O'Neill Leads U.S. Offense to Tournament-High 21 Goals in U21 Quarterfinals


Brennan O'Neill had five goals and three assists in a 21-3 win over Puerto Rico.

LIMERICK, Ireland — “Give us a smile, Brennan!”

The oft-reserved Brennan O’Neill, just awarded the game ball after an eight-point performance in a 21-3 win over Puerto Rico, was mobbed by his teammates. He cracked a sly smirk. U.S. U21 men’s coach Nick Myers praised him not just for his five goals and three assists, but for his tenacity on ground balls.

An all-around game for a player who had yet to break out in the team’s undefeated start to the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship. He saved his best for the quarterfinal round of the championship bracket, a game in which the U.S. scored a tournament-high 21 goals on a brisk Irish evening.

“I took a different role the last few games just playing within the offense,” O’Neill said. “There are so many good scorers on the team that I don’t always have to have five goals. I can have two and everyone else can have two and we’ll still put up 20 goals. If the team needs me to score and I have an open shot, I’m going to take it. Sometimes I’m at the end of the rainbow and I score the most goals, and sometimes, it’s someone else’s day.”

It wasn’t just O’Neill’s day, though his five goals were a team high. Alex Slusher also posted eight points on four goals and four assists, while CJ Kirst had four goals and one assist and Graham Bundy Jr. posted a hot trick.

Met by Puerto Rico’s zone defense after Alec Stathakis won the game’s opening faceoff, the U.S. offense settled in immediately. Crisp around-the-horn passing set up the game’s first tally, an O’Neill goal assisted by Shane Knobloch. Puerto Rico then went into an unexpected first-quarter stall, a two-minute back and forth behind their own end line that only ended when the officials prompted the team to progress up the field.

Pat Hackler nudged Puerto Rico back for an offsides, ending an unproductive three-minute possession. Cole Kirst then fed CJ Kirst on the possession for a 2-0 U.S. lead.

Myers described Puerto Rico as “feisty” with “great energy.” They showed it in the first quarter, as Brandon Aviles scored both the team’s goals — one against a double team in which he crept a shot past Liam Entenmann. The U.S. led 5-2 at the end of the opening period after Lance Tillman buried one from distance on a time-and-room missile.

Things opened up in the second quarter when Slusher had three goals and one assist and O’Neill had one goal and two assists.

“This was a game that was out there for him,” Myers said of O’Neill. “I don’t think he pressed. He took the shots that we there for him. He had some hockey assists, too.

“Everybody’s got to give a little bit in order to make that work, and I think you saw that tonight on the offensive end. A lot of extra passes.”

O’Neill, whose great-grandparents are from Ireland, never appears rattled by the moment or stage. Even keeled and often stoic in his approach, he takes what’s given and produces.

And now, with the Haudenosaunee on the horizon in the tournament semifinals on Thursday at 2 p.m. Eastern, O’Neill’s peaking at the right time. Just like his teammates. His teammates are also his biggest support system overseas while his immediate family is stateside.

“I don’t have any family with me … well, my team is my family,” he said.

Fitting for a player willing to do whatever it takes to win gold.


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