Chance for History: U.S., Iroquois Meet Again in Indoor Worlds Semifinals


The U.S. fell to the Iroquois Nationals 12-10 in round robin play last Saturday.

As soon as the buzzer sounded in Langley Events Centre — signaling the end of the U.S. national team’s 17-3 win over the Czech Republic — there were reminders of what’s to come.

Players headed toward the handshake line, dapping teammates up near midfield, when the public address announcer cued up the Thursday’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. semifinals

First up, the United States against Iroquois at 5 p.m. PST. The winner plays for gold.

Not that this team needed a refresher on what stands between them and history. They've been preparing for this game for four years.

“It’s another opportunity to make history here,” coach Regy Thorpe said after the blowout win over the Czechs. “We’re hoping that all our hard work building this team pays off. It’s just another opportunity to get over the hump and the hurdle for U.S. box lacrosse.”

That history is two-fold. The U.S. indoor national team will battle the Iroquois on Thursday night with multiple goals — first, to beat the Nationals for the first time in the indoor world championship and second, to advance to the gold medal game for the first time in program history.

The final standings of every World Indoor Lacrosse Championship have read Canada (gold), Iroquois (silver) and the United States (bronze). In fact, the Iroquois have knocked the Americans out in this very round twice (2007, 2015).

Thursday’s matchup offers the U.S indoor national team a chance to reach a height once thought unachievable.

“We have a little unfinished business with them,” Blaze Riorden said. “We played them hard the first time and we’re looking to do a little more this time. This is what you play for. We’re on Week 2 and this is the one that we have circled. We got here and did what we had to do to get to this point. We need to rest up and wake up tomorrow ready to make history.”

A 12-10 loss to the Iroquois on Sept. 21 had injected a little more confidence into the American locker room. It offers a glimpse at the aspects of the game where the U.S. can expose the Iroquois, and vice versa. In that game, the Americans jumped out to a 4-1 lead before a big second-quarter put the Nationals in charge.

But a fourth-quarter surge from an energetic U.S. team brought them within a goal, with possession. They couldn’t send the game to overtime, but a lot worked for them on that night.

The strength of this American team? Athleticism and lots of it. It caused the Iroquois problems throughout that night, especially as the game wore on. 

“Their chemistry is bar-none,” Riorden said. “They know where each other are without even looking at them. We need to do a good job of being athletic, big and physical. It’s a lacrosse game, it’s not checkers, so anything can happen.”

That physicality can hinder the Iroquois’ ability to run a clean and efficient offense. But it can also lead to penalties for the U.S. national team. Iroquois had four power-play opportunities in the first half and converted on two of them. Since heading to the box 21 times in their first two games, though, it’s averaging just 5.6 penalties per game.

Staying out of the box will help negate the prowess of an Iroquois offense that features many players that have grown up will one another. Cody Jamieson leads the team with 11 goals and 17 assists, while Randy Staats has nine goals and 17 assists.

“They’re very dangerous,” Brett Manney said. “They can shoot. They can finish and cut. They play hard. There are a lot of things that they do well. We have to stay out of the box, help each other up, finish the ball in transition, and take advantage of the opportunities we have.”

The stick skills wow crowds and the finishing ability is top-notch. The job of the U.S. defense will be a crucial one. That’s a major reason why Thorpe decided to sit leaders like Brett Manney and Joel White in the win over the Czech Republic.

In addition, Joe Resetarits, the leader of the U.S. offense, got the night off. Preparation for Thursday night, in some fashion, started a day before.

On offense, the ability to strike quickly and efficiently could be a deciding factor. Missing from the loss to Iroquois were sharpshooters Connor Kelly and Matt Rambo, who were busy winning a PLL title with the Whipsnakes. 

“Our guys are hungry to get another opportunity against them,” Thorpe said. “We have some reinforcements now. Iroquois had a few days to rest. We’re just excited to battle.”

Not to mention, a strong night from Trevor Baptiste at the faceoff could keep the Iroquois offense at bay.

Stepping on that floor on Thursday will be a star-studded group that is looking for a little bit more. Brett Manney spoke of this team’s bucket list at a team meeting on Tuesday night.

“He went through — we’ve got every single award that you can compile on this team,” Greg Downing recounted. “We’ve got Tewaaraton winners, we've got All-Americans, we’ve got PLL champions, MLL champions, NLL champions. The only thing we don’t have in that room is a gold or silver medal from the indoor world championship. Bringing U.S. indoor lacrosse to the next level is the goal for this team.”

“This is what can be the only bucket list item checked off by everyone on this team,” Manney said.

It’s the calm before the storm. It’s arguably the most important game in U.S. indoor history. Will this be the time the Americans break through?

Kelly Showing No Signs of Stopping

Connor Kelly has been playing indoor lacrosse for just over one year. His first indoor event was the Lax All Stars North American Invitational on the Onondaga Reservation in September of last year.

Even then, his goal-scoring abilities were on display.

Since, he’s joined the San Diego Seals in the NLL and dropped 17 points in eight games. After that, he scored 10 goals and added eight assists in 10 regular-season games for the PLL’s Whipsnakes — a team that eventually took home the league’s inaugural title.

That was Saturday. By 6 a.m. Sunday morning, he and teammates Matt Rambo and Matt Dunn were headed to Vancouver for the indoor world championship. The grind doesn’t stop.

“It was awesome to get that “W” with Matt putting it away in overtime,” Kelly said. “Then, literally 12 hours later, we’re hopping on a flight to go represent Team USA. It’s an opportunity you can’t pass up. It’s awesome.”

There’s been no champions hangover from Kelly when it comes to his play for the U.S. indoor team. In the 22-3 win over England on Monday, Kelly tallied four goals and four assists.

As an encore act, he produced the same stat line in the 17-3 quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic. His sharpshooting has proven to be a major asset to the U.S. offense. He hasn’t reached his potential, and might not for some time.

“Connor’s upside is that he’s getting better every time he plays box,” Thorpe said. “We’re excited for the future of this box program with these young guys.”

Reunion with Czechs

Wednesday night’s matchup with the Czech Republic brought back memories of another historic playoff matchup.

Back in 2011, the U.S. indoor team met host country Czech Republic in the bronze meal game of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. Downing, the only member of the 2019 team that was in Prague that day, remembers a crazy scene.

“They had the home crowd rooting for them, so it was really wild,” Downing said. “Their crowd was very into it. They had a great skillset. They really, truly loved the indoor game.”

The then 26-year-old took home the bronze with a 16-7 win.

Now 35, Downing wore the assistant captain “A” on his jersey on Wednesday night and helped anchor a U.S. transition and defense that allowed just three goals. With his 13 years of box experience, Downing will play a vital leadership role as the U.S. takes on Iroquois, and potentially Canada, in the playoffs.

He’s seen the highs and lows of American box lacrosse, and is hoping a third time is the charm.

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