The 2014 World Lacrosse Championships wrapped up on Saturday night with Canada defeating the United States. It wasn’t a historic or monumental upset, but is certainly an upset. Perhaps it’s fitting that in an era of growth and parity in the sport that the tournament ended the way it did. Here are some of my takeaways from Saturday’s title game along with the tournament as a whole.
1) Canada had a perfect game plan, and executed
Canada figured the best way to stop a high-powered United States offense was to keep the ball from them. It’s like an NFL team running the ball to keep Peyton Manning on the sidelines. The Canadians wanted to shorten the game and they couldn’t have done a better job of that. Canada’s average possession time for the game was over two minutes and it even had more than a three-minute possession to end the first quarter, which ended in a goal. The Canadians then had more than a five-minute possession to end the third quarter and did the same thing.
Those goals were backbreakers. The first matchup saw the U.S. win 10-7 and it was clear throughout the tournament that Team USA’s offense was the most potent, meaning Canada would benefit from a slowly-paced game. For comparison, the U.S. scored 18 goals against the Iroquois; Canada had nine (in pool play) then 12 (in the semifinals). The United States scored 16 then 22 against Australia compared to Canada’s 12. Part of the lower (but still good) numbers could have been due to the loss of John Grant Jr. Regardless, Canada knew its best chance of winning. It is one thing to know something, but another to execute. Canada played with composure and executed.
2) Shot clock debate
Piggybacking on my first takeaway is the shot clock debate. The international game doesn’t even feature a “timer on.” Instead, there’s “keep it in” which college fans are familiar with. As I tweeted on Saturday night, “Lacrosse is a great sport, but this pace by Canada will turn fans away. You’re not growing the sport by doing this.” By no means was this statement meant to be anything against Canada. The team had a strategy, which was perfectly within the rules. However, what you saw Saturday night does not grow the game. We should be highlighting the “fastest game on two feet.” If you’re an average sports fan watching the first three quarters, you can’t convince me they would have kept watching. The fourth quarter was a different story as the U.S. was desperately trying to get back into the game. The play actually became chaotic and frantic, but it was exciting to watch.
One challenge with rules in the international game is that nations are at different levels of play. Maybe it takes one country double the time to transition the ball from defense to offense, so would it be fair to have the same shot clock for the Blue Division as the other divisions? Maybe what you do is create a shot clock for the Blue Division, but no others. Or, the Blue Division is 60 or 90 seconds while the shot clock for other divisions is two minutes. Either way, something needs to be done. This is coming from someone who enjoys a slower-paced game from time to time. However, Saturday took things to another level.
3) The running clock
I was unaware the international game had 20-minute quarters until I tuned into the U.S. – Canada opener on July 10. When I heard quarters would be 20 minutes, I thought “we may be here a while.” Then I realized that it’s in fact running time. Ultimately, the games were comparable to 15-minute quarters (with stops), but I greatly dislike the concept of running clocks in lacrosse, or any sport for that matter. I think every game should feature an equal amount of game action. A high-scoring game is actually shorter in the international game because there are more stoppages after goals.
Say the teams combine for 30 goals with an estimated 30 seconds between the goal being scored and the ensuing faceoff (in reality, it may even take more than 30 seconds). That means 15 of the 80 minutes is being spent not playing the game. If there’s a low-scoring game with 12 combined goals, that takes only six minutes. Most importantly, if you’re the United States Saturday night trying to come back and you score to pull within three goals with just over five minutes remaining, is it really five minutes if the clock gets under five before the following faceoff? You really don’t know how much time is truly remaining. Having the clock stop in lacrosse (or any sport) gives clarity. It felt so strange to see Canada score with seconds left in the first and third quarters Saturday, but not have a faceoff. I was confused at first, but then remembered that the clock hit zero as they were celebrating. There are so many reasons why a running clock is a bad idea. If a player receives a one-minute penalty in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter (when the clock does stop), it’s a bigger penalty than being called during the first 77 minutes.
4) Shout out to Dillon Ward
Dillon Ward is a great story, emerging from a college program like Bellarmine. I remember his senior year when he was putting up video-game like numbers, the obvious question was “is he for real?” He has proved it in his professional career, and certainly in these championships as the MVP of the World Lacrosse Championships, the first goalie to ever receive the honor. Ward “only” made 10 stops on Saturday, but it felt like more because most of them were outstanding. The one I won’t forget came in the second half against Paul Rabil, who was on the doorstep. The U.S. later pulled within three and had the momentum. Imagine if one or two of Ward’s tremendous stops went in. It could have been a whole different ballgame. Ward finished with a tremendous 63.3 save percentage and 4.45 GAA for the tournament. His numbers were outstanding, but you had to watch him play to truly understand and appreciate his impact.
5) Overall parity and growth of the sport
The obvious final takeaway is the growth of the great sport of lacrosse. Growth was evident in so many different ways, most notably the record number of nations participating (38). There were some great stories, including Israel which won six games and finished seventh and Uganda (the first team from Africa in the games), among others. Television coverage was outstanding. ESPN made the tournament more visible after previously televising no more than one game in the past. The fans were another encouraging sign. To see the stadium packed last night and hearing the chants of U-S-A was another sign that the sport is growing, both on the field, and off.