PHOTOS BY JOHN LOOMIS

Meet the Faceless Men of the U.S. Defense


Tony Resch might be the forgotten man on the U.S. team coaching staff, and he’s entirely OK with that. After all, if you’re asking 23 of the world’s best players to put their egos aside in pursuit of a world championship, what better example will you find than the egoless assistant who would never brag or balk that he has been a part of 17 championship teams as a player and coach at the high school, professional and international levels?

Resch also provides valuable perspective as Team USA attempts to win back the gold medal four years after collapsing — on home soil, no less — in an 8-5 loss to Canada in the 2014 FIL World Championship final in Denver.

The last time the script went that way was in 2006. Resch, at the time, was the head coach of MLL’s Philadelphia Barrage. Ryan Boyle, Matt Striebel, Roy Colsey and Kyle Sweeney bore then the unwanted distinction as members of the first U.S. team to lose a game in 28 years. Goalie Brian Dougherty and faceoff specialist Paul Cantabene memorably were left off of the team, Dougherty because he was injured during tryouts and Cantabene because the U.S. opted not to take a pure faceoff specialist to Ontario — a decision it would regret as Canada’s Geoff Snider hoarded possessions in a 15-10 victory. 

“We had some pissed-off guys that wanted to win for a variety of reasons,” Resch said of the 2006 Barrage. “They took it out [on MLL] and, fortunately for me, we went on a great little run.”

Led by that core of U.S. players eager to spit out the unsavory taste of a silver medal, Philadelphia torched the rest of the league, averaging 20 goals per game and obliterating the Denver Outlaws 23-12 in the championship game in Los Angeles. Colsey and Striebel combined for 19 points in the MLL final. Cantabene won 27 of 36 faceoffs, outdueling Snider, of all people. Doc made 19 saves.


“The first thing I thought of when I saw the defensive roster was diversity. They just didn’t take every 6-foot-5, 250-pound brick house that could lay the lumber and guard every big guy in the world.” — U.S. short-stick D-middie Steve DeNapoli


Four years later, in the twilight of their careers, Boyle, Striebel, Sweeney and Dougherty all factored prominently in bringing the gold medal back to the U.S. with a 12-10 victory over Canada in the 2010 world championship final in Manchester, England. Resch was an assistant coach then under Mike Pressler as he is now under John Danowski. 

“The MLL is such a great vehicle for so many of these guys, but at the end of the day they want to bring a championship back to the United States,” Resch said. “Whether they didn’t get the opportunity before or are angry about their last opportunity, that’s energy we can get going in the right direction.”

Losing never sits well with world-class athletes. As Team USA turns the page on 2014 and embarks on another redemption tour this summer in Israel, the angriest, most motivated players mostly operate on the defensive side of the field.

In all, the 23-man roster includes eight veterans  — Jesse Bernhardt, Ned Crotty, Tucker Durkin, Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Hartzell, Marcus Holman, Rob Pannell and Paul Rabil — who watched the wheels come off in Denver.

Bernhardt, the best pure athlete, and Durkin, the bruising All-World defenseman, form two-thirds of the starting close defense. The third player, the unassuming and cerebral Joe Fletcher, was the only collegian on the 2014 training team before he was cut loose. Goalie John Galloway, meanwhile, was an alternate.

“It’s do or die for me,” said Hartzell, the long-stick midfielder who at age 32 figures he has three good years of lacrosse left in him before he retires. “No one’s going over there to win a silver medal.”








It’s an interesting blend of personalities, this U.S. defense.

Hartzell might be the closest thing to brash and flamboyant, the kinds of attributes we’ve come to expect from someone who wields a six-foot pole and enjoys making life miserable for any opponent within its reach. The only Division III product in the mix, Hartzell was a walk-on at Salisbury as a junior college transfer. He went undrafted before MLL’s San Francisco Dragons took a flier on him late in the 2007 supplemental draft.

Now with the New York Lizards, Hartzell commutes from Texas, where he’s a high school coach and avid hunter. 

“He’s got a presence about him,” said Joe Amplo, the Marquette head coach and defensive coordinator for the U.S. “We have a GroupMe chat with the Team USA defense, and Kyle is the guy leading the charge, whether he’s killing a pheasant or a boar. He’s the guy people want to be around.”

“It’s 90 percent Hartzell, 10 percent everybody else,” Bernhardt said of the text messages.

Beyond Hartzell, however, you won’t find many extroverts among the U.S. defenders. Durkin, the reigning MLL Defensive Player of the Year with the Florida Launch, is the alpha male of the group. A two-time Schmeisser Award-winning defenseman at Johns Hopkins, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder plays like a lumberjack, laying heavy stick checks and moving big bodies away from the goal.

“Tucker Durkin is a man amongst boys,” said Steve DeNapoli, a short-stick defensive midfielder for the U.S. “The guy is a physical specimen.”

Fletcher might not fill out a jersey or clear the crease like Durkin does, but the 2015 MLL Defensive Player of the Year surprises you with his quiet intensity.

“He’s the Average Joe that when it’s time to play lacrosse, he becomes not average anymore,” Bernhardt said.

Fletcher admits to looking unorthodox with his hunched defensive stance and lanky frame. But he’s also relentless in his pursuit of ball carriers and ground balls  — “a gnat,” Hartzell called him — and uncompromising in the fundamentals of positioning.

Bernhardt, whom some see as the perfect hybrid of Durkin and Fletcher, rounds out the close defense unit.  He can play interchangeably down low or up top with his former Maryland teammate, Michael Ehrhardt.

Hartzell and Joel White project exclusively as long-stick midfielders. White won over Amplo not only with his disruptive stick and athleticism in the transition game, but also because of his desire to be coached.

“That’s one of the more humbling relationships I’ve developed,” Amplo said. “Someone like Joel White, who’s such a good player and comes with such notoriety, wants to be coached like a third-grader. He’s curious about learning the game. You can win with guys like that.”




PHOTO BY JOHN LOOMIS


“The first thing I thought of when I saw the defensive roster was diversity,” said DeNapoli, who’s joined by Lizards and former Hofstra teammate Kevin Unterstein and Jake Bernhardt, Jesse’s brother, in the defensive midfield. “They just didn’t take every 6-foot-5, 250-pound brick house that could lay the lumber and guard every big guy in the world.”

Although many of these players are college coaches — notably Galloway (Jacksonville), Durkin (Bryn Athyn), Jesse Bernhardt (Maryland), Jake Bernhardt (Vermont), Unterstein (Hofstra) and DeNapoli (Adelphi) — they don’t always practice the principles they preach. MLL is an isolation league. Second and third slides are rare. You can take more liberties with a 60-second shot clock. 

Playing within the U.S. system means taking proper approaches, forcing ball carriers to certain spots, anticipating rotations and smartly identifying transition opportunities. When Maryland pushed the U.S. to the brink at Team USA Fall Classic in October — erasing a five-goal deficit with the kind of methodical probing the U.S. can expect from Canada — the defense faltered in all of these facets. “We needed a slap in the face,” Amplo said.

The next morning at US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md., the U.S. held a practice in advance of an exhibition doubleheader. Danowski asked Resch how he thought the defense looked. Resch, pleased with the urgency and purpose with which they moved, replied with one word.

“Faceless.” 

The Ohio Machine popularized the adjective last summer, riding a defense full of no-names to their first MLL title. In HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones,” the Faceless Men are a guild of assassins who forsake their identities and execute with ruthless pragmatism.

How apropos.