The 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship is less than 100 days away, and the full schedule has been released.
While each matchup in pool play carries stakes toward determining the playoff field, here are six key matchups, one from each pool, to watch out for.
Pool A: United States vs. Canada
Wednesday, June 21, 7 p.m., Snapdragon Stadium
The top five seeded teams in the tournament make up Pool A: Australia, Canada, England, the Haudenosaunee and the United States
The opening match of the championship features the two most successful teams in the event’s history and the only two teams to take home the trophy. Canada has won two out the last four men’s championships (2006 and 2014), with the United States prevailing in 2018.
The two heavyweights met in pool play in 2014 in a 11-10 thriller that went the Americans’ way. The final was an epic chapter in the rivalry, a 9-8 victory for the USA decided on a goal from Tom Schreiber in the last second of the game.
Adding some fuel to the fire is The World Games 2022, when Canada claimed an impressive win over the United States in sixes, the newest discipline of lacrosse. While field and sixes are different games, the USA will certainly head into San Diego with a chip on its shoulder.
While all five teams from Pool A advance to the playoffs, a win in the opening game could give either team involved a head start toward the first overall seed, which could pay dividends in the matchups in the final rounds of the playoffs. And the chance to make a statement on American soil in the opening game in front of a global audience speaks for itself.
Pool D: Jamaica vs. Germany
Thursday, June 22, 7 p.m., SDSU 1
Pool D will see Germany, Jamaica, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland pitted against each other in a tricky sequence of games.
Germany is the automatic qualifier after finishing ninth in 2018, while Jamaica finished 13th and New Zealand finished 21st. New Zealand finished 12th in 2014, but has its eyes set on getting back to the playoffs, which will require upstaging two of the fastest growing programs in lacrosse.
Germany started its international lacrosse organization in 1990 and has finished in the top 10 in every tournament since 1994 on the back of a robust domestic infrastructure. Jamaica made its first appearance in the men’s tournament in 2014, but a strong debut is a sign of the talented pool featuring a handful of U.S. collegiate athletes.
The two teams will square against each other in a pool opener in primetime on Thursday that has blockbuster potential. The winner will have an early grip on the top spot in the pool, while the loser will face essentially must-win games in its next three contests. The stakes make for a tantalizing showdown to cap the full first day of action on Thursday.
Pool C: Israel vs. Philippines
Friday, June 23, 1 p.m., SDSU Sports Deck
Pool C is stacked with the Czech Republic, Israel, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Sweden, and all five teams will back their chances to advance to the playoffs.
Israel finished seventh on home soil in 2018, the best finish out of the bunch, but Puerto Rico finished eighth and the Philippines finished 10th. The three matchups between the three teams will have massive stakes spread out across Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the matchup between Israel and the Philippines coming first.
Each pool winner advances to the playoffs, but only four out of the five second place teams from Pools B through F get through. That puts pressure on all three teams and makes the race for second place crucial.
The Philippines finished fourth at the Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union qualifier in October, and will have to raise its level against Israel, an automatic qualifier, and Puerto Rico, which cruised through the Pan-American Lacrosse Association qualifier in first place. Both the Philippines and Puerto Rico, despite their top 10 finishes at the last men’s championship, were not automatic qualifiers because they were full members of World Lacrosse in 2018.
The gauntlet of Pool C starts with these two teams, and while no result rules out either, it’s one of the marquee games on Friday with big implications for a pool everyone has their eyes on.
Pool E: Scotland vs. Hong Kong, China
Saturday, June 24, 1 p.m., SDSU 1
Austria; Hong Kong, China; Italy; Mexico and Scotland will face off in Pool E, an intriguing mix of established and up-and-coming teams.
Scotland received an automatic qualifier spot after its 11th place finish in 2018, and Scotland has finished 11th or better in all six of its previous appearances. Both Italy and Mexico finished ahead of Hong Kong at that tournament, but Hong Kong posted the best finish in qualifying, as Italy finished fourth in the European Lacrosse Federation event, while Mexico finished third in the PALA qualifier.
Hong Kong finished second at the APLU qualifier with wins over New Zealand and the Philippines, two teams that finished above Hong Kong in 2018.
It could be another sign that Hong Kong is continuing to grow, along with top-20 finishes in the women’s championship and men’s U21 championship in 2022. The men’s team could be poised to make a similar leap.
Hong Kong will have one game under its belt before it squares off against Scotland. An opportunity against the highest-seeded team in the group will be a strong litmus test of whether Hong Kong’s impressive qualifying was a sign of a team ready to do damage in San Diego.
Scotland has two games on Thursday and Friday and could be looking at a chance to cement its lead in the group or it could be grappling for wins in a jumbled pool. The winner of Saturday’s clash will likely have one foot in the playoffs, and it’s a matchup that could define Pool E.
Pool B: Wales vs. Japan
Saturday, June 24, 1 p.m., SDSU Sports Deck
Pool B features Denmark, France, Japan, Uganda and Wales. Japan has continued its rise as an emerging lacrosse power that culminated in a sixth-place finish at the 2018 Men’s Championship and a bronze medal finish at The World Games 2022.
The four other teams came through qualifying to arrive in San Diego, and Wales led the way with a first-place finish in the ELF event out of 22 teams. Wales finished 14th in 2018 and will be looking to be one the 14 teams in the playoffs in 2023.
The matchup between Wales and Japan is a massive opportunity for both teams to measure themselves against each other in the thick of pool play and lay claim to the top spot, and an automatic berth in the playoffs.
The tilt is also one of many exciting battles between European and Asian powers, two regions investing in the game and racing to develop their player pools. In this matchup, Japan will come in with higher expectations, having never finished outside of the top 10 at a men’s championship, while Wales’ best finish in the event is 11th.
Wales will look to claim a program defining upset and secure its spot in the playoffs, while Japan must fend off its biggest challenger in Pool B. It should be one of the most impactful games of pool play in San Diego with plenty of ripples from the result.
Pool F: Latvia vs. Netherlands
Monday, June 26, 1 p.m., SDSU 2
Pool F is made up of Ireland, Korea, Latvia, the Netherlands and Peru.
While Ireland enters the tournament as the favorite to advance based on its 12th place finish in 2018 and a seventh-place finish at the men’s U21 championship in 2022, the other countries will look to pose a fierce challenge.
While Korea’s top finish in APLU qualifying should not be ignored, Latvia and the Netherlands are coming off solid performances in 2018 and 2022. Latvia finished 18th in 2018 and fifth in ELF qualifying, while the Netherlands was right behind in both competitions: a 22nd-place finish in 2018 and a sixth-place finish in ELF qualifying.
Monday will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting days of the championship in San Diego with teams vying for the final playoff spots, but the matchup between Latvia and the Netherlands could directly determine a berth in the next round. The two teams both went 4-1 in a tough round of qualifying and could be set for a dramatic pool play finale.