Hey Rattlers, Cannons, Machine and Lizards, have a seat. Look, I know you had your hearts set on making it to Championship Weekend presented by Smartlink, but this just wasn’t your year. Next season, any one of you could end up hoisting the Steinfeld Cup. It’s true, quick turnarounds are entirely possible in the MLL.
Need an example? Just look at the Nationals and the Hounds. Whole bunch of nothing in 2012, Philly-bound this weekend. Started from the bottom, now they here. There. Whatever. All I’m saying is to keep your respective heads up, because brighter days could be right around the corner. Now, before we officially close out your seasons, let’s take a look at each team, what went wrong, and finally, why things could turn around in 2014.
This season marked the second year in a row where the Rattlers finished just one spot away from a trip to Major League Lacrosse’s Championship Weekend. What’s been keeping them out? Well, for all the talk about Ohio’s scoring woes, the Rattlers were held to single digits on six occasions (the Machine “led” with seven; the Lizards were third with three), only they weren’t consecutive, and therefore attracted far less attention than their Midwestern counterparts.
Speaking of the Machine, the Chicago Machine reunion didn’t quite go as planned in Rochester, as Mike Leveille returned to the league, scored eight points in seven games and promptly disappeared, ultimately being waived by the team about a month later. Meanwhile, spending more time away from the crease largely contributed to big brother Kevin’s career-low goal, point and shooting percentage (26%, he came into the season with a 42% career average) totals.
Brief tangent: When he is somewhat close to the crease, why doesn’t Kevin Leveille shoot underhanded every time he gets the chance? I’d bet money that he shoots at least 15% better with that logic-defying softball-pitch delivery of his than when he opts for the standard overhand variety. Watching Kevin Leveille shoot overhand is like watching a cat walk on two legs. I’m aware that it’s possible and all, but still: it’s unnatural, looks really weird, and quite frankly, I’d just rather not see it, thank you very much. Harsh? Perhaps. Unwarranted? Not a chance. This is the MLL, they’re pros. They can take it.
Despite the aforementioned production concerns from the attack, Rochester’s offense managed to garner some positive attention as well. Despite receiving their fair share of puzzled looks on draft night, the Rattlers grabbed two of the league’s most impressive rookies in Dave Lawson and John Ranagan. Lawson and Ranagan accounted for 18 goals each while shooting 43% and 39%, respectively, making them the most accurate midfielders (minimum 15 goals) in the league – not the most accurate rookie midfielders, the most accurate midfielders, period.
While the attention was usually more on the defender covering him (Lee Zink and Tucker Durkin both earned Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Rattlers came to town), Ned Crotty quietly handed out 20 assists, including a league-leading eight on the power play. Oh, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree with regard to Joel White’s abilities, people who chose the MLL All-Star and Team USA tryout rosters. Once you add John Galloway’s continued improvement in goal and a 23-point season finale to the equation, the 2014 Rattlers could finally overcome the elements just barely keeping them on the wrong side of the playoffs these past few years. Rochester isn’t far off at all.
After five years, the city of Boston finally has a new “Manny” to cheer for, this one without dreadlocks, and be it organic or by design, rookie Will Manny has begun moving his stuff into Ryan Boyle’s office behind the goal. While Boyle is reading the paper and sipping coffee, Manny is saying “don’t mind me,” and unloading boxes and putting together a bookcase. When career-high point and assist totals in 2012 are immediately followed by career lows in 2013, as was the case with Boyle, one has to wonder about his quarterback role moving forward (it’s important to emphasize the word “quarterback” here; Ryan Boyle is playing until Ryan Boyle doesn’t feel like playing. He’s still that good.), particularly with the emergence of the versatile Manny.
This is all more observation than criticism, of course, as the Cannons scored 178 goals this season, good for third in the league. I’m simply interested to see where the Cannons go from here. The real problems were on the other end of the field, where they gave up a league-high 202 goals, 43 more than last year and over 20 more than the league’s next worse defense.
These weren’t a few bad games here and there, the defense was consistently porous, allowing 16 or more goals on six occasions. The Boston “no sliding” policy (it really was a policy; I’m not being mean.) turned their defensive middies into highlight reel victims on a regular basis, while the abundance of natural longsticks pushing up the field meant the Cannons were always a failed clear away from a serious disadvantage in the transition game.
Scott Ratliff hanging out on offense may evoke memories of Kyle Sweeney amongst the Boston faithful, but you know who else does that? That’s right, Kyle Sweeney. And he’s still there, still doing his thing. It’s exciting to see those guys, and Brian Farrell and PT Ricci, out on the break, but when you’ve got multiple poles crossing over more than Allen Iverson, you’re bound to leave your fellow defensemen and Jordan Burke hanging from time to time.
