Pool play has concluded, and the brackets are set. 14 teams are set in the playoff field, while the placement brackets for 15-22 and 23-30 are set as well. The tournament is far from over, we still have several days of games to enjoy as we work towards handing out that gold medal.
The end of Pool Play and the first week is a good opportunity to take stock in what has happened so far, and acknowledge some of the stories and great performances that have been on display.
The Standouts (from outside Pool A)
There were remarkable individual performances in pool play. I’m not just walking about the stars we all know from the PLL and NLL either. A few names, from outside of the Big 3 in Pool A, who really impressed in the first week of the tournament. Of course this is just a sampling of players who put forth an effort worth recognition, there are plenty more who distinguished themselves in San Diego.
Stone Evans, A, Jamaica
Evans just finished his junior year of high school but already looks like a star. The Air Force commit is a monster of an athlete, and showed off top level skill as a dodger and a shooter.
Shinya Tateishi, A, Japan
26 points in four games is remarkable production. He’s also shooting 40%, and is remarkably precise. Just two turnovers. Japan plays clean, sharp games, and don’t let opponents practice ball denial. Tateishi is emblematic of their style.
Ryan Richters, G, Latvia
Some excellent games in net for Richters. Against Ireland he made a whopping 16 saves, good for 66%. He played half the game in net against Korea and pitched a shutout in his time on eight saves. Eight more saves against Netherlands. The offense didn’t help him out much, but Richters had an excellent individual tournament.
Per-Anders Olters, A, Germany
Big games in big spots. After an opening game loss to Jamaica, Olters responded with a four goal game against Poland to get Germany to 1-1. In their final pool play game, with a playoff berth likely at stake, Olters had a seven point, six goal outing. He had one total turnover between those two games. He shot 45% in pool play.
Logan Ip, M, Hong Kong
The Harvard midfielder put the team on his back against Mexico. The tournament lives on the line, Ip put up seven points including six goals en route to a 14-7 win. Hong Kong entered the last game knowing they had to win by 6+ goals, and Ip carried them to it.
Sean Aaron, G, Australia
Aaron and Mitch Baker both stood out for Australia. But Aaron made a number of excellent saves. Being a goalie in Pool A is no easy job. Everyone has a stacked offense. Aaron got to play half the game against the USA and made seven saves, just under 80%. He was over 80% against England. Canada was able to get to him, but he still made 8 stops. Excellent work given the competition.
Russell Melendez, A, Puerto Rico
Made his mark with four goals and three assists on the first day, while committing no turnovers. He didn’t pile up the points like that any more, but he proved to be very adept at the international game. He committed two total turnovers in pool play and shot 40%,
Bobby Russo, D, Italy
The Rutgers defender’s athleticism has been on display. In international rules, causing turnovers and winning ground balls mean a lot more. Possession is everything. Russo caused three turnovers, was third on the team among non faceoff men in ground balls, went 2-3 facing off, and scored a goal.
The Group of Death?
Pool C was a powerhouse. Apparently, coaches and players around the tournament even referred to it as the Group of Death, a term used in the World Cup in soccer for the most difficult group in round robin stages. Israel went 4-0 to win the pool. Puerto Rico went 3-1 to finish second, while Czech Republic and Philippines battled to 3rd and 4th place finishes. Philippines roster had a DI faceoff specialist in Jonathan Dugenio, a Maryland alum in net in Dan Morris, an Ivy LEague defenseman in Michael Garchitorena. Czech Republic didn’t have as much DI talent, but was still a strong enough roster to contend in pool play. In years past, showing up with a roster of college talent probably was enough to get you out of pool play. Not anymore.
Japan. Just Japan.
Tough to describe just how incredible it’s been. As the tournament got closer, Japan was one of those underdog picks that became so trendy they ceased to be an underdog. Following their excellent performance in Sixes at the World Games in Birmingham, expectations were high. And yet they delivered, and then some.
Japan outscored opponents a preposterous 70-6 in pool play. They have the maximum possible goal differential of +48 (World Lacrosse caps differential at 12 per game). By the time pool play ended, fans were clamoring that Japan would roll past England and should have been in Pool A. Next go around, they could be.
At this point, it’s difficult to gauge what a successful tournament for Japan looks like. They aren’t quite bronze or bust. But there are certainly plenty of “they ain’t played nobody” critics floating around. A win against a Pool A team or another bronze contender like Israel would go a long way. The idea that Japan can’t be that good until they beat the USA, Canada, or Haudenosaunee isn’t really all that reasonable; there’s plenty of space to be really good without being on the medal stand. The Japanese will surely be a fan favorite the rest of the way.
The Haudenosaunee’s brutal schedule
Who knows how they got this draw, but it’s brutal. The Haudenosaunee didn’t play on the tournament’s first two days, then played on four straight days. USA and Canada on back to back days, then battled with England before finally getting a tough and competitive Australia team last. Since they didn’t win a bye to the quarters, it means the Haudenosaunee will play a game every day the rest of the tournament, with no off days since day two of the tournament.
I have no idea who is winning bronze.
USA and Canada look to be heading towards another gold medal game showdown. But the third spot on the medal stand is very up for grabs. Haudenosaunee, Japan, Israel, Italy, Ireland, even Puerto Rico and Jamaica look like they could make a run for it. The wide open nature of the race for bronze is another indication of the growth in lacrosse. It wasn’t long ago this was a three or four team race every four years. The rest of the world now has something to say about it.
Why isn't he in the PLL?
This has been a common refrain around a number of players and teams. When will these Japanese players come play in the States? Why aren't guys like Nate Solomon and Sean Goldsmith on a PLL roster?
Guys who can make a PLL roster consistently are on a PLL roster. That sounds like a stupid answer, but it's also reality. There are DI All Americans who are PLL level players in the player pool right now. Today. And in a lot of cases, they can't even get a training camp invite. It's a different level of competition. This isn't a knock on the players themselves. They are good enough. A DI All American can play pro lacrosse. But there just aren't a lot of spots to be had. When you suggest a player should be on a PLL team, you need to think about who gives up their spot for him. It ain't easy.
There are players, like Goldsmith and Solomon, who have helped their PLL case at these games. Goldsmith's goal against Graeme Hossack shows what he is capable of. When PLL teams have a player need, they're more likely to consider guys like Goldsmith or Solomon now. But perspective is important. Tearing it up in San Diego does not indicate a player will tear it up in the PLL.