One unexpected twist in the plan for a shortened season was not only were MLL coaches allowing 25 players to be brought to Annapolis for the event, but all 25 were going to be available for each game.
MLL rosters have historically been pretty tight on game days, with anywhere from 18-20 players being dressed as the norm. That leaves room for a starting 10, a backup goalie, a FOGO, LSM, and two SSDMs. All of a sudden the roster is at 15 and decision needs to be made between extra pole support, more middies, more face-off help, or an attack rotation. At the pro level, everyone is conditioned to play nearly the entire game if they need to. More importantly, they usually want to. If there’s one thing nearly every pro lacrosse player has in common, it’s that they love having their numbered called, and the are always the one wanting to make a play.
So, when the opportunity came to carry another five players for the duration, the question to ask is whether this became a blessing or a curse?
Look at two MLL coaches who were forced to go through this, but also have quite a bit of pro experience to gauge the contrast: Boston Cannons head coach Sean Quirk and Spencer Ford of the Philadelphia Barrage. Ford spent some time deciding how he would use the extra space.
“The way I thought was going back and forth with two face-off or one, do I go heavy offense, heavy defense, or even three goalies?” Ford wondered. “It was more really convenient to have the extra players.”
“The last thing you want is for guys to sit in the box and not run. So you may run these first guys for certain, but it is mostly positional. We’re used to 18-20, so adding those five to seven extra is huge. We’re not worrying about matchups as much. It’s a convenience thing.”
Quirk had a similar thought, but focused more on the added depth the extra players provided.
“With those 25, you can really plug in whoever you need to at any given time,” Quirk reflected. “If there’s an injury, you’re really going to those guys. Managing them at practice was pretty easy. All our coaches are current or former college coaches, so managing a roster this size is not tough.”
“If this were a regular season, getting in more than 21 per game may be tough. But we’ll be getting everyone in every game. Even face-off guys, they will be a one-two punch and wear teams down.”
Another interesting aspect that this tournament presented, with no fans allowed and being at a single venue, was if the teams’ tendency to choose local players still mattered.
For both coaches, it was a resounding yes.
Battle Vision: training camp through the eyes of @BryceWasserman 👀
— Boston Cannons (@BostonCannons) July 17, 2020
For Quirk, he intended for more of a local flavor, but some of the Massachusetts players were unable to travel due to work commitments. Ford is building his franchise from the ground up, so his focus is longterm.
“Philly still mattered,” Quirk ensured. “We want to be as local as possible. When (our staff) won with the Bayhawks, we had guys who were committing to team practices, which was a big deal. As we go into next season, we will really be the Philadelphia Barrage, and the team this year is part of that.”
With a tournament format like this, there is always the risk of injury, whether it’s severe or minor, and that of course needed to be considered when thinking of who to bring. Both coaches can roll off name after name on their roster for which close defenders can play LSM, which short sticks can play pole, which poles can play short sticks, and which middies are both capable defenders and offensive-minded.
— Philadelphia Barrage (@phillybarrage) July 17, 2020
Whatever a situation calls for, they are confident with 25 available bodies, they have the right player available for that assignment.
It is interesting to hear how each of these MLL coaches are approaching their upcoming games. The schedule itself is going to affect how to use players, when and for how long. The Cannons have an early day off, but the Barrage get rest later in the week.
“We don’t have any time to recover,” Ford elaborated. “Two days of practice and then all games. We need to do our best to get into that playoff spot and get a break. We would ride into the playoffs with a day to almost a two day break. That allows us to rest up right before the playoffs.”
Quirk on the other hand, has a potential unknown after just one game, putting even more emphasis on an opening win.
“One thing I learned very quickly in this league is players and veteran coaches always say early wins are important,” Quirk insisted. “For some reason in the MLL it really is critical and even more so this week.”
“We have day number two off, so losing that first game will make the day off even more difficult. With it being Chesapeake right after, they’re the reigning champion. That’s going to be a high emotion game. Then you get into Tuesday with back-to-back games before another day off.”
Players are just anxious to actually play again. After months of solo workouts and non-contact drills, the time to play some live lacrosse is here.
As teams wrap up camp and start the actual games, everything will turn into a full sprint. With the whole lot available each game, players are not going to take a game off, adding more emphasis on good recovery after, and preparation before. Quirk believes his players are more than prepared for the task ahead.
“With the whole pandemic thing, the concern was how good of shape everyone would be in,” Quirk said. “Not even just our guys, but everyone on other teams, everyone looks like they’re in great shape. Even better than last year.”