June 24, 2014

With Final Cuts Looming, Team USA Back to Fundamentals

by Lane Errington | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | @Lane_Errington | WorldLacrosse2014

With final cuts looming, Team USA got together for its first work since January's Champion Challenge at Connecticut's Brunswick School. (Greg Raymond)

GREENWICH, Conn. — The U.S. men's national team took to the field for the first time since January's Champion Challenge Blue-White exhibition game, after which the pool of hopefuls was trimmed from 51 to 30 (and later, back to 31), as a four-day training camp began in Greenwich, Conn. While the players reacclimated, coaches took the opportunity to preach fundamentals.

Team USA assistant coach Dave Pietramala could be heard urging defender Tucker Durkin to get lower as he approached 2010 All-World attackman Brendan Mundorf. Pietramala later stopped play to urge another player to sprint onto the field as he assumed his defensive position. Head coach Richie Meade consistently spoke of maximum effort as the expectation any time a player puts on the red, white and blue.

Fundamentals such as posture, angles and communication were all the rage at the camp's first session Monday evening, which culminates with Thursday's MLL All-Star Game (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. The game serves as one final opportunity for players to prove they belong on the 23-man U.S. roster at the FIL World Championship, July 10-19 in Denver.

With cuts looming, it can be tempting to make a flashy play that might put you over the top. But in this setting with such a skilled group of players, consistent effort and mental focus could prove to be the difference.

"You have to walk that fine line," said Drew Snider, the Denver Outlaws midfielder who last year broke through for his first MLL All-Star appearance. "They've watched plenty of MLL games, so they know our styles. It's just playing within the Team USA system. There's no individuals out here."

Unlike previous training weekends, this week's camp marks an opportunity to spend an extended time together on and off the field before ultimating reuniting in Colorado Springs on July 6 for a final training camp. Coaches will look to carry over the chemistry, communication and consistency developed this week when the team heads to Denver.

"These guys are all the best at their profession," said Jeff Tambroni, Team USA assistant coach. "The challenge for our coaching staff is to put them in a position to complement one another, not stand above one another. We're adjusting ourselves into what its going to take to win at the international level, not only sharing the ball but sharing their talents."

Even as coaches and players work this week to implement complex schemes indicative of the highest levels of the game, fundamentals stood out as the focal point of Monday's training session.

"They don't have to be extraordinary, they have to utilize their strengths and fall back on what got them here to hopefully create collective success," Tambroni said.

In the nearly five months between organized team activities, players kept up with one another through email and text chains organized by offensive and defensive sub-groups. As the MLL season kicked into gear, the final tryout remains fresh in player's minds.

"Everyone knows that the work put in over these four days will likely reflect who the coaches choose for the 23-man roster." said Tucker Durkin, who last year was the only rookie named MLL All-Pro. "You sense a bit more competitiveness. Everyone's kind of got an edge to them."

Immediately following the nearly two-hour training session, all 31 players took part in leading a clinic for youth and high school players at Brunswick School, site of the training camp's first two days. It was an opportunity to preach what they had practiced only minutes before.

Snider, along with midfielders Max Seibald and Kyle Harrison, repeatedly urged players to keep their feet moving while shooting, and explained why dropping your stick to sidearm while dodging from midfield only decreases your chances of scoring.

"We're preaching at this clinic the same things that our coaches just preached to us at practice, so it's definitely humbling and it brings you back to your beginnings," said Snider.

Durkin matched up with attackman Garrett Thul to demonstrate proper defensive fundamentals.

"Most of the things that we're trying to implement here with Team USA, technique stuff like staying low, having your stick out and in the passing lanes, those are the fundamentals that you should be taught when you're first learning to play lacrosse," Durkin said. "When you're playing at the highest level, it's the same little details that you have to focus on to be successful."

Notes

Faceoff specialist Greg Gurenlian returned to the Team USA fold Monday. He had previously withdrawn from consideration prior to Champion Challenge, citing a shoulder injury, but was reinstated as the coaches consider potentially taking two faceoff men (Chris Eck is the other) to Denver. ... The team will travel to Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL's New England Patriots, for practice Wednesday afternoon. ...Team USA will name 23 players (plus two alternates) to the final FIL World Championship roster on Monday, June 30.


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