The Year of the Six: There's No Stopping Kieran McArdle

Steven Brooks did not know what to expect of his new roommate until he heard the crinkling of the candy wrapper. He looked over and saw Kieran McArdle ripping open the orange plastic.

“Yo!” Brooks exclaimed as he ogled the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. “Let me get some of that.”

“You like these?” McArdle asked.

“Dude, it’s what I need every night before a game,” Brooks answered before quoting “Step Brothers,” the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly buddy comedy. “Did we just become best friends?”

A veteran midfielder acquired by the Florida Launch midway through the 2014 Major League Lacrosse season, Brooks took the rookie attackman under his wing. They roomed together for the next four years. When their teammates entertained the night life of Fort Lauderdale or Miami, Brooks and McArdle conversed over Mexican food at Rocco’s Tacos in Boca Raton. They liked to stay up late and fall asleep with the TV on.

“It was like two peas in a pod,” Brooks said. “What attracted me to Kieran was his work ethic and how he carried himself. He played with a chip on his shoulder. I wanted to teach him everything I knew — what it’s like to be a pro and how to treat others.”

Brooks, 38, and McArdle, 30, remain close friends today. Even as rivals in the Premier Lacrosse League. The PLL’s inaugural season in 2019 was their last as teammates. Brooks retired and became an assistant coach with the Atlas, who left McArdle, a three-time MLL All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, unprotected in the 2020 expansion draft. The Waterdogs snatched up McArdle and made him a centerpiece of the new team that would win the PLL championship just three years into its existence.

But lacrosse was the farthest thing from either of their minds when Brooks called McArdle to console him after his mother, Patty, died two Septembers ago. Four days after the Waterdogs lost to the Whipsnakes in the 2021 PLL semifinals, Patty McArdle lost her seven-month bout with colorectal cancer. She was 59.

“I had a real good game,” said McArdle, thinking back on his three-goal, three-assist performance in his last game before she died. “I’ve been playing for her ever since.”

Brooks could relate. His mother died of lung cancer when he was 13. The wife of an FBI agent, she raised four boys in Illinois — the youngest of whom dared to say he would grow up to be a professional lacrosse player.

“Everybody laughed at me,” said Brooks, who would go on to lead Syracuse to an NCAA championship as the national midfielder of the year in 2008. “My mom was the only one saying, ‘Go do what you want to do.’ When she passed away, I was like, ‘I’m going to fulfill what my mom wanted me to do.’ That was my calling.”

Brooks shared this with McArdle and encouraged him to find similar purpose in his grief. “You need to find that purpose, that passion and what it is inside that your mom loves,” he told his friend. “She loves you as a lacrosse player.”

A month later, McArdle married his college sweetheart, Alyssa Goldrich. Shortly thereafter, she became pregnant with their daughter, Emerson. The milestones piled up in 2022, when McArdle capped an MVP-caliber season by winning his first championship at any level, was inducted into the St. John’s Athletics Hall of Fame and made the 23-man U.S. national team roster that will compete for the world championship this summer in San Diego. His wife calls it “the Year of the Six,” the jersey number he wears.

“I saw a different look in his eyes going into last season,” Brooks said. “He had a whole different purpose to play for — not only for his mom, but for his daughter as well. Something flipped in his brain. And he just started taking over.”

“I saw a different look in his eyes going into last season.”

— Steven Brooks on Kieran McArdle

WHEN MCARDLE PLAYED catch with his mother in the backyard of their Long Island home, he’d ask her to hold a stick facing out. He would take care of the rest. “It definitely helped with my accuracy,” he said.

Precision. That’s what then-St. John’s assistant coach Dan Paccione noticed about McArdle when he first saw him play during the Under Armour All-America tryouts on a messy grass field in Massapequa, New York.

“He catches a pass that’s skimming across the mud and one-times it out of the corner of his eye to someone on the goal,” said Paccione,  now the head coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. “Hands and vision. That’s what I wrote in my book. That was elite to me.”

It wasn’t that McArdle was overlooked. Inside Lacrosse had the Connetquot (N.Y.) attackman ranked as the No. 64 recruit in the high school class of 2010. But for whatever reason — his sleight frame, perhaps — the blue bloods stayed away. He was a late bloomer at the advent of early recruiting. The No. 1 recruit in his class, Nicky Galasso of Suffolk County rival West Islip (N.Y.), sent shockwaves through the lacrosse community when he committed to North Carolina in eighth grade. McArdle did not make varsity until he was a sophomore.

McArdle did the recruiting circuit that summer. Top 205. Peak 200. When the dust settled, his offers came down to Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. John’s and a few Division II schools. If he couldn’t play for Notre Dame or Syracuse or any of the other teams he watched on NCAA championship weekend, the next-best thing was to play against them in the Big East.

At the end of his junior year, McArdle chose St. John’s, which had revived its lacrosse program in 2005 following a decade-long hiatus. It just fit, oddly. “Underdog mentality. Blue-collar mentality. Work your [butt] off every day,” McArdle said. “Nothing’s handed to you. We had [crappy] locker rooms and never the best gear.”

A 6-foot-1 attackman who also played basketball, McArdle added bulk going into his senior year of high school. He went from 155 to 175 pounds, finished second (to Galasso) in Suffolk County with 112 points and earned USA Lacrosse All-American honors.

He only got better in college. St. John’s head coach Jason Miller encouraged Paccione to design an offense centered on their prized recruit. His new teammates learned to keep their head and stick up lest they take an unexpected skip feed off the face mask.

