By Natalie Johnson | 7/10/14 3:30 PM
MLL is well-represented at the FIL World Lacrosse Championships, boasting players on six different national teams. Fans who catch one of Germany’s games during the tournament will see at least one familiar face: Florida’s Chris Mattes. Mattes, who is part German, is the only MLL player on the German national team, which placed 6th at the last World Championships in 2010. Last week, he took the time to talk with us about his experiences with Team Germany and what he anticipates from the tournament.
Mattes initially got connected with the German national team through someone involved with the youth lacrosse program he coaches for in New Jersey. “About a year ago, he came back from the Berlin Open out there, and he was telling me how he was out there with Team Germany, and he was their German national team goalie coach. I, kind of jokingly, was like, ‘Oh, well I’m part German. My grandparents are all from Germany.’ He got on the phone with [Germany Head] Coach [Jack] Kaley and told him that, and from there, he just kind of hooked me up. I went out there this past early winter, late fall, to Frankfurt for the tryouts and it ended up working out.”
While playing for a team based outside the player’s home country isn’t entirely uncommon, there are certainly some logistical issues to solve in terms of practice and preparation. Mattes has been getting the best training possible in the form of weekly MLL play, but he hasn’t gotten many opportunities to work out with his German teammates. “They have the Berlin Open, which the team attended about two weeks ago, but with MLL and everything, I wasn’t able to get out there and practice with them.” Mattes planned on joining the team in Colorado last Saturday, giving him time to “get a couple of two-a-days in before we get started.”
The chance to take part in one of the sport’s biggest events is not something that the Florida Launch face off specialist takes for granted. “I’ve never had the opportunity to participate, and I’m excited to head out there and play with teams from all over. I’m excited to watch the other countries that you never hear of, to see them play, and be a part of this big event. It’s going to be a cool experience.”
Mattes said his MLL experience “will definitely give me confidence,” but he also knows what role he plays on Team Germany. “I’m American-German, and 90% of the guys on the team are German– from, born, raised in Germany– so I’m going to take a back seat in the leadership. This is their team, and I’m lucky to be a part of it. They’re welcoming me. I actually have to learn the German national anthem, they told me. I put that on my phone for my flight, so I’ll listen to it for four hours and hopefully I’ll figure that one out.”
The team, which will play in the Red Division, is set up for success, according to Mattes. “We do have a lot of work to do, but I think we’ll fare well in our group.” He elaborated on the early rounds of play, saying, “I think we can win our group, I know we have Belgium, Austria, and Hong Kong in our group. I think we can handle those teams.”
Regardless of the team’s outcome in this tournament, he hopes to help increase the popularity of lacrosse in Germany. “You know, lacrosse is growing out there, but it still has a lot of work to do. I helped out a bunch with the fundraising and organizing the uniforms and decals and that stuff and helping them out with that, but also… when I went out there for tryouts, I built relationships with the Germans– some that made the team, some that didn’t. We’re going to go out there and try to run camp with them at some point once the World Games do end.”
He also acknowledged the unique possibility of playing against some familiar faces, albeit not in their usual uniforms. “It would be great to play against the other MLL guys. I don’t know if we’ll make it to USA or Canada, but I know some guys on the Israel team, guys on the English team, the Irish team, so it will be cool to play against some of those teams and see some of the other guys that you play with in the league.”
When asked about the 2014 MLL season, Mattes acknowledged that “it’s been an up and down season” for the Florida Launch, but was quick to praise his teammates. “For a first year franchise, it’s gone really well. A great group of guys.” Although Florida has struggled in recent weeks, the team is confident they can get back on track. “I think we need to realize it’s a long game and put everything together,” he said. “Put a full game together: offensively, defensively, and play smart, and play to our strengths.”
On an individual level, Mattes is having his most productive year ever at the X. “It’s my first, I would say, full, full season playing every game, so it’s been a fun experience with that. It isn’t the most glamorous position, but it’s fun. I can’t do it alone— half the time it’s the wing guys getting the ground balls for me, and we’re working together and building chemistry.”
Florida and the rest of the MLL will take a break this weekend, but you can see Mattes battle it out at the X during the World Championships. Team Germany’s first game will be against Belgium on Friday, July 11 at 4:00 PM ET. Tune in to ESPN3 to catch all the action and see if Mattes did, in fact, learn the German national anthem.