1. Matt Abbott is the U.S. team's most important player
One of the strongest reactions to the U.S. team’s 23-man roster was the lack of a third short-stick defensive midfielder, and that criticism was exacerbated by injuries to Dan Burns and Kyle Harrison in pool play. What it also shone a bright spotlight on is how consistent and reliable Matt Abbott is as a player. So many times, he's come in off the wings of a faceoff to make a tough ground ball look easy or pulled out of a so-so transition opportunity to calmly flip the ball to an on-subbing midfielder. It reminds me of Brodie Merrill in his prime: how easy it is to take for granted. Put it this way — Rob Pannell scored seven goals vs. the Iroquois, but there's likely a reason (maybe it's just seniority, but maybe not) that he's wearing No. 32 and Abbott kept No. 3.
2. Depth and versatility weren’t an issue for the Americans
The way the schedule set up, the U.S. and Canada had an extra day of rest during pool play and, because they played each other on July 10, had greater space between medal-quality opponents than the Iroquois did. As a result, the U.S. was able to shake off injuries to Burns (Maryland, Severna Park), Harrison (Johns Hopkins, Friends), Kevin Leveille and Jesse Schwartzman (Johns Hopkins, Pikesville) without any negative consequences. Similarly, the rotations at attack and close defense and the performances of guys like Dave Lawson, Jesse Bernhardt (Maryland), Mitch Belisle and Kyle Hartzell (Salisbury, Archbishop Curley) have meant that -- along with FOGOs Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian -- no individual player has had to play so much that he wore down during the first five games. With two games to play, the U.S. looks healthy and relatively fresh.
3. The Canadians needed a ball-carrier
After John Grant Jr.'s move to Canada's coaching staff, the attack was stocked with goal-scorers but lacked a ball-dominant offensive catalyst. Middies like Kevin Crowley and Jeremy Noble, who've shown the capacity to draw slides and create offense, were clearly expected to create offense for Canada. During the first half vs. the U.S. last Thursday, however, that strategy couldn't generate enough easy shots in six-on-six play because Canada couldn't quickly work the ball to attack the backside of the defense. Additionally, without a dodging threat from X, the U.S. defense was able to pretty much play six-on-five above the goal-line extended. In the second half, Noble started inverting more, and as the offense's best distributor and the player most familiar with assistant Matt Brown's offense, he was the most obvious option to fill that role. Canada spent part of the next four games working out that adjustment, and it appears that its effects will determine Canada's chances in the medal round.
4. Canada’s Patient and Confident
I caught up with the Team Canada players and staff Wednesday afternoon on their day off, and the attitude was pretty light and confident. They weren’t panicking about their pool play loss to the U.S. or their near collapse against the Iroquois. The common refrain centered around the fact that they have spent this tournament learning to play with each other, so they’ve been playing through the chemistry process. Moving Noble behind the goal to quarterback from X was an important adjustment after the U.S. game, and they’ve been playing confident defense in front of Dillon Ward, who’s had an amazing tournament in goal.
5. Iroquois need to start quicker
The Iroquois have suffered from slow starts throughout this tournament, something they were acutely aware of when we checked in with some of their offensive stars after their quarterfinal win over Scotland. Against the U.S. in a blowout 18-5 loss Tuesday night, they went down 10-0 at halftime, before putting up an even 3-3 third quarter against the Americans. Against Canada, they went down 6-1 at halftime before putting up their thrilling second-half comeback to tie the game with 8:19 remaining. The Nationals were up on Scotland the entire quarterfinal game Wednesday, but they let the Scots hang around, leading just 8-7 heading into the fourth quarter in a game in which attatckmen Lyle Thompson and Brett Bucktooth didn’t play. Attackman Randy Staats, who showed that he can take over games with Syracuse this spring but also can be quiet at times, told me after finishing with two goals and two assists against Scotland that he’s not happy with how he’s played in the world championships.
6. Australia is still among the world’s elite
The Aussies haven’t been heard from much at all since the last world championships in England, when they finished third with a 16-9 win over Japan. Australia started off this year’s event with another win over Japan, a thrilling 14-13 double-overtime victory. But they looked solid in hanging with the U.S. and Canada, and were tied with the Iroquois at halftime in pool play. Goalie Tom Vickery was the hero in their quarterfinal win over Israel on Wednesday night, making 12 saves. He made 13 against the Iroquois. The Aussies have looked fast and athletic getting up and down the field and finishing with guys like Matt Diver, Anson Carter, Nathan Stiglich, Nigel Morton and Marty Hyde.
7. Israel is challenging to be among the world’s elite
In their first FIL World Championships, the Israelis have made a lot of noise, nearly reaching the semifinals before a 9-8 loss to the Aussies on Wednesday night. Former Major League Lacrosse star Ari Sussman has led the way for Israel, as one of the event’s leading scorers, and Casey Cittadino (Towson University), Cody Levine and Lee Coppersmith (Johns Hopkins) give them speed and scoring that few international teams can match. They came into the quarterfinal game with an 88-18 advantage in scoring over their opponents in a 5-0 run.