On May 1, 2012, when McArdle quarterbacked St. John’s to one of the greatest upsets in Big East tournament history. The sophomore lefty scored three goals and added four assists in an 8-7 semifinal win over Notre Dame, the No. 2-ranked team in the country that would go on to play in the final four.

On the field after the game at Villanova, a reporter asked McArdle if he would consider transferring after the season.

“It just never even crossed my mind,” he said.

St. John’s beat Notre Dame again the next year and rose to No. 10 in the national rankings. McArdle went on to become a three-time All-American and graduated in 2014 as the Red Storm’s all-time leader in goals (125), assists (139) and points (264).

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE when you grow up? A self-described “mama’s boy,” the third-grade boy surprised even his own family with his response to the journal prompt.

McArdle’s mother was a real estate appraiser. But he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He wanted to be a gym teacher.

Jack McArdle taught health and physical education for 30 years at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, New York. He retired as the school’s athletic director in 2015.

“Why did I choose this profession?  My dad, for one,” McArdle said. “And two, I love sports. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Not that he ever envisioned doing it here in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in upper Manhattan. After graduating from St. John’s, he moved to Long Beach in Nassau County and lived there for four years while earning his master’s degree and a physical education certificate at Hofstra.

When Goldrich, a litigation and criminal defense attorney, got the opportunity to work at a leading law firm in the city, McArdle followed her there. They moved into an apartment together and he landed a job as a K-5 teacher at P.S. 48, a school with 97-percent minority enrollment that serves mostly low-income families.

It’s hard to reconcile these two parts of McArdle. As an athlete, he’s notorious for his temper.  In his first National Lacrosse League game with Toronto in 2017, he launched himself into Saskatchewan goalie Aaron Bold — a no-no in box lacrosse. He wound up fighting three guys and earning the nickname “The Enforcer.”

But Monday through Friday, he’s Mr. McArdle. Sometimes he’s a shark, as in Sharks and Minnows. Other times, he’s a bear, growling while demonstrating bear crawls along the gym floor beside Broadway and 186th Street.

“These kids don’t come from much of anything,” McArdle said. “At the end of the day, if I’m making these kids smile, they’re having fun and they’re active, that’s a big win.”

Teaching lacrosse reminds McArdle of how he felt the first time he grasped a stick, even if new students occasionally mistake theirs for a tennis racket or call the pocket a pouch. They got to watch him play during his two seasons with the NLL’s New York Riptide and when the PLL came to Red Bull Arena in New Jersey in 2019.

McArdle thrived as a weekend warrior, but a championship eluded him. It kept him up at night. Brooks too.

“One thing he’s always said to me is he’s never won anything,” Brooks said.

THe Waterdogs were 0-2 and MccArdle was a non-factor. Relegated to a utility role, he managed just two measly goals. He had just turned 30. Was this it?

“I was questioning my game a little bit,” McArdle said. “And then Mikey Sowers gets hurt.”

With Michael Sowers out for Week 3 on Long Island, McArdle moved back to attack and carved up the Chrome for three goals and four assists, convincing coach Andy Copelan to keep him in the lineup when Sowers returned. The Waterdogs rode their resurgent star to five straight wins and a playoff spot. McArdle finished second in the PLL in scoring with 19 goals a league-best 23 assists.

But even in the hazy afterglow of their championship victory over the Chaos at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania — sifting through the cigar smoke and celebratory spritz of Michelob Ultra — it was easy to lose sight of McArdle. He was the last to the podium in the post-game press conference and observed with satisfying silence as others fielded questions.

He thought of his mom.

“After one of the [worst] years of my life, it turns out, this is by far the best year of my life,” McArdle would say months later. “It’s crazy how life works. You never know what’s coming next.”


Kieran McArdle's mother, Patty, died in 2021 after a seven-month bout with colorectal cancer. She was 59.

WHAT CAME NEXT was a text from Seth Tierney. “Got a minute?”

It was the recruiting pitch McArdle never got from Tierney when he was in high school. The Hofstra head coach is also the PLL's head of competition and an assistant coach for the U.S. team.

McArdle had tried out for the 2018 U.S. team but did not make it past the first round. “That one stung,” he said. He did not even apply for tryouts this go around. But Tierney saw firsthand how McArdle transformed the Waterdogs into a title contender. He played with a mean streak.

“It’s hard to manufacture anger,” Tierney said. “That’s an organic feeling.”

With head coach John Danowski’s blessing, Tierney invited McArdle to a September training camp at USA Lacrosse. They liked his game. He could score in tight or as a stretch shooter. He could distribute. He operated comfortably in two-man sets. And he was a lefty.

But the word they kept coming back to was “ignite.” When the offense stagnated, McArdle consistently lit the fuse.

Even though he could not compete at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic the next month — his wife was due the same weekend — McArdle earned the opportunity to play his way onto the team at the final evaluation in December. “I haven’t felt those nerves in a very long time,” he said.

Now it's time to pack the peanut butter cups for San Diego.

“This is the pinnacle of the sport,” he said. “You dream of playing Division I and winning a national championship, playing pro and then at the top of that playing for Team USA and winning a gold medal. It’s the elite of the elite.”

Support the U.S. men’s national team in its quest for gold this summer at the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego from June 21-July 1. Purchase tickets here to support the U.S. live. #ThisIsHome.


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