S. team got back to winning in a big way, defeating Germany 22-4 in the FIL World Championships in Manchester, England. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Following a heartbreaking loss to Canada, the U.S. team got back to winning in a big way, defeating Germany 22-4 in the FIL World Championships in Manchester, England. © John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

'X' Marks Spot of Confusion for Faceoffs

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Team USA 19, Japan 5

Alex Smith wins this draw Monday against England. He has won 56 percent of faceoffs during the FIL World Championships.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

MANCHESTER, England -- Alex Smith spent nine months preparing for Geoff Snider. But nothing he did could prepare him for his most significant obstacle at these Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships: the officials.

Smith, the top faceoff specialist in NCAA history and Team USA’s answer to Snider, has had difficulty establishing a rhythm with international rules and a revolving door of officials. His showdown with Snider was mostly anticlimactic. They each went 10-of-20, with most of the faceoffs going by the way of illegal procedure.

“It’s definitely a big change from anything I’ve ever seen before,” Smith said Tuesday following a 9-of-19 performance in Team USA’s 19-5 win over Japan. “I’ve taken over 3,000 faceoffs in the NCAA and MLL, and I’ve never been told three times in one game it’s illegal to clamp the ball.”

Smith has won 56 percent of his draws in these world games, which is not far off the 58-percent clip he has in Major League Lacrosse with the Chesapeake Bayhawks. But it pales in comparison to what he did at the University of Delaware, where he hovered around 70 percent.

U.S. team faceoff consultant Paul Cantabene said he has been pleased with Smith’s mechanics in Manchester, and has been working with Smith to adjust to the international landscape.

“Alex needs to work on the mental game, not getting too frustrated about the officials and just worrying about one faceoff at a time,” Cantabene said. “It’s what I like to call the psychological warfare of it, to be really tough and understand what each official wants.”

Procedural calls have included withholding on a clamp, wingmen stepping on the hash, hands touching plastic and feet not properly set in relation to hands – most offenses that get overlooked in the U.S.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got to retrain everything you’re doing,” Smith said. “Yesterday, I had a Japanese ref, and what he’s thinking is totally different from the Scottish ref I had today.”

There is one encouraging statistic from the first U.S.-Canada faceoff encounter.

“We were 10-for-20, but we had six violations. That means they won only four faceoffs cleanly,” Smith said. “We gave ‘em six.”

The next U.S.-Canada showdown, presuming neither of the perennial favorites gets upset in Thursday’s semifinals, could look more like what Smith and Snider are used to.

The FIL stipulates that preliminary games be officiated by entirely neutral refs. But the championship final will be officiated by the highest-rated American ref, the highest-rated Canadian ref and the highest-rated neutral ref. – likely an Australian or English official. (Each game has had four FIL assessors rating the officials.)

Until then, the psychological warfare continues.

“It’s a lot of violations, a lot of new rules and totally different systems between the refs,” Smith said. “But I think we’ve got the team to beat Snider, so we’re ready to go.”

Team USA News & Notes

Defenseman Eric Martin sat out his third straight game Tuesday with turf toe, but U.S. team general manager Billy Rebman called it precautionary. "If he had to go today, he could," Rebman said... Team USA will tour the stadium and facilities of the Manchester United soccer team during its off day Wednesday.


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