June 17, 2012

U.S. U19 Team Runs Past Long Island All-Stars

California native Michael Tagliaferri scored two goals for Team USA in a 12-4 exhibition win over a group of Long Island all-stars on Saturday night.
© John Mecionis

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Photo Gallery

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Thanks to Michael Tagliaferri, when the U.S. Under-19 men's national team heads to Finland later this summer, the team will truly be representative of a country that stretches from sea to shining sea.

Tagliaferri, a Northern California native who will play at North Carolina next season, is the first player from California to make a national team.

"Back home it's a big deal, not just for me, but for everyone," said Tagliaferri, after Team USA defeated the Long Island All-Stars, 12-4, on Saturday night. "It's a big deal to represent not only my country, but California too."

And represent he did, scoring two goals to help Team USA past some of the best high school and college talent on Long Island.

Tagliaferri landed in New York earlier this week and missed his graduation from San Ramon Valley High School, but he didn't mind.

"You don't get an opportunity to play for a gold medal every summer." Tagliaferri said.

True, but in future summers, other Californians should get that chance.

"California's growing as a whole," Tagliaferri said. "I think we're catching up to these East Coast guys. Back here you just have so many players that are polished. They've played for a long time. The speed is a little better."

While the East Coast still dominates -- the team has 10 Long Islanders -- there is a cross country feel to the squad with Tagliaferri, Matthew Florence and Tanner Ottenbreit (Colorado) and Connor Buczek (Ohio).

"It's so cool to see how the game is spreading," said Harvard defender Stephen Jahelka, one of the aforementioned Long Islanders. "You get a Peter Baum at Colgate, he's from Oregon. The game is really moving across the country. That's really cool for kids to see when they come watch us. You don't have to be from the East Coast to make teams like this. You can be from anywhere."

Of course, those from traditional lacrosse hotbeds, will have an impact for the U.S. in Finland.

Matt Kavanagh played high school lacrosse at nearby Chaminade and led all players with four goals and one assist. His high school teammate Sean Mahon, currently of Harvard, added two goals. And the Long Island team, which was led by two goals from Garden City's Liam Kennedy, provided a solid opening test for Team USA to start its three game-exhibition schedule ahead of July's FIL World Championship.

"We said at tryouts you could take the next 23 guys and have a championship-caliber team," Tagliaferri said. "Playing against these guys, a lot of them tried out, this was a good test. It was a big deal for us."

It's all in preparation for the competition in a few weeks.

"I've never played against anybody from outside the United States," Tagliaferri said. "It will be an experience to see how lacrosse is played on a global scale. The Canadian game is a lot different. As for other countries, I don't really know. We just have to play our game."

A language barrier will also separate Team USA in many of its games, but the Americans' reaction to Tagliaferri's second goal, a rocket from in front of the cage, was familiar in any language: A team-wide whoop of awe.

The International Language

Saturday's exhibition was played with international rules, including four running 20-minute quarters. Learning the myriad of differences in international play will be one of the toughest adjustments for Team USA.

In fact, before they take on the Eastern Pennsylvania All-Stars, Saturday at Radnor High School, they'll take a quiz on international rules.

"International rules are kind of funny," Jahelka said. "It's a much quicker game, a lot of funky rules."

The quicker pace led to some problems on Saturday.

"It puts you in hairy transition situations," Jahelka said. "The middies got caught in transition. It's stuff we'll have to work on."

Another international issue for the American defense could be Canada's offense.

"When they play together it's pretty cool," Jahelka said. "They'll throw the ball in an area expecting you to get there. Off-ball [defense] is going to be huge."

Jahelka said the team did a good job with that against Long Island, but there is another potential worry regarding the talented Canadians.

"The big challenge for us is to make sure we realize there's more than one team," Jahelka said. "More than Canada. If we go in expecting it to be just us and Canada and we get knocked off by Australia, that's not gonna be good."

Kavanagh Leads Offense

Long Island native Matt Kavanagh scored as many goals as the Long Island All-Stars did on Saturday.

Scoring in front of a stellar defense should be familiar to Kavanagh, who is bound for Notre Dame, which had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NCAA this season.

This summer, he'll have the best defenders in America behind him. Kavanagh said that allows an attacker take some chances.

"You're gonna get the ball back," he said. "You can make some risky plays."

In addition to multi-goal scorers Kavanagh, Mahon and Tagliaferri, USA received goals from Buczek, Steve Pontrello, Ryan Tucker and Joseph Leonard. Brent Armstrong led the team with two assists.

All-American Bonding

With all the joking and hollering on the sideline, it was hard to imagine that the U-19 team had not played together since Thanksgiving. The team had no issue reconnecting this week, bonding over two-a-days and video games while training at C.W. Post.

"Everyone comes from good high school and college programs," Jahelka said. "It makes it easy to come together... It's been a bit of a grind, doing two-a-days. But we're all so close. The whole week at Post we've been playing FIFA, telling stories."

The team, which last played at an exhibition in Dallas in November, stayed in communication throughout the school year over the Internet.

"We were close from the beginning," Tagliaferri said. "It wasn't hard to keep in touch. We were always talking together. Seeing what guys we were doing. It was fun.

That includes Harvard men like Jahelka and Mahon and high schoolers like Tagliaferri and Armstrong. The team even fields a high school junior, Stephen Kelly of Calvert Hall.

"I don't see ages," Jahelka said. "I see middies and D's. Everyone has great lacrosse IQs."

Tagliaferri agreed that the high school players have had no issue fitting in.

"These guys have all played the college game, which is obviously a different speed," Tagliaferri said. "But they're always giving you pointers and we're such a tight-knit team. You see it how we play. With the chemistry it's almost like we have been playing together for a year. They bring me right in. It's awesome to see. There's a team atmosphere. I think when you look at championship teams it's always a team with chemistry that wins it."

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