First things first: let’s talk about the All Star Game. In case you missed it a few days ago, the MLL announced their All-Star team, a covertly assembled squad selected to take on Team USA at Harvard Stadium on Thursday, June 26.
As with any All-Star team, those who were and were not included prompted a bit of an uproar, so it’s important to clear something up (confirmed accordingly by Chesapeake head coach Dave Cottle earlier this week): this is not the 2014 MLL All-Star team, it’s a collection of players who management felt could give the US team a good run. It’s not inherently a bad thing; those guys need a scrimmage, MLL fans get to see a game loaded with stars, it all works out nicely.
2013 MLL All Star Game Highlights
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Knowing how it actually went down, discussing snubbed players largely feels like an exercise in futility. Sure, some people were likely snubbed from the invitation process, but many big names (Casey Powell and John Grant Jr were specifically mentioned among those who declined) just probably had other things to do (it is a Thursday, after all, plus there’s a practice on Wednesday), and we’ll just have to get over it. While it’s an honor to be chosen, and always nice to show up for the fans, spending their off days flying to Boston and scrimmage Team USA sounds like it could be a pretty difficult sell if you’re Grant or Powell.
Even if Casey and Junior aren’t busy, it’s still a perfectly reasonable call to have them at 100% throughout the season instead of scrimmaging guys who are looking to impress the US team coaching staff. Save your legs and forearms for when you need them the most, fellas – I’m not mad at that. You guys should use those days to go refuel in whatever sort of age-defying cryogenic chamber you clearly stole from NASA or S.H.I.E.L.D or somebody years ago; we’ll see you in week nine.
Now, with everything cleared up, two small points of contention:
The league promoted an All Star Game watch list leading up to the announcement, which seems odd if they were going to pick and choose who to invite anyway. Were all of the guys on the watch list invited? Were they all available to play? Why even bring up their names to the general public? It’s like making cuts when we didn’t even know there were tryouts. The whole thing just seems… odd.
The “Team MLL” vs “MLL All-Star” inconsistency should have been clarified as soon as possible, and by “as soon as possible,” I really mean “like, before it even started, but what can you do.” Imagine, someday in the future, we’re sitting around debating if Player X should be in the Major League Lacrosse Hall of Fame. You’re going to list his credentials, and say “he’s a ___-time All Star,” just like the other sports do. Only thing is, this “All-Star” selection doesn’t have anything to do with the season the player is having. Nitpicky and obsessive, mixed with a little “let’s cross that bridge when we get there, you lunatic?” Yeah, maybe. But still, whether chosen by fans, GMs/Coaches or both, “MLL All-Star” seems like a different sort of honor. “Team MLL” is a tremendous honor in its own right, don’t get me wrong, the two just seem different.
If they could do it all again, I’d think the league would probably handle this whole thing with a bit more transparency, that’s all. Say “the coaches have put together a team to scrimmage Team USA,” and that’s fine. Maybe they want a player on team MLL because he’s like some Canadian guy they’re worried about. If that’s what it’s all about, if taking gold in Denver is the priority this year, so be it.
Now, all that being said, it’s important to remember that Team MLL is an extremely talented group of individuals. Sure, Joe Walters has only played in one game this season, but that’s because he was busy taking the Knighthawks to a three-peat, not because he’s been riding the bench. Drew Westervelt hasn’t been scoring at last year’s pace as of yet, but a whole mess of people were up in arms when he was left off the Team USA roster just a few months ago. There’s going to be an incredible amount of pride and talent on display during this game, don’t you worry. It’s going to be a quality evening of lacrosse.
Not that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what to look for in week seven:
Rochester Rattlers @ Ohio Machine
Remember when Ned Crotty left Rochester, and the big question was “Who are the Rattlers going to get to play attack?” Dan Hardy and Steven Boyle answered that question as the season began, then ceded their sports to Miles Thompson and Mark Matthews. Now, things get even more interesting, because Tewaaraton Finalist and 2014 NCAA Tourney MOP and four-time All-American Jordan Wolf has just been activated.
With every weapon now at his disposal, it’s up to head coach Tim Soudan to figure out how to juggle playing time for all these stars, which is definitely not the attack problem we thought he’d be dealing with following the Crotty trade. Mark Matthews seems to end up playing out of the box on every team he plays for; will he join fellow attack-expatriate Dan Hardy on a jumbo package midfield line?
As for the Machine, this losing thing is starting to get ridiculous. Ohio held the Launch offense to a season-low ten goals, got the Cannons defense to give up a season-high 16 goals, and managed to lose each game by a single goal. Just doesn’t seem fair, does it?
This weekend, Ohio will try to erase their status as the only team without a home win this season, and while they’re coming off their best offensive performance of the year (thanks in part to an attack line that combined for 15 points), they’re facing a team that gave up only seven goals last week, and a goalie in John Galloway who stopped 75% of shots he faced.
Ohio’s Bobby Dattillo had a successful debut last weekend, winning 12 of 21 draws against Chris Eck and the Cannons, while Eric O’Brien went 5-14 in the same game. Whether head coach Bear Davis relies on one or both to handle faceoffs this weekend could be a crucial decision, because Rochester’s John Ortoloni is the game’s hottest faceoff man as of late, having won 60% of his draws over the past three weeks.
By the way, if you’re thinking about attending to the game, this Saturday is the first Ohio Machine Bar Hop, featuring eight bars in the Delaware, Ohio area. If you’re of legal drinking age, and you don’t know what a bar hop is, 1) bless your heart, and 2) here’s how it goes:
You and a bunch of other people meet up at Staas Brewing Company around 1:00. Every half hour from that point on, you’ll head to another bar. This keeps up until 5:30, at which point you and your new best friends all go to the stadium and watch the game, where you may find yourself shouting man-up play suggestions to coach Davis, challenging Scott Rodgers to an arm wrestling contest and/or doing the robot at some point in the evening.
