As the MLL season approaches we are all wrapped up in the anticipation of our favorite team proving their hard work in the offseason propels them to a championship. The offseason workouts, draft picks, coaching strategies and lucky bounces will land fortunate fans the privilege and joy of claiming their team is the best.
All regular season games are carried on ESPN3 and the playoffs and championship games will be carried by CBS Sports Network. MLL fans now have the entire season being carried by a national carrier as well as several regional providers. This season promises to be nothing if not entertaining.
Denver and Rochester made the final last year and seem to be the logical place to start in a season preview.
Denver got the monkey off their back and won their first championship after being one of the most dominant teams in the past seasons. The Outlaws have been a model of consistency and what many MLL teams strive to become. The retirement of Lee Zink, a man that many consider the best close defenseman in the pro game, has many wondering who will take over that roll. The addition of Geoff Snider now gave the Outlaws two of the most dominant FOS in the MLL and may serve to offset the retirement of Zink with higher possession percentage. Snider’s availability will be the question. With so many of their top players still under NLL commitment, the Outlaws need to beware a scrappy Boston team with a chip on their shoulder. Denver got the best shot of many teams last season and this year will be no different, especially now that they are defending champions.
Rochester took many by surprise last season and fought their way into the finals with a tough Mike Manley and John Galloway-led defense and offense led by the big bad Jordan Wolf. Coach Tim Soudan did everything including the laundry last season and did one of the best coaching performances in recent memory. In addition to last season’s coaching opus, Soudan also managed to land the draft picks he wanted. The Ratz have a new stadium and are not sneaking up on anyone this year. No longer your dad’s Rochester Rattlers they are no longer an easy win for anyone. Just ask Florida. Rochester should prove too much of a complete team for Charlotte this weekend, even with the advantage Brendan Fowler gives the Hounds at the X with John Ortolani’s injury.
New York and Ohio were the other two teams making last year’s playoffs and mirror the dichotomy of the Outlaws and Hounds.
New York is a founding member of the MLL and has a history and expectation of winning championships and are in a win-now mode for the Steinfeld Cup. The Lizards even traded Max Seibald for Paul Rabil in a win-now move. New York has been loaded with so many talented high profile players they have high expectations of themselves and from their fans. Several key players—Rabil, Greg Gurenlian, and Rob Pannell—have made their desire for a championship clear. Former MVP Matt Poskay reunites with Rabil and expectations are high for his production. The talent is in New York, but they need to develop chemistry on offense and consistency and physicality on defense to hoist the cup. Luke Duprey is coming off an ACL injury and legendary defenseman Brian Spallina returns to New York on a mission to add more hardware to his collection. Drew Adams returns between the pipes while Greg Gurenlian remains king of the X. New York’s defense will be tested by Ohio’s potent offense, but Brian Spallina brings a physical presence that has been missing from the green and black.
Ohio, like Rochester, went from the basement to the penthouse last year and almost made it to the championship game. The Machine went from low midfield production to one of the most potent starting lines in the MLL. Harrison, Baum, and Schreiber jelled and produced another dimension to the offense and allowed the attack more creativity and options to make plays. Much like New York, Ohio has questions at defense. The lack of depth in this year’s draft did not allow the Machine to address this area. The Machine added Brian Karalunas to help bolster the defense, but even this trade leaves the Machine short on depth at close defense. When Ohio starts the season against New York, expect some potent offense and both defenses to be tested. Advantage New York. Both teams have potent offense, but the Lizards have the edge in faceoffs and more experience on defense.
Florida started out hot but could not finish out the season. Brett Queener stood on his head last season, but there were games that the Launch could not stop opposing offenses from scoring. Florida landed the sleeper in the draft in the form of Maryland defenseman Casey Ikeda, who has been named Big Ten defensive player of the week for the fourth time this season. Ikeda is putting together a solid season and may be just what the Launch need to build depth on defense. On offense, Florida has star power to go head to head with anyone in the league and it only got better with the first and second picks in the draft. Lyle Thompson and Conner Buczek will allow the Launch to spread the ball out on offense and give opposing defense fits. If the Launch can’t find some depth at defense and give all world defender Tucker Durkin some help it may a long season in Bocca.
Boston, a founding member of the MLL, has not been able to recapture 2011 championship form and enters the season with a new stadium and a chip on their shoulder. Stephen Berger, Ryan Boyle and Jack Reid retired this season which gave some impetus to the youth movement. It also caused a memorial at the Baker residence as these gentlemen provided some great lacrosse memories. The move to Gillette Stadium solidifies the Cannons in the Boston sports family and gives some traction to the youth movement taking place on the roster. Will Manny and Scott Ratliff headline the movement on offense and defense. The Cannons also go into the season without the presences of Team USA faceoff man Chris Eck who is battling an injury. Craig Bunker, a fan favorite, takes over the role after serving as Eck’s understudy for the past few seasons. For the Cannons the season may be addition by subtraction as new faces fill out the roster. This is a team with something to prove and look for both games against New York to bring some fireworks as both Rabil and Seibald return to play against their former teams. In true Boston fashion, the Cannons face off against the defending champs and give the favored Outlaws a fight.
Charlotte and Chesapeake both had seasons they would like to forget last year. The former champion Bayhawks were bit by the injury bug constantly throughout the year. The roster was so depleted by the end of the season it looked like a waiting room at a doctor’s office. Do not expect another down year from the Bayhawks. Coach Cottle seems to be taking on the role of Bill Belichick with his trades and roster moves. He has Chesapeake trading for veterans and draft picks almost every other week it seems in an effort to put the best possible team on the field. Look no further than the addition of Kyle Sweeney and Matt Danowski. With a healthy roster, some key acquisitions and draft picks the Bayhawks are swooping down on teams this season to prove last year was a fluke.
The Hounds are stockpiling short stick defensive midfielders to the point several fans want to bring back the ’80s and put arms limitations talks on the board. Perhaps the brain trust in the Queen City knows something about putting together winning rosters. Charlotte made the championship game just two years ago and they liked it. Even with the Danowski trade, the Hounds picked up Garret Thul in the supplemental draft and traded for Joe Cinosky. Thul brings a large body lefty attack and his scoring punch to the offense. Cinosky brings veteran leadership to a young defense that is missing starting goalie Adam Ghitlelman who is now in Boston. This team has a mix of experience and young talent. The Hounds surprised other teams two years ago so do not expect them to have another down year.
For any MLL fan there is one truth that continues to manifest itself every season…never count any team out of the championship and be prepared for a wild ride.