Lacrosse is Canada's official summer sport. Canada owns the current International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) indoor and outdoor lacrosse world titles. Canada is lacrosse country. That's why the ILF U19 World Lacrosse Championships were hosted in early July by the city of Coquitlam, British Columbia. After the upset of Team USA by the Gary Gait led Canadian team at the 2006 World Championship in London, Ontario, the stage was set for a great Canada U-19 squad to deliver the last great men's international title. But the reigning champion, Team USA, had in fact never lost a game in international competition. Keeping the World U-19 trophy north of the 49th parallel wasn't to be.
For the sixth straight time, the USA captured the gold medal and did so by taking the Canadians out back and beating them in their own backyard. The 19-12 win marked the third straight time the Canadians have played second fiddle.
"We got beat by a very good US team…that never lost [all tournament]," said Canada's coach Gary Gait. "We didn't compete as well for loose balls and they just dominated. We didn't execute in the final game."
And, simply put, the USA did.
Canada lost to the Americans 16-15 in overtime during the round-robin setting the stage for the upset in the final. A raucous group of boisterous Canadian supporters filled Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam, BC in anticipation of breaking a rather frustrating trend. The stands filled with red and white chants throughout, but it was not enough to will the maple leaf to victory. The USA never trailed and led for all but five and half minutes of the eighty minute contest.
For the most part, the US team looked like an eight-year-old birthday boy at his own party. The ball was theirs and Canada wasn't allowed any play time. The USA's time of possession, especially in the fourth quarter, was overwhelming thanks in large part to the uncanny play of faceoff specialist Matthew Dolente. He won 19 of 28 draws which had Canada back-pedalling more often than Wile E. Coyote.
"I needed to keep it simple," said the smallish Dolente (5-foot-8, 165 pound). "They have a lot of physical players so it was important to have good stick fundamentals."
USA coach Chuck Apel was at times in awe at Dolente's knack for dominating the faceoff circle.
"We presented a lot of difficult matches," Apel said. "He's very good and he has all the tools. [Winning so many draws] gave us a nice chemistry and flexibility."
While Dolente showed Chuck Norris-esque quick draw qualities, it was a variety pack of Americans who filled Canada's nets. The USA had ten different scorers with Craig Dowd-who took home the tournament's top attacker honours-Dean Gibbons and Nick Elsmo each contributing three.
For the red and white, tournament MVP Adam Jones pumped in five in the final playing from the midfield position.
In the bronze medal game, the Iroquois Nationals played an England team that had plenty of soccer-like supporters in the stands all week. But unfortunately for the singing and dancing group of English family and friends, Iroquois was just too strong and technically sound.
"They move the ball well and finish well," said England's coach Tom Weinham about the Iroquois Nationals. "They managed the game really well and ran through their bench. They were fantastic."
Although accolades for the opposition came from Weinham, England's disappointment was draped all over the faces of this tightly-knit squad. As they loafed over to acknowledge their fans, smiles were hard to come by. But much of the emotion was because of the closeness of this team.
"This was a special group of young men," Weinham said. "There's a spirit, a bond that is unlike anything. They are so close and they have so much mutual respect and trust. This was a band of brothers."
For Iroquois, the bronze medal was a bittersweet. After a tough loss to Canada in the semi-final, a team that wanted to be in the finals still managed to give a gutsy performance to claim their first medal since 1990.
"For everyone, it's the last game that is remembered," said Iroquois coach Tony Gray. "We grew as a team and got stronger and stronger. We basically said before this game that we can treat this as a great opportunity to get a bronze [and] we were excited."
Although the final day pitted the top four teams in the tournament against each other, the tournament had plenty of sub-plots that had fans from all over the world cheering on their respective sides. The most intriguing may have been the stellar play of lacrosse-minnow Germany. For a team that had never won a game at the U19 competition before, the Germans showed the great strides they have taken to become competitive on the world stage.
"I think clearly our team exceeded everyone's possible expectations for this team," said German coach John Pirie who guided his team to a 5-0 record in round-robin play. "We opened a lot of eyes at this tournament that Germany lacrosse has progressed to the point where they can field competitive teams at this level."
Although Germany fell 24-2 to Australia in their final game, a sixth place finish was phenomenal.
"The Germans never quit," Pirie said. "They're relentless. We practice 12 hours a day [and] I've been working with them over a year now and we've done sprints exactly one time. These kids work harder than any kids I've ever met in my life. I've been a professional coach for 23 years and I've never had a group of kids work as hard as these kids."
Australia was knocking on the medal round door all week but fell short in crucial losses to England and Iroquois, but ended with some momentum for the next games with the big win over Germany and a fifth place finish.
"Clearly the US and Canada are a step above everyone at this stage, [but] after day one and two it looked like we had a chance at a bronze medal, but we fell short," said Australia coach Bob Carter. "The team learned a lot from the first game to the end of the tournament."
Japan beat Scotland in the seventh/eighth game. Wales beat Bermuda in the ninth/tenth game and South Korea beat Finland in the eleventh/twelfth contest.
July 15, 2008
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