$20 gets you a ticket to the game, a t-shirt and a free beer at the stadium, but Friday is the deadline to sign up, so get on that ASAP.
Florida Launch @ Charlotte Hounds
After struggling through the early portion of the season, the Charlotte Hounds feel like the team-building strategy they’d always envisioned is finally starting to come together, and now that their collegiate players have suited up, there’s definitely cause for optimism: not only did they score more goals last in their win last Saturday than in their prior two games combined, but 75% of their points came from first or second-year players.
After ending the Outlaws’ historic winning streak, the Hounds look to keep the momentum going by knocking off the third-place Launch. If Florida’s going to avoid the fate of the Outlaws, they’ll need to work on getting Kevin Crowley back to his 2013 form. While his role was bound to be different in this offense than in Hamilton, not only has his production dropped considerably (two points per game on 18% shooting in 2014, down from almost four points per game and 33% shooting last year), but last Saturday marked the first time since July 23, 2011 where he was held without a point, a span of 33 games.
Charlotte’s attack found success against Lee Zink and the Outlaws, but things don’t get any easier this weekend with Tucker Durkin (drafted and traded by the Hounds, you’ll remember), defensive player of the week (and former Hound) Joe Cinosky and the Florida defense coming to town. For Justin Ward and the rest of the young Hounds, consistency is key – now that they’ve got MLL game tape on them, will they be able to replicate their efforts in the face of different defensive schemes?
By the way, if you’re in the Charlotte area this weekend, the Hounds are hosting their first annual 0K charity fun run. That’s right, 0 K. No K whatsoever; it’s all the fun, none of the run. Just show up to the stadium, toss in $25 and you’ll get a t-shirt, two drink vouchers, $20 Uber vouchers (for first-time users), live entertainment and you get a seat to the game. At the price alone it seems pretty foolish not to join the party, plus it benefits the Isabella Santos foundation which not only raises money for Neuroblastoma Research, but also provides financial support to local families battling children’s cancer.
Boston Cannons @ Chesapeake Bayhawks
This one’s another rematch from earlier this season, as the only teams to hoist the Steinfeld cup this decade meet up this Saturday for the second time this year. The Cannons easily won the week one matchup in Boston, but Brendan Mundorf (365 career points, just one away from tying Tim Goettelmann for fifth all-time) scored a season-high six points on the afternoon.
After last week’s showdown in Ohio, the Cannons have proven that even when their defense falters, they have enough weapons to win. Will Manny was impossible to cover last weekend, leading the Cannons with a career-high seven points. Prior to the Ohio game, Manny’s career-high was five points, which he tied earlier this season against the Bayhawks. Needless to say, Manny should expect some extra attention this weekend, which is great news for Paul Rabil, especially when he drops down to play attack.
Dave Cottle was rightfully pleased with his team’s defensive performance in their week six loss to the Rattlers, and Kip Turner’s performance in goal was good enough to singlehandedly win nine out of ten games. Offensively, they have to feel good about what Ohio did to the Cannons last week as well; it turns out the Boston defense can be scored on, and potentially getting Peet Poillon back in the lineup (and running him next to Joe Walters) should help spread out the Cannons’ defensive focus considerably. Simply put, the Bayhawks just have to stay out of the penalty box. It’s not so much the “racking up penalties” part that’s killing them, it’s the “letting everybody score” part that’s the problem: the Bayhawks are currently killing 56% of opponent’s extra-man opportunities, good for seventh in the league.
New York Lizards @ Denver Outlaws
After having strung some wins together (the Lizards two, the Outlaws considerably more), both teams head into this weekend looking to rebound from disappointing losses. Furthermore, if the Lizards leave Denver victorious, the Outlaws will be, for the first time in seemingly forever, forced to have to mingle among the commoners in the middle of the standings.
Even in their loss, even without John Grant Jr, even without Chris Bocklet (for most of the game), the Outlaws still managed to put up decent offensive numbers last week, which is certainly encouraging for Denver (and equally concerning for New York). While the injured Chris Bocklet and Jesse Schwartzman are both considered “day to day” (generally coach-speak for “I’m not telling and you can’t make me”), Junior will be back in the lineup, along with his week six replacement Curtis Dickson, who put up five points in his league debut.
Lizards head coach Joe Spallina has stressed that, in order for his team’s offense to thrive, he doesn’t want Ned Crotty to defer to the other players quite so often, and after the Outlaws gave up a classic Ryan Young restart goal from x last week, don’t be surprised to see Crotty picking up similar endline opportunities (after all, those were kind of his thing). As far as Rob Pannell goes, Spallina needs him to embrace more of a distributor’s role. He can clearly get open to generate his own shot, but he needs to elevate the production of his supporting cast as well, especially when that shot isn’t falling.
Of course, one of the highlights of any Denver-New York game is the cage match in the center of the field, where Greg Gurenlian and Anthony Kelly will repeatedly line up to smash into each other like the opening credits of the old X-Men cartoon. Kelly and Gurenlian are ranked first and second all-time, respectively, in both faceoff attempts (2598 to 1995) and wins (1325 to 1126), and while Gurenlian currently leads the league with a 60% success rate, Kelly’s 55% isn’t too far behind.
Big Questions? Big Questions!
Will the Hounds see their first winning streak of the season? Will the Outlaws see their first losing streak? Can the Machine win at home? It’s the final weekend of games before the halfway mark; always best to go out on top. Good luck to your squads, and check back next week for more MLL coverage on LAS, including more All Star Game talk!