Brennan O’Neill and a Strong Defensive Performance Lead Team USA over Canada

John Danowski said last week that the team that wins the opening matchup between Team USA and Canada might only have to score eight or nine goals to win the game. He was wrong. Team USA needed only seven goals to defeat Canada 7-5 in their opening game win of the World Lacrosse games. Brennan O’Neill led the offense with three goals in his first appearance on the global stage. Despite being the youngest and only college player on the roster, the Tewarraton winner showed he fit right into the offense.

O’Neill was asked on the postgame interview what it was like playing with the best players in the world. “It makes my job easy because all these guys are such great players. I play off them, and I’m learning so much from having so much experience, and it’s just a lot of fun getting to know these guys.” O’Neill’s extra-man goal in the third quarter demonstrated how he was playing off his teammates to find space.

O’Neill admitted to having some nerves going into the game. “A lot of nerves. It’s always a nerve-wracking experience when you put this jersey on, but you want to play with pride and for your country.” Those nerves seemed to melt away as the game went on. After Michael Sowers tied the game at one, O’Neill found the net on a mistaken feed to the crease. Proving sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Dominant Faceoff

O’Neill’s offense wasn’t the only bright spot for Team USA. Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan combined to win 13 of 16 faceoffs during the game. The faceoff advantage was a given heading into the game and one area that the US was sure to dominate. Sloppy play early by Team USA gave Canada some extra chances. The Canadians capitalized and took a 3-2 lead in the first quarter. Team USA did a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half, turning a game tied at halftime into a 7-4 advantage after three quarters. Looking at the potential rematch in the Gold Medal game, Canada will have to force more turnovers to limit the impact of the faceoff disparity. Unlike the college game or PLL, there is no shot clock to help bail out a team that struggles to win at the X.

Strong Defense

After letting up three goals in the first quarter, Team USA clamped down to hold Canada to two goals over the final 45 minutes of play. Canada’s last goal came on Josh Byrne’s extra-man goal with 20 seconds left in the game. Canada did not use most of their two-man game during the action. Quint and Anish commented that Canada Head Coach Matt Brown was playing this game vanilla, saving his picks and two-man game for the gold medal matchup. While that may have been the case, Blaze Riorden played large in the second half and made two big saves to keep the Canadians off the board in the 3rd quarter. Riorden is one of the best goalies in the country and will play a vital role if Team USA is going to win its second straight gold medal.

The Future Is Now for Team USA

Sowers, O’Neill, Connor Kelly, Ryan Conrad, and Charlie Bertrand scored for Team USA. Jack Kelly and Riorden split time between the pipes. These men represent the present and the future of Team USA. Rob Pannell and Tom Schrieber each finished the game with two assists. They are veterans of the World Lacrosse games and will look to the future to help lead them to gold in 2023. The opening game Wednesday night showed that the future is strong for Team USA. Team USA plays Australia on Friday at 10 p.m. EST. That game will be shown on ESPN+. Team Canada will next play Australia at 7 p.m. EST on Saturday. That game will also be on ESPN+.

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Craig McMichael

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