Friday, July 14, 2006

American Sticks and Balls v. Everyone Else’s

The Major League Lacrosse All-Star game was held in Boston last week and I was fortunate enough to have tickets. Under different circumstances that “fortunate” would have been more than a little sarcastic, but this game was damn near sold out. The announced crowd at Nickerson Field was 9,234 people, about capacity for the stadium and the largest crowd there ever.

Of course, let’s take this with a grain of salt. Nickerson Field –where MLL’s Boston Cannons play – was once the home of the Boston University football team. I say once the home because BU axed its football program back in 1997. So a crowd of 9,200 people probably represents a larger crowd than the last five seasons of BU football combined.

Still, let’s not quibble – 9,200 people for a pro lacrosse game is very cool. And while the crowd wasn’t that enthusiastic, it was knowledgeable. Everyone knew lacrosse. The kid behind me was no more than 13 and what does he want to do when he grows up? Be a lacrosse coach. Would that have happened – ever – just a few years ago? And he knew his stuff too – he was explaining the difference between the two point shot in the pros and the lack thereof in the college and high school games. Dude was fringe sports badass.

And it didn’t bother me that the crowd wasn’t that into it – this was an all-star game. Does anyone really get up for an all-star game?

In this case, the pretenses of it being anything but an exhibition game were dropped, as the game pitted the MLL all-stars against the US National team, which is prepping for the World Lacrosse Championships, starting today in London, Canada. I’m gonna discuss that in a little bit, but first I want to say a few things about the all-star game:

  • Most of the US team came from MLL ranks, making this All-Star game more like a “Best v. 2nd Best” game. Predictably, the Best dominated the 2nd Best, taking the game 18-10.
  • Mike Powell from the US team won the freestyle competition, basically a trick shot contest, with a wicked cool move. He did a jump-rope maneuver over his stick, held it behind his back as he flipped forward and then slingshotted the ball into goal. I tried finding a video of it on-line to no avail. If someone’s got it, let me know. In the meantime, Powell’s goal was a little like this kid, except Powell looked less like a tool.
  • I liked that MLL wanted to support breast cancer research, keep it up. But never again in pink helmets. Seriously. Just don’t. It looks dumb.
  • If you’re looking for a diary of the game, check out this one by Andy Corno and Charlie Lonergan.

Ok, having gotten that out of my system, here’s a quick preview of the Lacrosse World Championships.

For starters, in every way that the US does not dominate in soccer, we kick the shit out of nations in lacrosse. Seriously, check it out. We haven’t lost a game in the championships since 1978. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few close calls, though. Canada has gotten a little uppity, trying to expand on their hockey and curling dominance. The 1998 final between the two nations was decided by one goal in overtime.

The set up is similar to the World Cup – nations are assigned into divisions and play for position in the tournament. The big differences are that every team moves into the tournament (ranking is based on your division play) and even after teams lose, they keep playing. Every day of the tournament – even the last day – has a full schedule of games.

Other than the US, I recommend rooting for the Iroquois. They invented the game, calling it a medicinal and a “holistic process.” I can’t imagine what the average lifespan of an ordinary Iroquois was back in the day, but if getting beaten with lacrosse sticks is considered medicinal, it probably wasn’t that long. But credit where credit is due – they came up with a fantastic sport. Good going, fellas. Sorry about pillaging your land and people. How about we settle this on the field?

Really, though, I’m hoping for a Bermuda-Iroquois final… if only because that would rank as one of the strangest sports match-ups of all time.

However, that’s probably not going to happen. The tournament is set up so that the winner of the Blue Division – the division with powerhouses Canada and the US – gets a bye, with the second place blue team not having to face that team again until the finals. So unless there’s an upset (Come on Iroquois!), we’re looking at another Canada-US final. I’ll have more on this tournament in future posts, along with analysis of how the Lacrosse World Championships fit into fringe sports.


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4:37 PM  

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