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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: U.S. Women upset Australia

I root for the U.S. whenever they play other countries in other sports. I have been covering lacrosse as a journalist for so long that I don't ever root for any team under any circumstance. I sometimes root for outcomes that may help the game grow or get a particular coach a milestone victory or other human circumstances that transcend the field of play. But I have no favorite teams, even the U.S. in the World Games or Women's World Cup, which is being played this week in Prague. In fact, just yesterday the U.S. upset the world champion Australians 10-9 after trailing at the half 9-4. There was such a stark difference in the play of both teams from the first to the second half of this game that my skepticism rose for a moment, thinking perhaps that all was not as it seemed in Prague.

In the first half the U.S. was obviously outgunned and overwhelmed by the Aussie barrage. Stacey Morlang led off the scoring, but two-time Tewaaraton winner Hannah Nielson was effortlessly quarterbacking the Aussies to a slow and steady crushing of the U.S. team. She fed Jen Adams, perhaps the best player in the world (if it's not Nielson) twice for scores in the first. Morlang, Nielson, Adams, Sonia LaMonica, Sarah Mollison, Alicia Moodie, Courtney Inge, Sarah Forbes and Loyola recruit Tegan Brown make up an offense that I thought, even before the games began, would be unstoppable. The defensive unit of Megan Barnet, Tess McLeod and goalie Sue McSolvin were shutting down the Americans.

This same unit scored not a single goal in the second half. Not one. They led 9-4 at half and lost 10-9. They let long periods of time pass while the U.S. worked the ball around without ever playing defense with close to the level of intensity employed in the first half. There was no desperation or even urgency in the play of the Australians, even at the end. Jen Adams took a few shots but did not really try to win the game the way I might have expected and was not even in the game at some critical times. She can score one goal at will, last time I checked. This was, at the very least, an acceptable loss for the ladies from down under. Methinks they like the underdog role 100 percent more than the huge favorite role they had to bear until this game's end. I'm not suggesting anything of a conspiratorial nature occurred, but now the pressure is firmly on the Americans.

I am not saying the Aussies threw the half, although after watching, I can't help but at least entertain the notion. It may have been that I witnessed the result of the worst coach's halftime speech ever, or that all of the sudden, the best team in the world just forgot how to win, or even how to really play. I have watched quite a few men's teams at international events play a 3/4-speed round-robin game against their likely championship game foe. They narrowly lose the first matchup and yet they never panic or really try to win the game. Not like they would in an elimination game. They aren't really that upset afterward. That's the way this seemed in Prague -- IN THE SCOND HALF. In 2005, Australia tied the United States 7-7 in the round-robin game, before throttling them in the final.

I'm not taking away anything from the Americans who obviously played with intensity throughout and really did pull off a comeback win. They have come back to win against England and Canada in these games, as well, which is a good sign and a bad sign at the same time. But they are now the only 4-0 team at the Games and enter the medal round as the new favorite and No. 1 seed. They have some great players. Attacker Caroline Cryer is very, very good. The midfield is the strongest unit with Caitlyn McFadden, Lindsey Munday, Acacia Walker, Tewaaraton winner Katie Chrest, Sarah Bullard, Sarah Albrecht and two-time Tewaaraton winner Kristen Kjellman. And the 'D' is solid with Amber Falcone, Michi Ellers and Regina Oliver. In the U.S. cage, Devon Wills was the first-half victim and Megan Huether was the second-half hero. I must say that for whatever reason Amy Appelt is not on this squad, I personally am disappointed that she is not on the field representing the U.S. for a second time and think we are a lesser team without her, just as we were in Annapolis in 2005.

This is a very good U.S. team, but so was the 2005 squad. The 2005 Australia squad may have been the best team I ever saw. Any team with each of the headline stars from the University of Maryland championship dynasty, Sascha Newmarch, Sarah Forbes, Jen Adams, Courtney Hobbs and Sonia Judd (LaMonica now) had a good chance in 2005 to take that honor without up-and-coming stars Sarah Mollison, Stacy Morlang, Kate McHarg and Hannah Nielson and the incredible unknown Sarah Falcione. This 2009 team has a mature Morlang, Mollison and Nielson. Jen Adams and Sonia LaMonica are at their prime and might be better now than last year. They looked that way yesterday for a half. I talked to one of the top coaches in the land today and they said, after watching the game on the internet as I did, that the U.S. comeback looked legitimate to them and that the Aussies just lost their focus. I am sure that my very knowledgeable friend was right, but I would think twice about putting any money on the U.S. in the final based on the outcome of the last game. Like anyone bets on women's lax.

June 23, 2009
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