August 30, 2013

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No Easy Choices for Teams Attacking USA SSDM Corps

By Corey McLaughlinLaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Gallery: Team USA Tryout Invitees - SSDM

A position that has long featured some key players toiling in anonymity, the short-stick defensive midfield has some stalwarrts vying for rosters spots with Team USA 2014.

After the announcement of the Team USA Tryout Invitees (Analysis) earlier this month, LaxMagazine.com took an in-depth look at each position and the players vying for spots on the 2014 edition of Team USA. We will be running updated versions of each leading into this weekend's tryout at Goucher college.

See Also: Attack | Defense | SSDM | Face-Off | LSM | Midfield | Goalies

"Attack the shorty" does not apply here.

The 11 short-stick defensive midfield invitees to U.S. men's national team tryouts at Goucher College in Baltimore represent the elite of an often overlooked and under-regarded position. But some consider their job the toughest to play on the field. It takes a special athlete and skill set to play short-stick defensive midfield, which requires the ability to cover, clear, work the wing on faceoffs, and inclusive of all that, make important possession-swinging decisions throughout any game.

We've lumped these SSDMs into a few categories, but given the do-it-all nature of the position, keep in mind there may be some overlap among them. It's important to also note that in the international game, with limited substitutions, two-way midfielders are at a premium.

In Their Primes

  • Matt Abbott, Chesapeake Bayhawks (Syracuse)
  • Dan Burns, Chesapeake Bayhawks (Maryland)
  • Steve DeNapoli, Rochester Rattlers (Hofstra)
  • Jeff Reynolds, Chesapeake Bayhawks (Maryland)

"The Human Clear," is how ESPN's Quint Kessenich described Abbott during the 2009 NCAA playoffs. The Syracuse alum is certainly that, and more. He works the wings on faceoffs and this summer has played more on offense for Chesapeake this year. His 12 goals so far are a career-high for the fifth-year pro. It will be interesting to watch him play a more strictly SSDM role in tryouts... Burns was brought to the Bayhawks via trade before this season by coach Dave Cottle, who coached him at Maryland. The idea was to give the team a second short-stick defensive midfielder who could also play the wings. His emergence has allowed Abbott to play more offense... DeNapoli is hands down one of the fastest lacrosse players on this planet. He can clear the ball at will. He proved it consistently in college at Hofstra and has continued in Rochester... Reynolds, who was added to the tryout list this week, was out for much of the MLL season with injury but returned in August for Chesapeake's run to the title. The fifth-year pro had five ground balls and two goals in seven games. I guess the Bayhawks have some pretty good d-middies, huh?

Offensive Defensive Middies

  • Jake Bernhardt, Ohio Machine (Maryland)
  • Justin Pennington, Denver Outlaws (Rutgers)
  • John Ranagan, Rochester Rattlers (Johns Hopkins)

Bernhardt, brother of Team USA long-stick midfield candidate Jesse, was an offensive middie this past season at Maryland, tallying 49 goals and 14 assists, but he'll be evaluated on the defensive end at Goucher. It shouldn't be a problem as he proved to be an effective two-way middie in the ultra-competitive ACC... Of the three here, Pennington is the most experienced and probably has the most all-around ability in his game. He has been used to perfection by Outlaws coach Jim Stagnitta, who coached him in college at Rutgers. At times in his MLL career, Pennington has taken faceoffs and run on offense, but he is truly a do-it-all midfielder. His stat-line reflects it: 11 goals, five assists and 39 ground balls in 15 games this year... Since leaving Johns Hopkins, Ranagan was used on offense by Rochester in his rookie MLL year and even garnered a few rookie of the year votes. He finished with 18 goals and one assist in 10 games, but will be looked at on defense by his former college coach, Dave Pietramala, who coaches Team USA's back-end.

Wily Vets

  • Benson Erwin, LXM Pro Tour (Johns Hopkins)
  • Chris Schiller, Charlotte Hounds (Penn State)

Erwin, team captain of Johns Hopkins' 2005 national championship team, was last seen on the LXM Pro Tour... Schiller, a 2010 Team USA member, returned to MLL this year with the Charlotte Hounds after four years away from the pro game. His leadership qualities should not go overlooked.

Sandpaper and Shock

  • Kevin Unterstein, New York Lizards (Hofstra)
  • Chris LaPierre, rights owned by Hamilton Nationals (Virginia)

Unterstein is one of the Lizards sandpaper guys, a Long Island-bred Hofstra alum who is a premier shutdown defensive midfielder. He's been in MLL since 2008 and has been a regular starting fixture on either the Lizards or Denver Outlaws since 2010... The MLL rights to LaPierre, nicknamed "Shocker" are owned by the Nationals. But the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft has been granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA. LaPierre missed most of his senior season due to a knee ligament sprain and applied for a medical hardship waiver. It's hard to say if Virginia would have definitely fared better in 2013 with LaPierre, but playing without their solo team captain certainly didn't help. Eyes will be on LaPierre's movement and health at U.S. tryouts.


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