June 18, 2014

MLL Weekly: Parity Rules in Early MLL Season

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Stephen Berger and the Boston Cannons have been right in the middle of the pack so far, despite a recent loss to the Bayhawks. (Bill Danielewski)

All Major League Lacrosse teams have played seven games, exactly half their schedule. All eight teams have one more game before the All-Star Game.

The Denver Outlaws sit in first-place with only one loss and defending champion Chesapeake Bayhawks are in last place with only two victories. Then there is the rest of the league. The Rochester Rattlers and Florida Launch are tied with a 4-3 record and then four teams have a 3-4 record.

Parity is the word used to describe the MLL in 2014. Those teams in the middle square off against each other this week: Rochester at Florida, Charlotte at New York, and Ohio at Boston.

Teams will be trying to win to not only separate themselves from the pack but to also position themselves nicely in the possible event of a tie in the standings.

"Every game is big from here on out. This is no different than any one of the final seven games we have," Cannons head coach John Tucker said, whose team beat the Machine two weeks ago in their first meeting. "It's important for the tie-breaker. Winning another game against Ohio would give us a head to head advantage. That is important."

Every year the coaches say how any team can win on any given day, but it doesn't ring more true than this season. Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said this year's logjam in the middle is a few seasons in the making.

"There's no expansion. There was just another great draft so it's just strengthening each roster. There's too much talent and not enough teams. Imagine the NBA or NHL with eight teams," he said. "It's high-end parity. It's not bad teams playing each other. It's teams adding a crop on top of another crop. Where are these players going to go?"

Rattlers coach Tim Soudan further expanded on the glutton of talent the league seemingly has.

"The parity in the league is unbelievable," he said. "There are so many guys with talent that aren't playing right now. Two years ago I didn't have an issue with who my 19 were. Now I have 25 guys and a couple practice squad guys and I can play any of them."

Spallina knows how important each victory is. As he prepared his team for the Hounds this week, he is reminded of how a loss mid-season to the Hounds in 2013 changed the season outlook for both teams last year.

"When you look back a year ago, this game with Charlotte and New York sent each team in different directions," he said. "When Charlotte beat us, it made them believe they can get enough wins to get in the playoffs. It sent us spiraling."

Charlotte has been lifted by the recent influx in young talent. They reached the MLL Championship game last season thanks to the play of rookies like Mike Sawyer, Jake Tripucka, Mason Poli and Josh Hawkins. This year, they started 1-4, but have won two in a row partially thanks to the emergence of rookies Justin Ward and Mike Chanenchuk.

"They've given us length in the midfield," Hounds coach Mike Cerino said. "There's more balance. We've added size to the defense and different styles to our offense."

For the Cannons, there's been very little separation all year. Five of their seven games have been decided by one goal. They are 1-4 in one-goal games, with the lone victory coming against the Machine.

Ohio head coach Bear Davis said he anticipates another close game this week.

"For us, it's a matter of winning a couple matchups," he said. "There's not a whole lot you've got to change. You just have to get another ground ball, one more possession, one more shot and one more goal."

With everybody still in the hunt – the last-place Bayhawks are only one game behind the four teams tied for what would be the final playoff spot – even the top of the table Outlaws aren't resting on their standing in the league.

"There's a lot of talent in the league and with the competiveness we don't get too comfortable," Denver head coach B.J. O'Hara said.

JORDAN WOLF MAKES DEBUT

The Rochester Rattlers have already seen a rookie with high expectations, 2014 Tewaaraton Trophy co-winner Miles Thompson, make his debut. They had the pleasure of watching another make his first impression on the league.

Jordan Wolf, the No. 2 pick in the MLL Collegiate Draft, played his first game in Week 7 against the Ohio Machine, another team loaded with young talent. Although the Rattlers lost, Wolf did not disappoint.

He scored four goals – including two in the first quarter to give the team a 3-2 lead – and added one assist.

"He was in a spot where we expected him to carry the ball a lot. He didn't miss a beat. He stepped in and understood what we expected out of him. He was able to insert himself into the offense," Soudan said. "I talked to him and said, 'I don't want to put too much pressure on you but the position you play has a lot of pressure. We expect a lot out of you being able to control the ball and the flow of the offense but at the same time be able to dodge from 'X'.'"

RED-HOT CURTIS DICKSON

Post-Game Interview after Saturday's MVP performance for Denver

The Denver Outlaws have spent the past few years trading away some of their most recognizable players – Max Seibald, Drew Westervelt, Mark Matthews and Brendan Mundorf – yet continue to be successful because they get guys to fit their system and raise their game.

One player the team has held on to, who hasn't played a single game, is Curtis Dickson. He was acquired before the 2012 season but has not suited up in Major League Lacrosse until this year.

It's been a good thing Denver has held onto him for so long.

In two games in 2014 he has eight goals and four assists. In a 16-11 win over New York in Week 7 he had four goals and three assists.

"First of all, he's brought a lot of personality to the group. He's just meshed really well with all the other guys," O'Hara said. "On the field he's been excellent. He's going to even get better as he gets used to going against a long stick. He's able to get his shot off while under a lot of pressure. He moves the ball well. We're pleased."

THE JOE WALTERS IMPACT

The Chesapeake Bayhawks made several big moves this offseason, including dealing Casey Powell to the Florida Launch and getting Joe Walters in return.

The midfielder missed the first five games of the season due to his NLL commitments. In that time, the Bayhawks struggled. The two-time defending champions are in last place and head coach Dave Cottle has talked about how his team has not done a good job sharing the ball on offense. They are last in the league in goals scored.

Walters has yet to score this year, but he has made a difference on the offense. He has six assists in two games, including four in the team's 16-15 win over the Boston Cannons in Week 7, a season-high in goals for the Bayhawks.

"Everybody knows when Joe has the ball that if they have a better opportunity that Joe is going to give them the ball," Cottle said. "He started off the third quarter, we were down 11-7, he started off the third quarter with the first two assists to get us going."


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