Welcome to the 2015 MLL Finals! We have the New York Lizards and Rochester (NY) Rattlers squaring off for the Major League Lacrosse title, and the game is being played in… Atlanta! Because why NOT? The only other “one off” championship game (not some sort of series) is some niche event called the Super Bowl, and I hear they have a destination championship game as well, so why can’t lacrosse do the same? The answer is that it can, and lacrosse is doing just that. So there.
Photo Credit: Craig Chase
Now, let us get some of the basic facts of this match up, shall we? It’s only fair to get them out of the way nice and early.
2015 MLL Finals – Interesting but Basic Stuff
New York is 11-4 overall, after a 10-4 regular season. Rochester is 9-6, after an 8-6 regular season. Last week, New York beat Boston by a goal at home, and Rochester took down Ohio 12-8 on the road. The Offensive Player of the Year (Jordan Wolf, ROC), Defensive Player of the Year (Joe Fletcher, NY), League MVP (Greg Gurenlian, NY), and Goalie of the Year (Drew Adams, NY) are all playing in this game. 7 of the 12 All-MLL Team Members will also be playing in this game (Wolf, Fletcher, Gurenlian, Adams, Paul Rabil, Joel White, and Rob Pannell are the seven). See the full All-MLL team at the bottom of this post, and how votes were tallied!
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During the regular season, New York was the only team to score over 200 goals for the year. They were also the only team to give up less than 170 total goals during the regular season. New York also gave up the most 2 point goals of any team (15) and the third fewest 2 pointers scored (5). Rochester had 39 penalty minutes compared to New York’s 70, which was a league high by 20 minutes (Charlotte had 50 minutes total). Both Rochester and New York are in the bottom half of the league for man up and man down, which is bizarre, given their talent on both ends of the field.
2015 MLL Finals – THIS Game
Of course those numbers go out the window once the first whistle blows, and so do past results between the two teams. Early on in the year, NY beat Rochester 19-9 in week 2. When the two teams played in week 3, the score was 14-12, in favor of New York. And all of that means nothing now. Rochester is a very different team, and New York has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Basically, a lot has happened since these two teams last saw each other, so it really does make for a compelling, and potentially confusing, match up. LOVE it.
Let’s start with your offenses.
Rochester gets a lot of initiation, control, and scoring from Jordan Wolf. He is the clear focal point of their offense, and at times he looks unstoppable. When Wolf does pass the ball on, he has a litany of scorers to choose from at the midfield and attack, and these guys can either score with crafty markers or take advantage of a spread defense with their athleticism. As Kevin Rice continues to make a bigger name for himself, this offense looked better, and he is a very diverse weapon for the Rattlers. It’s a more quiet offense than New York’s, but it can be deadly and effective, and Rochester put up 15+ goals a couple times this season, maxing out at 21. With Rice and Wolf, Rochester can put pressure on New York’s D, and if the shooters finish, Rochester can put up numbers.
New York is more of a multi-headed monster, and a lot of different guys need to get involved for them to see success. Down games for New York involved limited touches, and lots of isolation… basically predictable lacrosse. Good games for New York include cycling of the ball, cuts and movement, and fast, aggressive dodging to space. Pannell, Rabil, JoJo Marasco, Ned Crotty, Palasek, Stone, and Walsh can all press in and create match up problems, and Matt Gibson is the best American finisher I’ve seen since Kevin Leveille. When they share the ball, amazing things happen. Unless they’re on man up, which still confounds me completely. Is is TOO easy or something? Why aren’t these guys firing at 50% when their 6 on 6 offense is so potent?
Now on to the defenses!
We’re talking about teams in the 2015 MLL Finals here, so you know they both have good defenses to match up with their potent offenses, but these two groups have very different strengths, and it will be important in how these match ups play out.
New York has a great shutdown longstick in Joe Fletcher. No doubt about it. And while I respect Brian Spallina, Nicky Polanco, Michael Skudin, Kyle Hartzell, and they all have major selling points, New York’s strength really lies in their defensive midfield. Steve DeNapoli and Kevin Unterstein are absolute workhorses, and while they aren’t the biggest guys, they have incredible speed and tenacity, and they can knock any opposing midfielders off their game, as well as spark transition, and clear the ball effortlessly.
