June 26, 2014

Battle for U.S. Roster Spots Spices up MLL All-Star Showcase

by Lane Errington | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | 2014 World Lacrosse

For Brendan Mundorf, this week was the first chance to play with Team USA at full strength, having battled back from injury through the fall and winter training sessions. (Greg Raymond)

Related: With Final Cuts Looming, Team USA Gets Back to Fundamentals

BOSTON -- Traditionally one of the sport’s greatest showcases of flair, Thursday’s MLL All-Star Game (7:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) will have a decidedly different tone, as 31 hopefuls vie for 23 spots on the final Team USA roster, while competing against a group of MLL All-Stars largely comprised of those once in the U.S. pool.

Attackman Brendan Mundorf is one of four U.S. team players to have suited up for the red, white and blue in the 2010 MLL All-Star Game, which saw Team USA take down Team MLL 13-12 in a back-and-forth contest (Ned Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Max Seibald are the others). Mundorf led all scorers with six goals in the contest, and Team USA went on to defeat Canada for the gold medal that summer at the FIL World Championship in Manchester, England. 

“It was very intense,” said Mundorf. “There were a lot of guys from Team MLL that thought they should have been part of that [U.S.] roster and that motivated them to play extra hard.”

Six other members of the 31-man US. training squad played for Team MLL in 2010, including Kevin Leveille, Matt Abbott, Kevin Buchanan, Chris Eck, Michael Evans and Jesse Schwartzman. Experience on both sides provides perspective for these U.S. hopefuls as the team moves closer to competing at the FIL World Championship, July 10-19 in Denver, Colo.

“A lot of the guys that were on that MLL team that didn’t get picked, you try and set the tone and make the point that you should have been selected,” said Evans. “Being on the other side of that now, I know that [Team MLL] will bring their A-game.”

Among Team MLL representatives, 18 of 24 were part of the U.S. tryout process dating back to the initial 98-player invite-only tryout at Goucher College over Labor Day Weekend last year. Ten of the 24 were with the team as recently as January’s Champion Challenge weekend and Blue-White exhibition. Kevin Crowley (2013 All-Star Game MVP) and Brodie Merrill (ninth appearance), two of Team Canada’s veteran leaders, round out the opposing side. 

Reigning World Games MVP Paul Rabil, who leads the league in scoring this year with 40 points (16g, 24a) in eight games for the host Boston Cannons, emphasized the importance of focusing on the game as the next step in training as the U.S. team prepares to defend gold in Denver.

“It’s a game that we need to competitively win,” said Rabil. “The delicacy is continuing to work on our strategy and tactics almost in lieu of competitively winning. Hopefully the two go together. That’s the plan.”

While this game will be played with the up-and-down MLL rules format predicated by the shot clock, in Denver teams will play by international rules, where possession is at a premium and there is no 60-second limit. For Team USA, it’s another step toward adjusting their game to work within the unique international framework.

Mundorf recalled that in 2010, Team MLL was coached by then-Team Canada coach (now national team director) Dave Huntley, who threw a zone look at the U.S. squad and slowed the pace down to gauge how the Americans would react. Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle will lead Team MLL this time around in what has become a quadrennial partnership between US Lacrosse and Major League Lacrosse in World Championship years.

“It’ll be similar [to 2010],” said Mundorf. “It’s going to be a little more serious than a normal All-Star Game, for sure. But I have a lot of confidence in our abilities as the U.S. team to take care of business and win a ballgame.”

HELLO, FOXBORO

On Wednesday, Team USA traveled from Greenwich, Conn., where the first two days of their four-day training camp were held, to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. U.S. assistant and Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala, who is close friends with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, helped secure a visit that included a morning training session at the team’s practice facility, lunch in the team dining hall and a tour of the stadium.

The team later drove to Boston, where they’ll compete in Thursday’s MLL All-Star Game at Harvard Stadium.

ONE LAST CHANCE TO IMPRESS

Head coach Richie Meade and the Team USA staff are using this week’s training camp as one final evaluation point in a process that began more than a year ago. After cutting down the roster from 51 to 30 in February, “you kind of have to take a deep breath,” he said. The final 23-man roster, as outlined by FIL regulations, will be announced on Monday, June 30.

“It’s a bit of a different dynamic because in the past, players would’ve known for almost a year that they were on the team, and they’re not going to know now until Monday,” said Meade. “That’s more of what they do in the Olympics, and I think it keeps the everybody on edge. Because of the MLL season, because of the injuries, because of all the things we can’t predict, it’s given us a good chance to put the best team on the field.”

When asked about roster composition in terms of who stays and who stays home, Meade said there are still “two are three things, pieces of information that we need” heading into Thursday night’s All-Star game.

“It basically comes down to one player at every position that could be impacted if we decide to take one more player [at another position]. Once it comes to that, then it comes down to specifically who. It’s tough, but that’s part of what we’re asked to do is to make decisions.”

With tough decisions made throughout the evaluation process comes what Meade expects to be a “rough, close” game Thursday evening.

“It’s human nature, there’s going to be some ‘I want to prove that I should’ve been on this team’. It’s going to be very competitive, and talent level of the individuals is extremely high.”

NOTES

After struggling with injuries throughout the early phases of the Team USA evaluation process, Mundorf called it “relieving” to be at full strength for this week’s camp. “It’s good to get out there and sweat with the guys so that you can show them that you deserve to be on this level,” he said.

In addition to the final 23-man roster, two alternates will travel with the U.S. team to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the team’s final training camp July 6-9 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Alternates are eligible to be moved to the active roster in the event of injury through the FIL World Championship roster deadline of July 9, at which time no further changes can be made … 

During Wednesday’s visit to Gillette Stadium, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was spotted seated on a couch playing Madden NFL with a young fan on the stadium jumbotron.


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