By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/26/12
Saturday’s lacrosse game between the USA U19 National team and the Philly All-Stars at Radnor High should go down as one of the most memorable games this area has seen for years.
Clearly, Team Philly’s 15-14 overtime thriller was a brilliantly played game by both teams. It also has emerged as one of the most-talked-about exhibition games in a long time in and out of the Philly region. (see Inside Lacrosse and other blogs).
The game was the second of two exhibition fundraisers for the USA as it gears for the World Championships July 12-21 in Turku, Finland. The US squad – which is 36-0 and has won all six World titles – had defeated a Long Island All-Star team, 12-4, last weekend.
But this well-attended contest, sponsored by the Philadelphia Lacrosse Association and US Lacrosse, actually began to take on a lot more meaning a year earlier when the final roster for Team USA was selected and no members were from Pennsylvania.
Philly lacrosse followers wondered how this could happen. As mentioned earlier on Phillylacrosse.com, some of the top Philly graduating seniors missed the age cutoff by either days or a few months. Some others that did try out had strong tryouts, but in the end only three were named as alternates and currently none are expected to play in Finland unless there is an injury (and we hope that does not occur).
The debate over how the team was selected could go on forever. The US squad has 10 players from Long Island. Yes, Long Island is a tremendous hotbed of lacrosse and no one can argue that fact. And having that many players from one region can surely help team chemistry; in fact coach Tim Flynn did mention that team chemistry is a definite plus when I spoke with him last week.
Still, the stage was set for Saturday’s game with the backdrop of what some felt was a Philly snub. The three alternates from Philly – goalie Conor Kelly (Haverford School, Notre Dame), and attackmen Kevin Forster (La Salle, Maryland) and Chris “Hup” Hupfeldt (Haverford School, Penn) – all got to play, to add a little more flavor. Kelly actually spent a full weekend with the US team last fall during an exhibition tourney and played quite well.
The Philly team assembled was a prized collection of talent. Two of the players, defenseman Goran Murray (Haverford School, Maryland) and attackman Joey Sankey (Penn Charter, North Carolina), had just been named among the top five freshmen in the nation by Inside Lacrosse. Long pole Brian Dailey (Conestoga) helped Duke make the Final Four, defenseman Ty Souders (Emmaus) was a major reason Lehigh became a Top 10 team and captured an NCAA playoff berth and Matt Walters (Haverford School) played a nice role for Syracuse in its Big East championship run at Villanova.
The Philly team also featured three of the top-rated rising seniors in the nation in La Salle’s Matt Rambo (committed to Maryland) and Sean Coleman and Malvern Prep goalie Matt Barrett (Virginia). In all, eight of the members of last year’s national championship Haverford School team were on the roster.
And the game did not disappoint for even a second. The Philly team – despite having one 1-hour practice on Thursday – roared back from a 3-2 deficit to take a 7-3 halftime lead with scintillating plays that included a brilliant behind-the-back goal by Beau Jones (Germantown Academy, Delaware).
The US squad, for its part, was as advertised. It stormed back to start the third quarter and drew within 7-6, as the game’s intensity picked up even more.
The Philly squad – though noticeably tired – regrouped and went ahead 11-7 to start the fourth quarter, but USA fought back and tied it, 11-11, on one of three goals by St. Augustine Prep grad Steve Pontrello with 2:03 in regulation. (He may not be a Philly player, but South Jersey is sure close).
That caused overtime – meaning two 4-minute periods (as by International rules).
The overtime was something to behold. Team USA scored twice in the first 1:32 to take a 13-11 lead (the second goal coming from Pontrello). Philly refused to wilt and Sankey scored from behind the cage before Carl Walrath (Haverford School, Virginia) tied it with 3 seconds left in the stanza after a brilliant long toss clear by Murray.
In the second OT, Daniel Eipp put USA ahead, 14-13, but Jones scooped up a rebound shot and tied it with :41 to play before Rambo (four goals) won it with a left-hander with 9.8 seconds to play.
The win seemed like a championship to many. At first it was believed that the US squad had never lost in its history. But it has been pointed out that Philly beat USA in an exhibition in 1996 and perhaps once before then.
But who cares? The game was great, Philly had its day and Team USA received a great challenge as it readies for perhaps a similar challenge next month from a Team Canada club coached by St. Joseph’s University mentor and popular Philadelphia Wing Taylor Wray.
This game was special to the Philly players, many of whom have played together either in high school, club or youth all-stars games may times before. The group was as close-knit as a club could be that was just put together on the run.
And all the scuttlebutt about how good Philly players are? I think everyone knows they are quite good, and we didn’t really need this game to prove it, but it was kind of nice to see.
Of course, some of the bloggers have mentioned that it wasn’t fair that some of the Philly players were over the age limit for the U-19 tryouts. Oh brother, this was an exhibition to help prepare the U19 team; does that really matter?
The Philly players said they had talked to each other before the game about how no one from PA had made the squad, but mostly they said that everyone on the USA squad deserved to be there.
The Philly kids are good, and they are classy, make no mistake.
In closing, the game was good. It was good for Philly, it was good for the US team and it was good for lacrosse. Isn’t that what really matters?
FINAL NOTES – More than 30 sticks and heads were donated for the “HEADstring” project to get sticks into the hands of under served players in the city. Anyone that wishes to help string sticks should contact Scott Growney of the PLA at firstname.lastname@example.org.