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For Billy Rebman, it’s simple.
“Red, white and blue,” the Team USA general manager said when asked what makes the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship different from other lacrosse events.
“There’s nothing like it. Some of these guys have won college and pro championships, but there’s nothing like being one of the 23 to represent your country against the world.”
That national pride will be on full display when US Lacrosse welcomes the world to Denver in July for the world championship. It will be Rebman’s fourth world championship as a member of the staff for Team USA. He was there in Australia in 2002 when an underdog U.S. team comprised mostly of college kids brought home the gold. He was in Canada for the disappointing loss to the host Canadians in 2006 and he was across the pond in 2010 for the redemption win over Canada in England.
But it won’t be the same in 2014.
“This is the first one I’ve been a part of where it’s going to be on home soil,” Rebman said. “I think it’s going to be amazing.”
The last time the U.S. hosted the world championship. The gold medal contest was one of the most memorable lacrosse games ever played. Nearly 11,000 people crammed into Baltimore’s Homewood Field and saw the U.S. open up a 13-4 lead into the fourth quarter. Canada staged a miraculous rally, tying the game on Paul Gait’s goal with just 30 seconds remaining, but Team USA prevailed 15-14 in overtime on goals by Hall of Famers Mark Millon and Darren Lowe.
But lacrosse has grown tremendously since 1998, both in the U.S. and around the world.
The 1998 world championship featured just 11 nations and the entire tournament was played on just one field. This year’s tournament will include as many as 40 nations, feature at least 60 games on ESPN’s family of networks and will utilize up to nine fields just for the championships. Coupled with festivals that will feature teams from the U11 age group through 60-and-over players, it will be the largest international lacrosse event in history.
“This is going to be a scene that the sport has never seen before,” Rebman said. “You’re not going to see lacrosse played against a better backdrop than what you’re going to see in Denver.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park features 24 fields, highlighted by an 18,000-seat stadium that is home to the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer. The stadium will be used for the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, the semifinals, the championship game and a handful of round-robin games. Two turf fields will also feature stadium style seating for marquee games. The International Village and Vendor Villages that will be part of the complex for the event will help create a dynamic atmosphere.
The Denver community is also one of the strongest lacrosse areas in the U.S., and will help generate excitement around the event.
“The fans in Denver are awesome,” said Brendan Mundorf, who played for Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws from 2006-2013. “They support the Mammoth, they support the Outlaws and they support DU.”
“People coming to Denver will see a great venue,” said Rick Giancola, one of three chairs of the World Championship Host Committee. “The fan experience will be equal to that of other large sporting events, but more importantly it will reflect the nature of our game. We’re not the NFL or Major League Baseball, and that’s a great thing. We’ve got 40 countries coming to Denver for 10 days to compete for their country and for the game they love.”
Mundorf, a member of the 2014 U.S. training team, played in the 2006 world championship for Australia and then for the U.S. in 2010, He has seen what the experience is like firsthand.
“It’s a really cool atmosphere and it’s really family-friendly,” Mundorf said. “Some of the teams have guys that are older and they’re there with their kids. It’s not like anything you see playing in college or the MLL.”
The international flavor makes it unique for the fans, but the chase for the world title creates the drama to make lasting memories.
“In 2006 when I was watching Canada beat the U.S., I was 21 years old, it was my first year out of college and I didn’t think it was possible for the U.S to lose,” Mundorf said. “Watching the game fade away and seeing the disappointment on those guys faces, I couldn’t believe it. In 2010 it was a completely different feeling to be able to win the championship. Those final memories from these events are what stick with you.”
An edited version of this story appeared in the December 2013 edition of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. To start your subscription, become a member of US Lacrosse today.
Paul Krome contributed to this story.
Photo Credit: Jack Dempsey
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