August 30, 2013

Vets, Newcomers Battle for Team USA Faceoff Duties

by Lane Errington | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Gallery: Team USA Tryout Invitees - Faceoff

The X has been a key to the last two FIL World Championships. Who will Team USA take to Denver?

After the announcement of the Team USA Tryout Invitees (Analysis) earlier this month, LaxMagazine.com took an in-depth look at each position and the players vying for spots on the 2014 edition of Team USA. We will be running updated versions of each leading into this weekend's tryout at Goucher college.

See Also: Attack | Defense | SSDM | Face-Off | LSM | Midfield | Goalies

Who will replace Alex Smith?

With the vast majority of 2010 U.S. team returners on the offensive end, a notable roster opening lies at the faceoff X. Eight players will vie to replace Smith, who played Canada specialist Geoff Snider to a near draw in their highly anticipated matchup in the 2010 World Championship final. Smith did not apply, and Snider's status for Canada is uncertain. He hasn't played regularly in the MLL since the 2011 season with Hamilton.

Perhaps no group will take more of a physical beating at U.S. team tryouts than the faceoff specialists, where they'll likely have to battle the heat in addition to enduring the daily grind of hundreds of reps against their peers. We break them down into three categories: veterans, up-and-comers, and collegians.

Veterans

Chris Eck, Boston Cannons (Colgate)

With the most U.S. team experience among the eight would-be specialists, the six-year Cannons veteran (59 percent) trails only Greg Gurenlian in faceoff percentage this season. Eck suited up for Team USA at Champion Challenge each of the last two years, but was forced to sit out the Duel in Denver with a knee injury. Conventional wisdom would say the two-time all-star, along with 2013 all-stars Gurenlian and Anthony Kelly, are likely the men to beat (and unseat) coming into tryouts.

Greg Gurenlian, New York Lizards (Penn State)

The Beast has certainly played up to his moniker this year, winning draws at a career- and league-best 63 percent in his eighth season. After finishing third in the MLL in faceoff percentage in 2012, Gurenlian earned an invite to the Duel in Denver and went 8-for-12 against Snider. Known for his impressive workout regiment, the Lizards specialist may be peaking at just the right time, having earned his first all-star nod in 2013.

Anthony Kelly, Denver Outlaws (Ohio State)

Along with Gurenlian, Kelly is the most seasoned of the bunch, having just played in his fourth MLL all-star game in his eighth year. The Outlaws bruiser is having his best statistical season as a pro, winning 57 percent of draws (51 percent career), and at 255 pounds offers a contrast to many of the other more finesse faceoff specialists in the group. The A-Train was recently spotted using a homemade bungee contraption not unlike baseball's rubber doughnut to warm up.

Unlike Guerenlian and Eck, however, Kelly was on a playoff team and had to face Snider, who suited up at the end of the year for Charlotte - and it didn't help his resume. Kelly went just 4-for-16 in Denver's first-round loss while Snider and Tim Fallon went a combined 22-for-32 in the game.

Up-and-Comers

Matt Dolente, Chesapeake Bayhawks (Johns Hopkins)

After setting a Nationals record by winning 219 faceoffs last season, the 2012 all-star's percentage dipped to 48 percent this year before being traded twice in a one-week span, first to New York, then to reigning MLL champion Chesapeake at the trade deadline. He appeared in only one game for Chesapeake, but went 4-for-14. Dolente went 5-for-12 against Snider in the October 2012 Duel in Denver exhibition, and he played for U.S. assistant Dave Pietramala at Johns Hopkins.

Mike Poppleton, Hamilton Nationals (Johns Hopkins)

Poppleton followed Dolente as Hopkins' FOGO and was named a second team All-American this spring. His 69% faceoff clip was second-best in NCAA Division I, trailing only Bryant's record-setting Kevin Massa. The Nationals felt comfortable enough with their rookie fifth-round draft pick to ship Dolente to New York, but he finished just 50% on the season (123-for-246) Poppleton's competition with fellow All-Americans Massa and Brendan Fowler (Duke) will certainly be a fun one to watch.

Adam Rand, Chesapeake Bayhawks (Stony Brook)

The third-year MLL pro has gotten the lion's share of the reps with Chesapeake the past two seasons, but was supplanted by Smith on championship weekend last year in the Bayhawks' title run. He won 53 percent of his draws on an almost full slate in 2012, but finished slightly less than 50% this spring (171-for-356). He also fared roughly in the playoffs, going a combined 17-for-44 (12-for-28 against Poppleton in the semis and 5-for-16 in the finals against Snider mostly).

Collegians

Brendan Fowler, Duke

Fowler's transcendent NCAA Tournament performance en route to being named most outstanding player undoubtedly turned the heads of the U.S. coaching staff as well as the lacrosse world at large. The junior first team All-American crushed NCAA records for faceoffs taken in a season (539) and topped Massa's record for faceoffs won in a season (339) on final four weekend. He'll have to channel his football background to battle bigger, stronger opponents such as Gurenlian and Kelly on Labor Day.

Kevin Massa, Bryant

Massa's record-setting sophomore season saw him set NCAA marks for faceoffs won, ground balls and ground balls per game, and his 73-percent clip was tops in the nation. The third team All-American dispelled any small-conference naysayers with a dominant 22-for-23 showing against eventual finalist Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament first round. Last seen playing for Lacrosswear at the Vail Shootout, where he made the all-tournament team, Massa's skill at the X will be tested at tryouts against noted technicians such as Eck.


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