Team USA Blue-White is No Ordinary Scrimmage
|Rob Pannell will be among the myriad of stars playing in the USA Blue-White scrimmage Sunday (1:30 p.m. ESPN3, 10:30 p.m. ESPNU) at Champion Challenge (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
I've always contended that Team USA tryouts provide a platform for the best lacrosse most fans will never see — until now.
While Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., traditionally pits the U.S. team against final four-caliber college foes, Team USA coach Richie Meade has put a different spin on the nationally televised game.
U.S. vs. U.S.
Rather than try to accommodate 51 players on one team against, say, Duke or Notre Dame, Team USA will put on what might be the most watched intra-squad scrimmage in lacrosse history. The U.S. Blue vs. U.S. White game Sunday at 1:30 p.m. will provide a platform for the world's best players to scrap for spots on the final 23-man roster.
"We purposely have not wanted to scrimmage other teams, because there is really nobody we could scrimmage that could give us the type of competition that we can give ourselves," Meade told Lacrosse Magazine's Corey McLaughin. "I really wish that young kids could see how these guys do their business. We've asked them to do some things they've probably never been asked to do before. We ask them to not wear their hats backwards. We ask them to dress a certain way to meetings and dress a certain way on the bus, and dress a certain way getting off the bus, when they go to meals. They've done everything we've asked them."
Meade, the former longtime Navy coach now at the helm of NCAA Division I startup Furman, added that while he has high aspirations for his college program, "I'm never going to work with the level of talent that we're working with right now."
And that's why if you're not at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex this weekend, you should watch live on ESPN3 at 1:30 p.m. Sunday or via replay on ESPNU at 10 p.m., or cue the DVR.
At 31, I guess I'm an old guy now. So please excuse me for pulling in particular for the seven 30-somethings still in the running: Kyle Harrison, Anthony Kelly, Kevin Leveille, Chris Schiller, Matt Striebel, Kyle Sweeney and Lee Zink.
Harrison, 30, was a fresh-faced star out of Johns Hopkins when he made the 2006 U.S. team and a surprise omission in 2010. I remember spending some time with him in the Team USA dorm following its uninspiring win over Australia in the 2006 semifinals that foreshadowed its loss to Canada in the championship game. "What do you think went wrong?" he asked me. "Too much one-on-one," I said, "not enough ball movement."
Not too many Tewaaraton Award winners would care about a lowly writer's opinion.
Kelly, 33, has the kind of frame (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) you'd like to see fill out a Team USA jersey. He probably wants another shot at Canada's Geoff Snider after Snider's Charlotte Hounds thwarted Kelly's Denver Outlaws and their perfect season in the MLL playoffs.
Leveille, 32, comes from one of the most likable families in lacrosse. He's like a vacuum around the crease and has a knack for scoring big goals. A 2010 U.S. team alternate, Leveille played the role of supportive big brother as Mike Leveille won a gold medal. He's earned a shot.
Schiller, 37, is an absolute grinder. He has made a living doing the dirty work as a short-stick defensive midfielder and evolved as a leader on the 2010 U.S. team.
Striebel, 34, is vying for his fourth U.S. team, a feat accomplished by only two other players — Vinnie Sombrotto and John DeTommaso. It's rare that you'll find elite midfielders with Striebel's longevity. They're like running backs, playing a position whose physical demands often lead to a short shelf life.
(Perhaps it helped that Striebel was actually an All-American attackman at Princeton before switching to midfield his senior year to accommodate a hot-shot freshman named Ryan Boyle. They're best friends today.)
Sweeney, 32, still runs like a gazelle. He and Team Canada's Brodie Merrill redefined the long-stick midfield position at Georgetown.
Zink, 32, is the antidote to John Grant Jr.
Who says it's a young man's game? Come Sunday, it's anyone's game.
The original version of this column, which appeared in the January 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, incorrectly identified Vinnie Sombrotto and John DeTommaso both as defensemen. Sombrotto was a midfielder. LM regrets the error.
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