Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan
Much like the remaining weeks are sure to be, it’s another high-stakes, high-pressure weekend in Major League Lacrosse. Week 9 was superb, so what does Week 10 hold in store? The Hounds are in playoff position right now, but if they slip, they could wind up in sixth place by the time the weekend’s over. Up in Rochester, a Rattlers win keeps them in the hunt and prevents the Nationals from edging closer to clinching that second available trip to championship weekend.
Meanwhile, seven teams are actively hoping the Machine can pull off an upset and keep the Bayhawks with the pack. Well, probably six teams: the Outlaws are off enjoying their long weekend, their playoff spot and their record-breaking season. Probably couldn’t care less. For the rest of you, here’s what to look for in this weekend’s games:
Chesapeake Bayhawks (5-4) vs Ohio Machine (1-8)
Last week the Machine got back to double digits, so there’s that, but the Bayhawks coming off of one of their most complete victories of the season, a 17-10 win over the Nationals, that wasn’t in doubt for most of the second half.
While Ohio had an extra week for new coach Bear Davis to implement his defensive strategies (and we may see the addition of former Charlotte d-middie Gerry Reilly, acquired in exchange for a fifth supplemental draft pick at the trade deadline), their defensive midfielders were an absolute disaster trying to cover the Cannons last week, and after a well-documented slow start, the Bayhawks midfielders have started to see their shots fall in recent weeks.
If the Machine defense has to constantly slide to keep up with individual matchups, look for even more of the same from the likes of Brooks, Kimmel et al. Maybe not so much Kyle Dixon, since he’s now shooting .094% on the season and all, but he still demands attention, having handed out 15 assists, good for third in the league.
While Logan Schuss is coming off of an impressive six-goal performance (Steele Stanwick assisted on three of them), the Machine only scored ten goals as a while last week, meaning the supporting members of the offense will need to step up (mainly in the transition game, if you use the Bayhawks’ recent loss the Charlotte as a blueprint) to have a chance against the Chesapeake defense, especially with Michael Evans expected back in the lineup.
Charlotte Hounds (4-5) vs Boston Cannons (4-5)
The Boston Cannons are currently riding a three-game winning streak, the first of which was a 15-13 win against the Hounds in Charlotte. Not only are the Hounds looking for payback, they’re looking to remain in playoff position – lose this game and they fall out of fourth place.
You really can’t talk about this game without talking about these teams’ recent personnel moves, as these were two of the most active teams during Tuesday’s trade deadline. While the Hounds picked up Hamilton’s Josh Hawkins in exchange for Josh Amidon and a 2015 first-round collegiate draft pick, the Cannons grabbed Stephen Berger and 2015 second and sixth round collegiate draft picks from the Lizards in exchange for Stephen Mock and a 2014 first round collegiate pick.
Hawkins, who reunites with Loyola teammates Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby, addresses a need that the Hounds had already vastly improved upon (defensive midfield, wing and transition play) coming into the season, the hope/assumption being that he’ll improve it even more. He’s got a very short MLL resume, having only appeared in three games this season with the Nationals, but has shown moments of potential on both sides of the ball. Will the high-reward potential justify shipping Amidon up north?
Losing that first rounder in 2015 hurts, but Charlotte has a very young core as is, and with young midfielders like Jake Tripucka joining the squad, along with several additional players capable of hitting the two-point shot, Amidon may have found himself expendable in their lineup.
Stephen Berger’s acquisition raises the biggest questions of the weekend, and potentially the remainder of the regular season. The Cannons offense has shown steady improvement, especially with the growth of Will Manny and Cam Flint – will Berger fit in without disrupting their momentum? Something to keep in mind: with the exception of his rookie campaign back in 2005, Berger has finished every season either first or second on his team in shots.
Guess who’s leading the entire league in shots this season? Berger’s new teammate Paul Rabil. Guess who led the league in shots for three of the past four seasons? Yup, Paul Rabil. Are there enough shots to go around for Berger to get his as well? As Berger just experienced during his stint with the star-laden Lizards, that’s easier said than done.
Hamilton Nationals (6-3) vs Rochester Rattlers (4-5)
Of the Rochester Rattlers’ final five games of the season, only two are against teams they’ve previously beaten, which means if they want a shot at the playoffs, they’re going to need to hand out some payback, beginning this weekend against the Hamilton Nationals, who defeated them 17-11 just two weeks ago in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Rattlers’ offense has been plagued by wildly inconsistent play all season: two weeks ago, they only scored one assisted goal; last week they only scored two unassisted. Perhaps as a result (or maybe it’s the other way around, chicken-egg situation), ball control has been a steady point of concern this season. We’re all well aware of John Galloway’s impressive performances this season, but the last thing the Nationals need is opportunity. Hamilton won’t let them off the hook as often as the Lizards did last week- throw the ball away time and time again, and they’ll make you pay for it.
Although time will tell if we should expect last week’s production from Dave Lawson on a regular basis, Rochester’s willingness to embrace a midfield-centric offensive identity may be key to defeating the Nationals this weekend. If the Ned Crotty-Tucker Durkin matchup looks to play out the same way it did back in week eight (i.e., not well for Crotty), Rochester coach Tim Soudan may want to send him out of the midfield as early and often as possible, and initiating from up top (while looking for Kevin Leveille on the crease) certainly worked out well for them last weekend.
Does Bear Davis have the secret to the biggest upset of the season? Will Lusby, Hawkins and the Charlotte (Grey)Hounds defend their playoff position? Will shaking up their roster snap the Cannons’ winning streak? Good luck to your squad, and be sure to check back next week for the recap.