So Close: U.S. Pushes Iroquois to Limit, Falls Short Again

PHOTO BY BOB FRID

The U.S. led by two goals on multiple occasions Thursday, but eventually fell to Iroquois 9-7 in the WILC semifinals.


LANGLEY, British Columbia — Thirty minutes had passed since the U.S. indoor team had left the floor at Langley Events Centre. The locker room was silent.

A handful of U.S players remained. Veterans like Joel White, Anthony Kelly, Brett Manney and Chris O’Dougherty, the core of this American team. For at least Kelly and possibly others, it was the last shot at a world indoor championship. They’d played in multiple tournaments. They’d all experienced the highs and lows of U.S. box lacrosse.

They knew the magnitude of Thursday’s game. And that’s why it might have stung the most. 

The momentum that this U.S. team had built over the last four years led it to this moment — a semifinal matchup with the Iroquois Nationals. The U.S. had been in this position multiple times before, staring at the same opponent, but this time felt a bit different. In this tournament, the goal of advancing to the gold medal game was in sight.

The U.S. had taken the Iroquois to the brink in the round-robin meeting, eventually falling 12-10. Whatever doubt the U.S. had that it could take down the Iroquois vanished last Saturday night.

Thursday night’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championship semifinal might have been the best chance this team had to date to notch its first win over the Iroquois. If it did so, it would advance to the gold-medal game for the first time in team history.

What made the 9-7 loss to the Iroquois even harder to swallow — beyond the fact that the U.S. failed to reach the final for the fifth consecutive tournament, and thus must settle for bronze at best — was that it came so excruciating close. Again.

Unlike the first matchup, where the U.S. surged back to cut the deficit to a goal in the final minute, the Americans held a lead late in the third quarter. But the Iroquois scored four of the game’s final five goals to seal the thrilling victory.

“We knew it was going to take a really good 60 minutes to beat them there, and we got 50-55 minutes,” coach Regy Thorpe said. “They made a little run in the fourth quarter and got a couple goals on us. I’m really proud of the way we battled out there. Any time you can hold a team under 10 goals, whether it’s the world games or in the NLL or Senior A or B, you give yourself a chance to win. We were in the game to the end there. They made that late run. We just didn't have enough time to make another run.”

So, for the fifth straight time, Canada will face the Iroquois in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship final. But for the first time, it very easily could have been the United States playing for gold.

That the U.S. pushed the Iroquois to the brink twice in the same tournament is a clear sign of progress. In the previous four world championships, the Iroquois had outscored the U.S. 76-47 in five matchups. The combined score of the two games at Langley Events Centre was 21-17, with an empty-netter capping their round-robing matchup.

But Regy Thorpe and his team won’t have that on their minds at the moment. The time for reflection isn’t upon the U.S. indoor team quite yet.

They were so close. But they ultimately fell short.

“Right now, it’s not enough to say we’re almost there,” White said. “It’s easy to say that. It’s easy to look at that and fall back on that. That’s down the road. Sour taste in the mouth for a while here. We’ll look back on it as an organization and a group. I can’t say enough about this coaching staff, US Lacrosse and what they’re putting into the box lacrosse game.”







It became apparent early on the type of game the U.S. and Iroquois were headed toward. Both teams scored once in the first and second quarters — credit to the suffocating defense both teams showcased throughout the half.

Goals were going to have to be earned on Thursday night.

Especially with the play of both goaltenders. U.S. goalie Gowah Abrams, who seized the starting role during the opening game against Canada, made 36 saves to keep his team alive despite quality Iroquois chance. 

Warren Hill was even better statistically, stopping 42 shots from the U.S.

Goals started coming midway through the third quarter, when Connor Kelly and Joe Resetarits went back-to-back to give the U.S. a 4-2 lead. The Americans led by two goals again at 5-3, but the Iroquois answered back with two goals.

Matt Rambo gave the U.S. a 6-5 lead entering the final period — the last time it would lead. The game sat tied at 6-6 for over five minutes, but the Iroquois got crucial goals from Kyle Jackson and Cody Jamieson to pull ahead for good.

“They’re so crafty inside, especially on the strong side,” White said. “I take some of the blame for a lot of those goals in the fourth. As a leader and a captain, I’m going to walk away from this one and it’s going to hurt. I thought we battled hard and the offense brought us back with a couple goals. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t have a couple more stops.”

A two-goal lead in a game like that was going to be tough to overcome in a matter of five minutes. Still, the U.S. cut the deficit to a goal, again, but couldn’t find the game-tying goal.

And so the Iroquois left with the victory, once again. The script that could have veered off course will have the same ending — if the U.S. can get past England in the bronze medal game Saturday.

Thorpe and his program will have to regroup in less than two days to get ready for an England team they beat 22-3 on Monday.

It’s not the game the U.S. wanted to be playing in. It’s not the medal they wanted to wear around their necks.

But it could be a physical representation of the effort the U.S. indoor program has put in to continue moving forward.

“We don’t want to come home empty-handed,” Manney said. “The gold medal was our goal coming out here, but that’s not going to be the case. We’re going to have to get into the right mindset for Saturday so we can take home the bronze.”

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