Thursday, June 24, 2010
Team Canada U-23 Training Camp Report
Submitting Author: Alex Davis, Furious George
Canadian clubs were busy on the weekend of June 19-20, but some competed a little shorthanded while they lent some of their talent to U23 training camps in Vancouver. An elite constellation of young stars met here for two days of hard practice. Regrettably, I did not have the hours to study them all, but I can pass on some modest observations.
I stopped by the men's Saturday practice during a recovery jog (a cabin-feverish attempt to cope with a hamstring strain) to take a look at our prospects. I was immediately impressed by the fluidity and quality of play for a team that had been thrown together on short notice.
Soft-spoken coach Kevin Cheung (formerly of TFP and Furious George) instilled a sense of dedicated productivity into what time they had. I don't know how well it survived a subsequent night of socializing, but the vibe at the time was healthy and busy, with an excited touch of swagger. Skill-wise, most visible at the time I arrived was Jeremy Noorden's command of zone-busting blades. Noorden (USAU college all-region, NW) shows better in the university game than he does in the Open field in part because he can get away with more, and with this complement of receivers, his fearless overhead throws should serve him well against less experienced opponents in Europe.
I also noticed that the men's U23 contingent (that was present at the camp) is not a particularly tall team, with just a couple of players cresting 6'2”. I forgot to ask Cheung about this fact – whether it was a strategic calculation or mere coincidence. With the tall and lanky air force of the USA not in attendance, a shorter, faster roster may yield better match-ups against Japan and Colombia, among other opponents. Nevertheless, the U23 roster is full of deceptive deep and defensive threats, such as utility players Dre Gailits, Aaron Liu, Adrian Yearwood and Mark Lloyd. Underestimate them at your own risk.
On the following morning, Team Canada tested their skills against Furious George, inviting the usual brand of joking, shoving and screaming that comes from playing with some familiar match-ups. Morgan Hibbert's answer to a call by Bobo Eyrich abruptly ended an idyllic Sunday morning for some well-to-do Shaughnessy families.
Canada made a strong start, took advantage of some of the Monkey's lack of finesse and won the early break at 3-2. The two teams otherwise traded points while the Furious defense made adjustments. The Canadian deep defense, though comparatively dwarfed, was positioning quickly and correctly. Their offense shied away from the sidelines and emphatically centred the disc at every opportunity. This latter tactic played a crucial role early on, since it was surprisingly difficult to predict the next dump target; cutters sometimes exchanged dump priority with handlers midway into the stall count, and handlers began dump-cuts unconventionally far upfield. Thus, defenders who had lost sight of their relative positions repeatedly failed to contain unexpected dumps and breaks. Eventually, Furious adapted to this style of play and learned to pressure the resets, forcing turnovers. The Monkey went on to win 17-8.
Outstanding contributions were made by Yearwood's handler cutting, and throws by Noorden and McKnight. The latter two repeatedly made Mark Lloyd an offensive poster child by threading hammers and outside-ins into his hands. Defensively, Nate Dandurand's hustling mark made a strong impression on Furious handlers as well.
Some time ago, after the vote had passed to send teams to Florence, there was a lingering question that irked many of us. How would we assemble an all-star team with so little notice and so little money? Can we comfortably assemble a “national team” if we can't get certain luminaries on it? Eventually, I realized that the question itself was wrong. The chief obstacle any national team (any elite team) must face, I remembered, is its own collection of sense of worth. Every team I have ever played on (and in particular, the most successful ones) really amounted to just yet another group of guys trying to figure out how to play together – and the sooner we realized that, the better we became. When I look at this Team Canada, particularly after this scrimmage, I see faces not content merely to make the cut. One way or another, I don't think we can send a better team than one that looks like that. Good luck, gentlemen. The hunger to prove oneself, sometimes urgent, ravenous and insane, is the greatest weapon I have ever known in sport.