U.S. midfielder Connor Kelly (40) has hit on five of his last 13 shots after breaking out of a 2-for-21 slump in pool play.

The Essential World Lacrosse Gold Medal Game Preview

SAN DIEGO — John Danowski taught his last high school science class 40 years ago. But he still coaches lacrosse like an educator. Even with the best players in the world.

As the United States prepares to play Canada in the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship gold medal game Saturday (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, ESPN2) at Snapdragon Stadium, Danowski couched the game as the culmination of a shared learning experience.

“It’s the compilation of everything you’ve learned,” Danowski said. “The chemistry you’ve built along the way, the experiences, the rules, getting used to the officials’ calls, how they’re adjudicated, getting used to the running clock, the stop clock at the end of the quarters — it’s the final exam.”

Let’s bone up before the big game.

“It’s the compilation of everything you’ve learned. It’s the final exam.”

(2) CANADA VS. (1) USA

Date: Saturday, July  1
Time: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
Venue: Snapdragon Stadium
City: San Diego
Tickets: Buy Here

Stream: Watch ESPN


(2) Canada (5-1, 3-1 Pool A)

Throw out the opener. Canada’s 7-5 loss to the U.S. on June 21 amounted to little more than a sparring session. The Canadians were without faceoff man Jake Withers and unicorn midfielder Zach Currier played sparingly. Currier’s health looms large in the rematch, as Canada was able to run the rest of the table despite him missing three games and getting limited minutes in the last two.

Canada is shooting a sizzling 43 percent, best in the tournament. Seven players are in double figures scoring.

The Canadians’ most difficult games were against the Haudenosaunee, who played them to within a goal during a riveting round-robin encounter that ended with Austin Staats trying to call timeout as time expired and then rallied a tad too late in a 12-7 semifinal loss Thursday at Snapdragon Stadium.

“We’re happy to get to the game. It’s not as easy anymore as people think to get to this gold medal game,” coach Matt Brown said. “That was a tough one against a Haudenosaunee team that’s really good, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. We’re just looking forward to the opportunity.”

(1) United States (6-0, 4-0 Pool A)

The U.S. is 72-4 all-time in world championship competition and has won the gold medal 10 times dating back to 1967.

Unbeaten in pool play, the Americans eked past Canada 7-5 and the Haudenosaunee 9-7. They defeated Australia twice by nine goals and comfortably defeated England and Israel.

But even in the more lopsided games, the offense stalled at times. The U.S. formula so far has been dominant faceoff play (83.2 percent), an unbending defense (3.52 goals allowed per game) and timely goaltending.

The U.S. has been at its best when hybrid attack-middies Michael Sowers and Brennan O’Neill have isolated short-stick matchups and forced defenses to pick their poison, creating re-dodge opportunities for attackmen Rob Pannell and Matt Rambo and allowing finishers like Conn

The hero of the 2018 world championship, Tom Schreiber returned to the U.S. lineup in the semifinal Thursday after missing the previous three games due to an injury. The offense flows better with Captain America on the field.


The U.S. has won 18 of 22 games against Canada in world championship competition. Three of the four losses, however, have come in the last four events. Canada prevailed in the 2006 and 2014 gold medal games and in the 2010 round robin.

Since 1998, the margin is razor thin. The U.S. has outscored Canada 147-135 in 13 meetings. That averages out to an 11-10 game, which explains why DraftKings Sportsbook has the U.S. as a 1.5-goal favorite — albeit with a total of just 16.5.

Eleven of the last 13 games have been decided by three goals or fewer, including five one-goal games.



Ierlan (69%) has fared better than Baptiste (58%) against Withers, but Baptiste has more experience against him going back to Denver-Ohio State matchups in college. Withers is the king of the counter, raking and ripping the ball out of opponents’ sticks after they win the clamp and getting it into space for his wings in Currier and long pole Ryland Rees.

Baptiste and Ierlan will be hard pressed to replicate their success from game one (13-for-16 vs. Justin Inacio). It’s all about clean exits and superior wing play, where the U.S. starts with short stick Danny Logan and long pole Michael Ehrhardt.

When Canada has the ball

The U.S. put JT Giles-Harris on Josh Byrne, Jesse Bernhardt on Ryan Lee and Matt Dunn on Jeff Teat in the opener. Dunn was injured during the game and has not played much since then. Jack Rowlett has manned the third spot on close defense.

What to do with Teat? The strategies are to play him straight up and make him beat you as a dodger or send the early slide and risk him as a feeder. The ESPN broadcast team hypothesized  that Canada has kept secret its two-man packages for Teat and Byrne.

Curtis Dickson was quiet in the opener but has been a U.S. killer in the past. He’s also a righty who poses matchup problems on the low wing since the U.S. does not have any lefty defensemen.

Canada wants to play deliberate but will make the U.S. pay for poor shot selection by getting out over the top to create 5-on-4 and 4-on-3 situations or get offensive middies caught playing defense. The U.S. is also prepared to see 5-on-5 sets that are tailor-made for box-minded Canadians.


U.S. defenseman JT Giles-Harris drew the assignment of Canada's Josh Bynre (22) in the opener.

When United States has the ball

If healthy, Schreiber will resume his role as primary ball carrier out of the midfield. Who does Canada pole if he’s flanked by O’Neill and Sowers? The Canadians could bump up an extra pole or mix between man and zone to disrupt the reads.

Down low, Canada went with Graeme Hossack on Matt Rambo, Brodie Merrill on Rob Pannell and Patrick Shoemay on Kieran McArdle in the opener. The U.S. attack combined to shoot 0-for-11 with six turnovers. That won’t do.

Secondary scorers like Ryan Conrad and Charlie Bertrand — who along with Sowers have scored at least one goal in every game — loom large. If Connor Kelly (5-for-13 in the last two games after starting 2-for-21) can stay hot, he’ll stretch the defense to open opportunities for feeds and rebounds inside.

“It’s about spacing, communication, patience,” Danowski said. “Can we be disciplined? Can we be patient on offense and then make the plays that are necessary?”


Both teams split halves in pool play. Each features two excellent PLL starting goalies. Brett Dobson and Jack Kelly have been good for Canada and the U.S., respectively, but the championship game likely will see Dillon Ward and Blaze Riorden go the distance.

Both goalies were terrific in the semifinals. A two-time All-World goalie and the 2014 world championship MVP, Ward made 11 saves on 18 shots (61 percent) while playing all 60 minutes. Riorden stopped all four shots he saw in relief of Kelly in the second half.

Ward cuts off a lot of angles with his 6-foot-5 frame and high arc. Riorden baits shooters and pounces on the ball with lightning quick reflexes. Neither allows many rebounds and both have big-game experience.


Matt Brown, Canada: “They’re loaded all over the place. They’ve gotten better through the course of the tournament. We’ve gotten better through the course of the tournament. Honestly, it’s just going to be a phenomenal lacrosse game.”

John Danowski, United States: “Six-on-six, we have to defend the knowns. Sometimes you’re playing your opponent and sometimes you’ve got to do what you do. We’ve got to stay connected. We’ve got to play together, communicate well and allow goalies to see shots that are either contested, bad angles or outside.”


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