All that having been said, let’s not forget the silver linings in the Cannons’ season: Mike Stone improved in all offensive categories (if you’re being picky about it, his two-point total, zero, remained the same), rookie Cam Flint looked flat-out unguardable at times, and Paul Rabil should be back to full strength after undergoing offseason surgery to repair torn ab and adductor muscles. Yes, 2013 Paul Rabil was not at full strength. Wow. The offense will be in place; and tightening up the defense could mean a return to playoff form for the 2011 champs.
Considering how poor the first half of their season was, a stat-based overall recap of the 2013 Ohio Machine is essentially a waste of time, isn’t it? You saw it, it wasn’t pretty, let’s move on. Okay, well let’s still look at two negative stats: After winning 46% of their faceoffs (good for sixth place) in 2012, the Machine grabbed a league-low 39% in 2013. When they were winning possessions, they weren’t hitting any outside shots, as they combined for only three two-pointers all season (down from 15 in 2012), the lowest total since the LA Riptide scored two back in 2008. Okay, now we can move on, and I’ll be increasingly positive as I go.
The six-game Bear Davis era has been one of optimism and heartbreak (though even the heartbreak was cause for optimism in light of their prior failures), as the Davis-led Machine never lost by more than three goals, posted double-digit point totals in each game (after doing so only once in the first eight games of the season) and highlighted their season (existence?) in week 13 by eliminating the Cannons from playoff contention in front of 8,000 truly disappointed Boston fans.
With both Chazz Woodson and Connor Martin largely hampered by injuries, relative elder statesman Steele Stanwick had to rely upon several rookies who were immediately forced into starring roles with the franchise. Logan Schuss’s 28 goals (just two shy of Kevin Huntley’s rookie record) were good for ninth in the league, and midfielder Marcus Holman’s 11 assists placed him third among 2013′s rookie class, trailing only Rob Pannell and Will Manny (and Kevin Cunningham if you, unlike the MLL, count him as a rookie). Between the talented freshman class, a coach who’s turning things around and next year’s top collegiate draft pick (like, for real this time), conditions are ideal for the Ohio Machine to experience significant improvement in 2014, but there is work to be done.
New York Lizards
Oh lizards. Lizards, Lizards Lizards. You knew you were going to headline this, right?
New York went from the most surprising team in 2012, to the most surprising team in 2013, albeit for entirely different reasons. The Lizards season was like your neighbor buying a brand-new, neon green Lamborghini, only fast forward a couple weeks, you’re driving to work, and he’s parked on the side of the highway, trunk popped up, scratching his head and wondering where the smoke’s coming from.
Prior to their season finale against the Machine, the Lizards hadn’t put up more than 12 goals in a game since mid-May (aka, the last time they played the Machine). By comparison, every other team in the league had done so at least once since July, which is two whole months later, for those that don’t know their calendars. Their extra-man offense cashed in on only 17.5% of their opportunities; while the other teams in the league averaged 35.2%.
While tricky to criticize the second-most productive rookie campaign in history, no one in the league shot the ball more times per game than Rob Pannell; you have to wonder if the quarterback is really better off calling his own number almost 11 times each game. Finally, what happened to Mark Matthews? Not just his numbers (17 points, down from 28 last season), but literally, where did he go? He played eight games in a row, went to Denver for the Fourth of July game and we never saw him again.
On the bright side, the Lizards realized there were too many cooks in the kitchen and didn’t wait until the offseason to begin making changes, sending Stephen Berger and a conditional 2015 draft pick to Boston for Steve Mock and a first-rounder in 2014 (don’t forget that part). Mock tallied 11 goals in five games and matched Matthews’ goal output (oddly enough, with the same number of shots) in three fewer games. Of those Mock goals, four were assisted by Pannell, who never ended up tossing a single helper Matthews’ way.
After registering a grand total of one point after his first six games, Jojo Marasco scored eight in his final two outings (including back to back hat tricks), and looked far more comfortable initiating the offense, distributing the ball and demonstrating a remarkable ability to legitimately draw penalties (note: not to be confused with over-selling checks or taking dives, this was some sort of leverage-exploiting, “use your opponent’s momentum against him” akido-esque thing at work. No clue how or why, the guy just grabs flags like he’s on Double Dare).
And oh, by the way, Greg Gurenlian just won 64% of his faceoffs, the best percentage in league history. The Lizards have plenty to build upon, even if they don’t ship out any big-name trade bait between now and draft night, and their 2014 could easily become what we expected of their 2013.
This season may not have worked out as planned, but for you, teams that didn’t make it to Philadelphia, it’s time to move on. Dust yourselves off and get back out there, because your 2014 season has already begun. With each new season comes four unclaimed tickets to Championship Weekend, and there’s no reason one of those tickets, and the Steinfeld Cup, can’t be yours.