This line up creates a slight issue for New York on D, as you can put Fletcher on Wolf and hope he contains him to some extent, but what do you do about Kevin Rice, or Randy Staats, or Mark Matthews, etc… Having the right match ups down low will be key for New York, as Rochester will often initiate from that position. You don’t always see an attack that likes to drive to the cage hard in modern lacrosse, but Rochester certainly fits the old mold, and it still works.
Rochester’s longsticks are, on average, a little better than New York’s, and I think they will be able to find good match ups on the New York Lizards potent attack line, at least minimizing the damage, and possibly even shutting Gibson off. Joel White and John LoCasio will do well in the midfield, but won’t be the terror they need to be against the Lizards solid overall group, and then it falls to the short stick d-mids for Rochester, who are a good, but not great, group. If a guy like John Ranagan can step up as a d-mid and then aggressively push transition, Rochester could benefit, but I would expect the Lizards to attack those d-mids early and often.
What else is there?
Face offs, of course there are back to back possession creating face offs! New York has a huge advantage going in to this game right here. Rochester has tried a lot of different things, and none of them have worked out fabulously. That doesn’t mean the guy they tap on the shoulder won’t stand up this weekend, show off his sparkle fingers, and then crush it, but it’s not a good sign. My money is on Greg Gurenlian to win 2/3s of his face offs, or more. I’ll take the over.
Man Up, Man Down is another aspect of the 2015 MLL Finals that could really be a game changer. Neither team has relied heavily on strong performances either way, but if they get a good performance this weekend, then it could be a big boost. New York is much more penalty prone this year, and if they get nasty, and Rochester gets hot, it could equal out or surpass any supposed advantages at the face off X held by New York.
What about motivation? Do either of these teams have a mental block, or reason to falter? Unless you think New York players winning a lot of awards will knock them off their game, then NO. These guys have put in a LOT of time and effort, they’ve flown all the way to Georgia for the 2015 MLL Finals, and now they want that championship. I should even have to say that.
2015 MLL Finals – How Can I Watch?
Expect a great game at 7pm on Saturday, August 8th, 2015 between the Rochester Rattlers and New York Lizards. Two NY teams playing in Atlanta for all the MLL marbles. You can watch it LIVE on CBS Sports Network. Check your local cable company for channels and listings!
2015 MLL Finals – Predictions!
I missed both games last week, but WHO CARES? They were both awesome in their own ways. I thought Boston had it, they almost did. Ohio? Well I was just plain wrong about them, their long tough season finally did catch up with them, and Rochester, a slower starter, had the juice when it counted.
I’m pretty sure both of these teams are pretty juiced up for this one, and if they both perform their best, New York has to get the slight nod, so I’ll pick the Lizards. It was championship or bust for them all year, don’t fail me now, New York.
ALL-MLL Team for 2015
“The 2015 New Balance ALL-MLL Team Presented by New Balance was determined by a submission process where MLL Head Coaches and General Managers selected 1 goalie, 1 faceoff specialist, 3 midfielders, 4 defensemen and 4 attack players. Those players selected the most per position, comprise the ALL-MLL Team.” – MLL
I love the transparency here, but I’ll leave the judging up to you. Did the Coaches and GMs get it right, here?
Jordan Wolf, Rochester: 16
Rob Pannell, New York: 14
Kieran McArdle, Florida: 14
Marcus Holman, Ohio: 2
Will Manny, Boston: 2
Greg Gurenlian, New York: 15
Greg Puskuldjian, Ohio:1
Tom Schreiber, Ohio: 16
Paul Rabil, New York: 14
Drew Snider, Denver: 6
Joe Walters, Chesapeake: 3
Jeremy Sieverts, Denver: 3
Peter Baum, Ohio: 2
JoJo Marasco, New York: 2
Dave Lawson, Rochester: 2
Tucker Durkin, Florida: 13
Joe Fletcher, New York: 13
Scott Ratliff, Boston: 13
Joel White, Rochester: 6
Dillon Roy, Denver: 5
Michael Evans, Chesapeake: 3
John Lade, Rochester: 2
Chad Wiedmaier, Boston: 2
Brian Karalunas, Ohio: 2
Brodie Merrill, Boston: 2
Kevin Drew, Charlotte : 1
Michael Ehrhardt, Charlotte: 1
Drew Adams, New York: 7
Tyler Fiorito, Chesapeake: 6
Brian Phipps, Ohio: 3