Hey, look at us. Who would’ve thought? While that may be an iconic meme on social media, it does not apply to tonight’s World Lacrosse Gold Medal Game. From the start of the tournament, everyone predicted that Team USA and Team Canada would be playing for gold.
Coming into the tournament, it was clear that they had the two most talented rosters in the world. Throughout the tournament, both teams have shown to be far ahead of the closest competition. Saturday marks the sixth time since 1998 that the two teams will have played for the championship.
The two teams opened World Lacrosse play on June 21st. Team USA came away victorious with a 7-5 win. That is not new for Team Canada. Team USA has routinely defeated their neighbors to the North in pool play. Three times, 1978, 2006, and 2014 Team Canada has responded by defeating Team USA.
They weren’t so fortunate in 2018. The Canadians are still stinging from their last-second loss to Team USA in Netanya. Tom Schreiber caught a Rob Pannell shovel pass late in the game to beat Canada goalie Dillon Ward and Team gave Team USA the 9-8 victory.
The loss redeemed Team USA and brought the Gold medal back to the States. The loss was a bitter pill for Team Canada and has weighed on many minds in San Diego. Who will win gold tonight? To break it down, we offer three keys for each team. We’ll start with the defending champions and host country, Team USA.
Team USA has a two-headed monster at the Faceoff X in Trevor Baptiste and TD Irelan. The pair won 13 of 16 faceoffs back on June 21st. Paired with no shot clock, Team USA can tilt the game in their favor early if they can string together an early lead against Team Canada.
The Americans fell into an early 3-2 deficit after the first quarter by throwing too many passes away and giving Team Canada extra possessions. Getting off to a fast start and taking care of the ball will help keep the Canadians off balance.
Jack Kelly and Blaze Riorden have split time throughout the tournament for Team USA. Blaze Riorden is one of the top goalies in field lacrosse. He made a handful of key stops in the third quarter in the first meeting against Canada to keep them from scoring and allowing Team USA to extend its lead.
Great goalies can steal a handful of goals from the other team. Matt Brown will have his two-man game primed and ready. Riorden is the best option to limit the scoring opportunities.
Brennan O’Neill is the youngest and only member of Team USA that does not play in the PLL. The 2023 Duke attackman and Tewaaraton winner looks right home for Team USA. O’Neill has been one of the biggest offensive threats from Team USA showing he can score with both his right and left hand. Time and against this season O’Neill stepped up in Duke’s biggest games to score key goals.
Look for O’Neill to have his Schreiber moment and start his 2024 campaign to win a second straight Tewaarton and be the top overall pick in the PLL Draft.
Matt Brown is in his first World Lacrosse games as head coach of Team Canada. Brown has been a masterful offensive tactician while running the offense for Bill Tierney at the University of Denver. He did his best work before the shot clock and the international format suits him.
Brown no doubt looked like he was taking a page out of his predecessor’s book with sandbagging, holding back his offensive looks, and setting up for the Gold Medal matchup against Team USA.
Canada scored three goals in the first meeting with Team USA and only two more goals the rest of the game, the last coming in the game’s final minute. Team USA will have its hands full with whatever Brown is cooking up for Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne, and Jeff Teat. If Canada can win, look for Smith to shine the brightest.
Even Larry David would say that Dillon Ward had a pretty, pretty, pretty good 2022. Ward won the NLL Championship with the Colorado Mamouth and followed it up with a PLL Championship with the PLL Waterdogs. Ward is in the conversation for one of the best goals in the box or field game, and an argument could be made for him to be considered one of the top players.
Ward plays a high arc that can disrupt and frustrate opposing shooters. Team USA has gotten off to slow starts in most of its games during the tournament. Another slow start and a hot start from Ward could have Canada seeing Gold.
Intangibles. It’s hard to measure, but you know it when you see it and can feel it. We mentioned earlier how Team Canada still has bad taste in its mouth over Netanya. Jake Whither is back at the faceoff and will look to muck up the faceoff to try to help Canada earn extra possessions.
Brodie Merril likely plays in his final World Lacrosse game and has coached and/or mentored most of Team Canada’s players. The order will be tall to overcome a certain faceoff and possession disadvantage, but the intangibles will drive Canada to see gold.
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