The World Cup of lacrosse has come to America . . . with one major difference from its soccer counterpart. In lacrosse, Team USA is the top dog. In soccer, the United States was a feisty underdog.
"There's pressure to some extent. You don't want to be that team that doesn't win the gold medal," said Rob Pannell, the New York Lizards' star attack from Smithtown who is one of two Long Islanders on the 23-man U.S. team that faces Canada in Thursday's opener of the 142-game FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) World Championship that will be played in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado. "The U.S. World Cup soccer team doesn't have that pressure. For them, it was 'I believe . . . I believe that . . . and so on.' For us, if we don't win, it's a failure."
The U.S. has rarely failed, winning nine of the 11 world championships played since the event debuted in 1967 with only four teams. There will be 38 nations participating in this one.
The U.S. defeated Canada, which has won the other two gold medals, in an exciting 12-10 final in Manchester, England in 2010. One of the stars on that team was Hewlett native Max Seibald, like Pannell a Cornell graduate and MLL all-star for the Lizards.
"There is added pressure, absolutely. It's an expectation. For us, winning is the only thing that we plan to do," said Seibald, a midfielder who expects to be fully recovered from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the Lizards' last two games plus the MLL-Team USA all-star game on June 26. "Anything less than that would be a failure, but everyone here believes that we can win and we'll sacrifice and prepare to do everything we can to make that happen."
In addition to Pannell and Seibald on the field, Long Island is well-represented on the highly regarded Team USA coaching staff. Head coach Richie Meade (Furman) is from Williston Park; assistant Kevin Cassese (Lehigh) is from Port Jefferson, and assistant Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins) is from Hicksville. The other assistant is Jeff Tambroni (Penn State) and the quartet is so respected that Pannell said, "No one talks when they're talking. Your eyes are up and looking them right in the eye. They have your full attention."
The U.S. squad, which will play in the Blue Division comprised of the six top-ranked teams in the world, returns four members from the 2010 gold-medal team -- Seibald, Brendan Mundorf (attack), Ned Crotty (attack, also a Lizard) and Paul Rabil (midfield). Other Lizards going to Denver are Kyle Hartzell (defense), Drew Adams (goalie) and Greg Gurenlian (faceoff).
Team Canada, which won the championship in 1978 and 2006, features former Stony Brook University star Kevin Crowley (midfielder) and former Dowling All-American Kyle Rubisch (defense). "The coaches have been saying it -- 'Canada, Canada, Canada,' " Pannell said. "That's the team you'll have to beat and that's the team you'll play in the championship."
The Iroquois Nationals, like Canada a part of the Blue Division that will advance four teams into the quarterfinals, also are expected to contend for a medal and be a fan favorite with 2014 co-Tewaaraton winners and NCAA record-setting scorers, brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson.
"I don't think any of us missed watching the Thompsons this year. It was a pretty amazing show," Seibald said. "The Blue group is very interesting, but our strength is being good athletes and being very dynamic players who can do it all. We have the best coaches and the best players in the world who have checked their egos at the door."
But not their patriotism. "It's the pinnacle of the sport to compete against the best and at the same time, wear the red, white and blue and represent your country," Seibald said. "It's an honor and a humbling experience. Four years ago, I was the youngest guy and we were able to pull off the gold. It was my crowning achievement in lacrosse."
Pannell, 24, one of the youngest players on this year's team, hopes to duplicate Seibald's success. "It's a dream come true for me to be able to wear a USA across my chest," Pannell said. "When you break it down and it's 'U-S-A on 3!' it kind of hits home. It's really special."