Editor’s Note: Please welcome Dave Franklin to LAS. Dave covers the MCLA for IL and works for CBS Sports on some of their MLL television broadcasts. He also plays for the LAS Summer team, lives in Brooklyn, and is training for the Israeli national team. He has been following the New York Lizards all season, and will be covering the team for the rest of the 2013 Major League Lacrosse season, right here on LacrosseAllStars.com. For more from Dave, follow him on Twitter.
In today’s MLL, the culture of consistency has become more vital to an organization’s success than ever before. It’s no longer about assembling the best group of all-star caliber players and throwing them out on the field, it’s about finding personnel that fit a system and are both willing, and able, to stay local, and together, as much as possible.
You’ve seen it in Chesapeake, Boston, and Hamilton, and you are now really starting to see it in action via both Denver and Charlotte. New York, however, has been in a unique position for the past year or two, having already drafted their franchise player, Rob Pannell, in January of 2012, but being unable to use him until this year.
Despite the disappointing loss to Denver at Championship Weekend last year, the Lizards were not necessarily put in a position to rebuild very much. In fact, with the way certain chips fell (such as Brian Langtry’s retirement), it seemed like there was space to insert Pannell into an already potent New York system. Instead, the Lizards were almost forced to acquire a spread of new offensive talent which has inadvertently led to varied results thought inconsistencies in the lineup.
In 2013, and now that Pannell has actually arrived, an aggressive push to keep building around him saw a trade deadline addition of former Cornell teammate, Steve Mock. A finisher who was not active in Boston for the Cannons, Mock was dealt to New York in exchange for Stephen Berger who is not only one of the most experienced veterans in the league, but a two-way attack/middie threat who is known for being great in the locker room.
It’s clear NY is going the Rob Pannell route. So who can Lizards’ fans look to for that balanced offensive production? In my opinion, there are four players you need to look at when evaluating production to this point, in addition to looking forward toward a more successful future.
Addition of Mark Matthews
There is no doubt that Mark Matthews is one of the best young lacrosse players in the world. His size, versatility, skill, and quick hands make him dangerous from almost anywhere and there is very little that can stop him from having a pro career that resembles that of John Grant Junior. However, is New York a good fit? He went to college in Denver, is still living in Denverm and now flies to home games in New York.
When seeing time at attack earlier in the season, most of his production came off of loose balls and broken clears, but he has been making much more of an impact for Joe Spallina since making the switch to come out of the box at midfield.
Matt Gibson, Handcuffed?
It’s interesting to consider Matt Gibson’s professional lacrosse fate if Pannell did not get injured and take a fifth year. Gibby went on a roll that started with getting Yale back to national prominence during his senior season. Gibson never looked back as he came to his hometown Long Island team that was now very much in need of a facilitating attackman without Pannell.
Gibson took the green light all the way to a 2012 Rookie of the Year performance, which has been limited since the “go button” was given to Pannell. There is no doubt that Pannell and Gibson can successfully play off each other but it is going to take some time and an understanding that both are capable of attacking from X; the fact that they do it in very different ways should only play to their advantage. This is definitely a place where consistency will surely help.
Underperformance of JoJo Marasco
Not exactly a headline for the 2013 MLL season but an underline for sure is the fact that New York has two 2013 Tewaaraton finalists, and only one is performing. JoJo Marasco’s lone point on the season came on a beautiful diagonal pass to Pannell from GLE to the wing against Denver… too bad that was only the Lizards ‘seventh goal to the Outlaws 15 with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. He’s getting good run, but the points aren’t coming.
Joe Vitale, Waiting in the Wings
Unless you preface it with mention of Stephen Berger (Washington College) or Mike Stone (Middlebury), you look kind of silly when comparing an D2 or D3 (in this case D2) kid to a player who wore #22 at Syracuse, but does New York have a spark for immediate improvement on their practice squad?
The Lizards have playmakers and facilitators all over their offensive depth chart and once those guys start clicking, there should be room for an outside bomber to offer a two point threat to compliment Stephen Peyser. Vitale has been documented shooting 110+ MPH this summer and can really be one of those great, consistent, and local staples for the team, coming out of Lynbrook, NY. Like Vitale, Spallina is also an Adelphi alum so we’ll see how long until Coach pulls the trigger on a fellow Panther.
New York is creating their identity, and becoming more consistent. They can win games that way, but if they will? Well, that’s a topic for next week where I’ll take a look at whether or not they can make the playoffs this year!