Stage is Set for Final Team USA Men's Evaluation Weekend
|Look for Ned Crotty to play some attack and midfield during Sunday's televised Team USA intrasquad scrimmage. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
The teams are set. The stage is set. The sun will be out.
The 51 members of the U.S. men's national training team gather once more this weekend in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacrosse event at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex.
In years past, Team USA has taken on a premier college team, like Loyola and Denver, but with 2014 being an international competition year with the Federation of International (FIL) Lacrosse World Championship ahead this summer in Denver, the game's top players and coaches will spend Friday through Sunday in Florida amongst themselves.
Several practice sessions culminate with a Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage that will be streamed live at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN3 and replayed at 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU. LaxMagazine.com will also have live and post-game coverage, and coverage throughout the weekend.
Afterward, the roster will be trimmed to no more than 30 players on Feb. 5 and ultimately 23 will take the field to represent the U.S. at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this July 10-19.
It's all a continued part of an evaluation process headed by coach Richie Meade that began almost two years ago, when Meade, the former Navy coach now leading Division I startup Furman, made a trip to Champion Challenge to get a first taste of some of the U.S.'s prospective talent for 2014.
After the "Duel in Denver" against Canada in September 2012, three days of intense tryouts over the summer and training weekends this fall, this weekend begins the stretch run to Denver.
"We look at it, we evaluate it, we talk about it and then I have to make a decision on all of it," Meade said. "This is cliché, but we're definitely looking to pick the best team that we can pick, that fits what we want to do and how we think we need to win, not necessarily the best players."
With that in mind, the remaining players in the roster pool have been split into two teams. Just think of it as lacrosse's answer to the NFL's new-look, fantasy-style Pro Bowl, with Meade and assistants Kevin Cassese, Dave Pietramala and Jeff Tambroni serving as team captains.
Here's a look at the breakdown by position groups for each team:
(Of note: 2013 MLL MVP Brendan Mundorf and defender Jesse Bernhardt are injured but remain in the tryout mix. Faceoff man Greg Gurenlian withdrew from final consideration this week.)
Attack — Marcus Holman, Kevin Leveille, Rob
Pannell, Steele Stanwick, Garrett Thul
This is a spectacular unit with the two of the last three Tewaaraton Award winners in Pannell and Stanwick, paired with swingman Holman, an all-time great finisher in Kevin Leveille and matchup nightmare Garrett Thul. It will be fun to watch Pannell and Stanwick get to work with the same personnel groupings around them. The two quarterbacks have been often split on different teams in the tryout process, working with different players.
Midfield - David Lawson, JoJo Marasco, Paul Rabil,
Jeremy Sieverts, Drew Snider, Matt Striebel
Rabil is the headliner as he'll get back on the field after recovering from invasive abdominals surgery this fall. Look to see if there is continued chemistry between Matt Striebel and JoJo Marasco, who found it during summer tryouts. The Denver Outlaws' pair of Sieverts and Snider proved their worth during a historic MLL season for the franchise.
Defense — Michael Evans, Joe Fletcher, Brett
The only college guy in the mix is paired alongside multiple-time all-MLL pick Evans of the Bayhawks and pro vet Schmidt. They'll be tasked with covering an opposing offense that includes Ned Crotty, Matt Danowski and Drew Westervelt, among others.
Long-stick midfield — Brian Farrell, Kyle
Hartzell, Kyle Sweeney
Each has shown they can spark transition play in their own ways throughout tryouts. Hartzell was recently traded from the Ohio Machine to the New York Lizards with the idea being he'd be close defense with the latter.
Short-stick defensive-midfield — Matt Abbott,
Stephen Peyser, Jeff Reynolds
Abbott and Reynolds have been short-stick defensive teammates with the Bayhawks and Peyser, traditionally an offensive midfielder, was sent to the defending champs via trade this month, too. "Stephen has tremendous competitive toughness and is a great teammate," Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle said. "He will be out to prove people wrong this season." This weekend, too.
Faceoff — Chris Eck, Anthony Kelly
Team USA's two faceoff veterans — Greg Gurenlian withdrew from final consideration because of injury — will square off against Mike Poppleton.
Goalie — John Galloway, Kip Turner
Meade has said that the staff can't go wrong with any of the goalies that have been involved in tryouts.
Attack — Matt Danowski, Eric Law, Drew Westervelt,
Another nice unit with Hounds teammates Young and Danowski, the latter who had a career MLL year playing with the former Terp. Law is a sneaky finisher now also playing with the NLL's Toronto Rock. Westervelt, also one of a couple guys in consideration still playing NLL (with the Colorado Mammoth) has a role for Blue similar to what Thul has for White.
Attack/Midfield — Ned Crotty
Despite missing summer tryouts because of illness, Crotty showed his versatility this fall playing with the U.S. at the Play for Parkinson's event. At midfield, he enjoyed not drawing a pole like he previously has in MLL. "To get a short-stick is a nice change of pace," he said.
Midfield — Kevin Buchanan, Steven Brooks, Kyle
Harrison, Ben Hunt, Matt Mackrides, Max Seibald
Mackrides was injured at Play for Parkinson's this fall, but is back. Buchanan can play just about anywhere while Seibald, Harrison and Brooks played on the same side in the fall.
Defense — Mitch Belisle, Brendan Buckley, Tucker
Durkin, Brian Karalunas, Lee Zink
Belisle and Zink are proven veterans who will lead this group while Durkin has established himself quickly at the pro level and through tryouts. Buckley, from Army, has impressed with his fundamentals as well.
Long-stick midfield — Mike Simon
He's the lone player listed as a long-stick midfielder on his team, but several defenders in the mix can move back and forth between positions. Karalunas, listed above as a defender, is one example.
Short-stick defensive-midfield — Dan Burns, Kevin
Drew, Chris Schiller, Kevin Unterstein
It's a crowded group, but the U.S. staff will get a close look throughout the weekend. "We're going to have make some decisions and wanted to be better safe than sorry," Meade said after tryouts over Labor Day weekend. "We had some questions about a couple of younger guys that we were very impressed with that we wanted to be able to work with a little bit, and also some older guys that have some intangibles. That position is going to continue to be debated."
Faceoff — Mike Poppleton
The former Johns Hopkins faceoff man will be busy this weekend after Gurenlian withdrew. Poppleton is the youngest of the three remaining faceoff men in consideration for Denver.
Goalie — Drew Adams, Jesse
Between them, Adams and Schwartzman have won four of the last five MLL goaltender of the year awards. Schwartzman won this year and in 2012, and Adams won the previous two. The other: Kip Turner in 2010. He'll be across the field in the other cage.