U.S. Shares Wealth on Offense, Holds Ground on Defense

PHOTO BY ADAM SCOTT

U.S. attackman Rob Pannell (3) hugs long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt after Ehrhardt's goal just 18 seconds into the game. Ehrhardt added a second tally in the third quarter of a 14-5 win over Australia in the FIL World Championship semifinals.


NETANYA, Israel — The U.S. national team has discovered success in Israel by embodying a somewhat un-American concept.

Socialism.

It might not always work in politics and economics, but in sports, there’s no greater synergy than when individuals sacrifice personal gain for the collective good.

That balance was on display again Thursday, as nine different U.S. players scored in a gritty 14-5 win over Australia in an FIL World Championship semifinal at the Wingate Institute.

Team USA, which improved to 6-0 in the tournament, will meet Canada in the championship game Saturday at Netanya Stadium (10 a.m. local, 3 a.m. Eastern on ESPN2). The Canadians, reigning gold medalists, advanced with a 15-4 victory over the Iroquois Nationals.

Attackman Marcus Holman was Team USA’s top scorer with three goals and an assist. Ten of 14 U.S. goals were assisted. For the tournament, 63 of its 98 goals (64.3 percent) have come off feeds. Every offensive player has contributed. The four-man attack rotation has accounted for 82 points, the first midfield for 42 points and the second midfield for 28 points.

“You’ve got guys that are used to getting a ton of points…on their MLL teams. But also a lot of the guys here, having lost in ’14, realize that individual stuff doesn’t matter,” said U.S. midfielder Ned Crotty, who scored a goal Thursday. “The only thing we want to do is win and, understanding the talent that we have all over the field, if we share the ball and make some plays, we look good. When we try to do fancy stuff, that’s when we look really bad.”







The U.S. seldom looked bad during its torrid run through the round robin, including an 11-10 win over Canada. Things started slowly Thursday. For Australia, the best defense was a miserly offense and a goalie in Ryan Spark (12 saves) who played his best game of the tournament.

But the dam could only hold for so long.

Attackman Jordan Wolf scored on a drive from behind the goal for a topside dunk and then came off a pick to find midfielder John Haus with a backdoor feed to stake the U.S. to a 7-4 lead at halftime.

Australia started the third quarter with a possession that lasted more than five minutes. This is a common tactic opponents use to neutralize the powerful U.S. offense, since there is no shot clock in international lacrosse. A stall warning means only that a team must keep the ball in the offensive box. Australia isolated short sticks, dodged long sticks when it could and held onto the ball for long periods of time hoping to catch the U.S. defense on it heels.

That opening never came, however, and a heads-up play by defenseman Jesse Bernhardt led to a wide-open crank shot for long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt, who released the ball so hard that it went in the goal even though Spark got a piece of it with his stick.

The normally subdued Ehrhardt, who absorbed some contact from big Australian defenseman Callum Robinson after releasing the shot, roared in celebration.

“Everyone was exhausted. We were able to get out and up and get to the cage,” said Ehrhardt, the top-scoring long pole in MLL who also scored Team USA’s first goal Thursday. “It was definitely a risky shot, but I’m glad it went in and we were able to celebrate the hard work and grind we put in on defense.”

Offensive coordinator Seth Tierney referred to Team USA’s unselfish offense as “the one-tenth crew,” in that each of the 10 offensive players (four attackmen and six midfielders) “are no more and no less than one-tenth.”

The way Ehrhardt is playing, Tierney may need to make room for one more in the denominator. Add in the fact that Ehrhardt has caused some timely turnovers — the sight of Lyle Thompson’s stick spinning in the air after a butt-end check in the opener comes to mind — and that he leads all non-faceoff specialists with 23 ground balls, and you could make the case that he’s the U.S. team’s MVP.

“At this point, he’s not an unsung hero. He’s played unbelievable throughout the tournament and definitely has been recognized because of that,” Crotty said. “But to see him fired up, talk in the huddles and then get two huge goals and see how fired up he is, our sideline goes nuts for that. And that permeates throughout the whole team. Our offense has been feeding off of our defense.”

Up until Ehrhardt’s third-quarter icebreaker, seven different U.S. players had scored its first seven goals. Attackman Ryan Brown, who scored twice and has a team-high 22 goals overall, and Holman took over from there, accounting for Team USA’s final five goals as it pulled away.

The U.S. limited Australia to just one second-half goal. Faceoff men Trevor Baptiste and Greg Gurenlian combined to go 17-for-22, the extra possessions also serving to nullify Australia’s wait-and-see approach.

“It was good that happened. Those five-minute-long possessions, that’s what Canada did back in 2014 when they had a lead,” said long-stick midfielder Kyle Hartzell, who also played short-stick and close defense Thursday. “They kind of make you fall asleep when that ball goes around and it gets boring. We locked in and got two stops out of it, put it in transition and got a goal out of it. We’re going to see that again probably Saturday morning.”

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