The recent news of the trade between Rochester and Philadelphia brought me around to thinking of some other American indoor players of the past. Lots of stalwart players of U.S.A. heritage have doned a Philly Wings jersey in the past, but other than Mark Millon or Jake Bergey, has there ever been a bigger named, skilled American on Broad St. than Paul Rabil? While it remains to be seen what impact Rabil will have on the Wings fortunes it also sparks up memories gone by from an era when I was the GM of the Wings and coveting U.S. players was my mandate. There were two players that stood out from the first time former Wings head coach Adam Mueller and I watched them play field lacrosse for the Bridgeport Barrage in the summer of 2001, Keith Cromwell and Matt Striebel.
With some luck in my first year as Wings GM, we were able to draft Striebel in the fourth round of the 2001 NLL Entry draft and get Cromwell a few months later in exchange for a 2002 first-rounder. Cromwell missed all of training camp his first year while a deal was worked out for him but Striebel stood out from the first time he stepped on a field at rookie camp. This guy was an incredible athlete.
The Wings practiced at the Tri-States complex in Aston Pa. back in those days. The facility was an old Sun Oil corporation family exercise facility that had a full gym with basketball courts. Often, when players arrived early for practice, they would play some basketball and Striebel was absolutely dynamite! The guy could jam with his spring-loaded feet and he had the most amazing footwork on field I’d seen to date, like a Tom Carmean but sped up to double-time. Matt also carried his skateboard with him and could be seen working out tricks in the parking lot every so often.
Striebel had graduated from Princeton when the Wings drafted him and Princeton had captured the 2001 NCAA men’s championship but it doesn’t end there. Matt was also a decorated soccer player at Princeton, which relays the amount of athleticism this guy oozed.
The 2001-2002 NLL season ended up being a rough ride for a few of the fresh faces in Philadelphia. Names like Janney, Klienmann, Wasik and Striebel didn’t get much playing time. In fact, Striebel got none.
Matt was right-handed and stuck behind our core of studs in Jake Bergey, Jeff Ratcliffe, Tom Marechek and the ambidextrous Mark Millon when he played his strong hand. At a late season practice, Striebel and I conversed about his past eight months of involvement in box lacrosse. Apologetic as I was, Matt remained very upbeat and positive about his year with the Wings. He informed me that his “stick skills improved about 30% from playing box lacrosse” that winter by his own estimation.
As a rookie GM working for the most successful (to date) and storied franchise in the NLL, the thought of imposing this guy on the ownership as our future had crossed my mind many times. Striebel shot well in practices and had so much raw potential and speed in the open field that the only thing standing in his way was desire.
This is the hard part of the story. By my estimation, Matt Striebel drove approximately 32 round trips that year between Gill, Mass., and Aston, Pa. It could have been more than 40 times really, as that was the only year the NLL started before x-mas. On Google maps it says Gill, Mass., is 301 miles one way to Aston, Pa. You wanna talk about desire, dedication and being humble, this is your man! Five hours each way by car to practice, seriously.
The 2003 season training camp was a new beginning for Striebel. He was going to take over for the retired Millon on the Wings right side and assumed Millon’s number #9, a number worn by Mark and legendary Philly laxer Chris Flynn previously. At training camp Striebel’s talent was evident, and the confidence was sprouting from a year of practice experience.
Philadelphia headed to Denver, Colo., for a pre-season exhibition game against the expansion Mammoth. The game started out as a night to remember for Striebel, who had two goals by halftime. The night ended with a blown ACL for Jake Bergey and no doubts that Striebel would be thrust into a larger role for the coming season.
The Matt Striebel box lacrosse story doesn’t have a happy ending, something that never has sat well with me. The Wings stumbled to a 1-3 start in 2003 and after a home loss to the Toronto Rock it was apparent Striebel’s apprenticeship didn’t translate into him being a savvy trench pick-and-roll guy that was needed to work with the likes of Marachek and Ratcliffe. The pressure to win in Philadelphia was heavy and Striebel’s four game audition was coming to a close. Ryan Traynor became the pick man and Dan Marohl was acquired to bolster the right side with his experience.
I thought if I traded Stiebel he would most likely get to play somewhere else as a “go-to” guy with his talents. If I kept him, he would be relegated to the bench for a grinder and in a year’s time Bergey would return, pushing him back down the depth chart. Striebel was traded with holdout player Jay Jalbert to the New York Saints in February of 2003 for left hander Mark Frye, a four-year NLL veteran based out of Baltimore. I had no idea that Matt would never step on an NLL field again.
No one can be sure what may have become of the indoor career of Striebel but I have a pretty good idea he should have been one of the American greats to play box lacrosse. Matt went on to be a marquee player in Major League Lacrosse, ironically with the Barrage who moved to Philadelphia in 2004. From that date Stiebel strung together five consecutive standout seasons leading the Barrage to championships in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when he was named MVP of the championship game.
Matt still plays in the MLL for Rochester and in the years between his foray into box lacrosse and the present he has gotten a literary Master’s degree from the University of Iowa, plus he is a founding partner of Trilogy Lacrosse Camps with his former Princeton and Barrage teammate Ryan Boyle.
I once asked Mueller if he had reached out to Matt in hopes of getting him to play with the New York Titans, of course Adam said “yes.” I think he mentioned Striebel’s school load in 2007 prevented it but I know Adam would have brought him on board if it were to be. Instead, Striebel has remained a sore spot for the both of us, especially me.
Mueller and I prided ourselves on being honest and giving players the opportunity to evolve inside the framework of teams we were a part of together and on our own. In my case, I had hoped that giving him a chance to play a little closer to home on a N.Y. team with less depth than us in Philly would get him his opportunity to play and grow.
Irony comes into play again when you consider Mueller’s Titans became a safe haven for U.S. based players during his tenure. The Saints folded at the end of the season of that trade, but box lacrosse returned to N.Y. in 2007. The Titans made the playoffs in their second season of 2008 in the established East Division, proving an American-based team with experience and focused coaching could play and excel in the NLL.
This story should reveal some insight to anyone who wants to play professional lacrosse. Doesn’t matter if you are Canadian, American or other. If you have the talent and desire to go for it, your dreams will be met one way or another eventually.
I have nothing to feel good about in this past situation other than a simple comment I took away from what Mr. Striebel mentioned to me at the end of his first season with the Wings in the spring of 2002: He improved as a lacrosse player.
I tried to track Matt down before writing this story but didn’t receive a reply. Not sure what I would have asked him but I wonder now what he thought about during those long dedicated drives to Wings practice or if he injects any indoor skills into his teaching of field lacrosse and most of all I would have asked him if he wished he had given box one more try.
Matt really didn’t need to. Striebel walked away from indoor and accomplished all he needed from lacrosse playing internationally for his country and in the MLL while being a Warrior endorsed player, a superstar of the sport of lacrosse in his own right.
One more time, I’ll get on the USA indoor bandwagon. Indoor lacrosse needs more U.S. players to become relevant in America so the sport grows in America. I’m delighted to see Paul Rabil is going to give box lacrosse another try in the City of Brotherly Love and I hope his career there is long and prosperous. Rabil will be wearing his regular number 9.
I take some comfort in that. After reading this story you’ll understand why.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
Rate This Story: