Facing its most embarrassing loss on its home soil, the U.S. lacrosse team needed some bailing out from one of this area's best.
Michael Watson unleashed a pivotal scoring display, powering in the game- tying and winning goals midway through the fourth quarter to trigger the United States over rival Canada, 14-12, before 10,147 at Homewood Field last night.
Watson, a St. Paul's School graduate, stepped forward on the World Games stage, finishing with a game-best four goals as the United States rallied from a five-goal, second-quarter deficit.
The United States (4-0), which improved its international record to 53-1, becomes the top seed in the tournament and will face the winner of tonight's play-in game between the Iroquois Nation and Japan.
Canada (3-1), which had beaten its previous three teams by nine goals and handed the United States its only loss in the World Games 20 years ago, will play Australia in the other semifinal tomorrow.
"It all happened so fast with a fast break or quick dodge," said Watson, The Sun's Male Athlete of the Year in 1993. "Both those times, we moved the ball real quick and I had a lot of room. It was just quick, get it in the goal somehow."
Trailing 12-11 early in the fourth quarter, the United States seemed tight and started to rush its shots as David Curry and Mark Millon both missed the cage badly on wide-open looks.
Enter Watson, who made quite sure he wouldn't misfire. Starting his drive from the far right side, Watson sprinted past two defenders before whipping in a shot on a headlong dive around the crease. That goal five minutes into the fourth quarter made it 12-12, the seventh tie of the game.
Watson wasn't through, taking a pass from Bill Miller a minute later in transition and cranking a 5-yard shot to Canada goalkeeper Chris Sanderson's stick side to put the U.S. team up for good at 13-12. The shot, in which Watson drops his right shoulder low and fires high, shouldn't have surprised Sanderson.
"I've seen that so many times," said Sanderson, who was a teammate of Watson at Virginia for three years. "He sells it so well. He went down, I went down and he got me."
The game-winner with 13: 49 left in the game was a play that the United States failed to convert on twice earlier in the game. In a similar fast break, Miller passed the ball to the opposite side away from Watson.
But Watson told Miller after those two missed opportunities that his defender continually slid from him, leaving him space on the left wing. So Miller didn't make that mistake in the fourth quarter.
Tim Soudan added an insurance goal with 4 1/2 minutes left to put the U.S. team ahead 14-12. In a style made famous by U.S. coach Bill Tierney at Princeton, the Americans opted for the safe route at the end, running out the final three minutes by playing keepaway from the Canadian defenders.
"Michael played great and he geared up for this one," Tierney said. "Michael's game has gotten better and better. I think
Michael just gave it that little bit extra tonight."
Canada pressed the United States and led for most of the game by finishing all of its shots within 5 yards.
After three ties in the first quarter, the Canadians scored five straight in a matter of five minutes to go ahead 8-3 with 15: 20 left before halftime.
That's when the U.S. defense of John DeTommaso, Brian Voelker and Pat McCabe began to push back, physically shutting down the cuts inside and shoving Canada out to the perimeter.
"They are the best finishing team I've ever played against," U.S. goalkeeper Sal LoCascio said. "But their shots weren't coming at me as hard at the end."
Canada only scored four more times in the last 55 minutes as the U.S. attack received a jump-start from three extra-man chances. The Americans climbed back into the game with a five-goal run in the final 12 minutes of the second quarter to go into halftime behind 8-7.
The United States and Canada then tied each other four more times before Watson's sharp-shooting heroics lifted the confident, four-time defending world champion Americans to victory.
"We knew we would come back," Watson said. "We have so many horses on this team. We know if we can just go out and run, we'd cut the lead back down and be on our way to tying this thing up and going ahead."
Canada ...... 4 4 2 2 -- 12
United States 3 4 4 3 -- 14
Goals: C--Gobett 3, Marechek 2, P.Gait 2, Shearer 2, G.Gait, Tavares, Stroup; US--Watson 4, Millon 2, Curry 2, Hubbard, Voelker, Lockwood, Wade, Bl.Miller, Soudan. Assists: C--Bowen 2, G.Gait 2, Veltman, Tavares, Shearer, P.Gait, Marechek; US--Lowe 3, Millon, Curry, Shek, Bi.Miller. Saves: C--Sanderson 29; US--LoCascio 17.
Pub Date: 7/21/98