August 2, 2011

It's Paul Rabil — And Everyone Else

by Mark Medina | LaxMagazine.com


"I want to be the best there is at the sport," Paul Rabil said, and the conensus remains around MLL that Rabil still is. Brendan Mundorf and Ned Crotty appear to be the next best, but "It's Paul Rabil and the rest of the league," Bayhawks president Dave Cottle said.

© Kevin Tucker

The discussion surrounding who deserves to be called Major League Lacrosse's best player hardly sparks any debate.

Conversations with various executives, coaches and players reflect a clear consensus that point to Boston Cannons midfielder Paul Rabil.

The opinion reflects the partisanship in Boston Coach Bill Daye ("I feel very strongly that Paul is the best") and General Manager Kevin Barney ("Paul is above everyone else as far as what he does all around"). The analysis extends to opponents not worried about catering to their own players in Chesapeake Bayhawks President Dave Cottle ("It's Paul Rabil and the rest of the league") and Long Island Lizards Coach Jim Mule ("When you speak about the best player, Rabil has been that"). And the conclusion comes from a player who's also driven to be the best in Denver attackman Brendan Mundorf ("Paul is the best player out there").

But as far as who should be tabbed the MLL's second best player?

It's predictable for Denver General Manager Brian Reese to tout Mundorf and even suggest he may be better than Rabil because "you have to look at who's more important to the team" in terms of shouldering the offensive load. But it's surprising that given the opportunity to promote his own player, Denver coach Tom Slate argues Rabil, Mundorf and Long Island goalie Drew Adams are in a "three-way tie."

It's understandable Mule also points to Adams, who has won two of the last three defensive player of the week awards. But it's revealing Mule immediately blurts out Mundorf's name when asked which opponent caused the Lizards the most fits this season besides Rabil.

Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman expresses his allegiance to both his professional teammate in Mundorf and his former Johns Hopkins teammate in Rabil by arguing both could make the case as the league's best player. But he reveals his honesty when he concedes it's a "fair assessment" after being told many tab Rabil as the top player considering he's tied for the league lead in points (41, with Ned Crotty) leads the league in goals (24). Crotty is second in goals with 22.

Regardless of the different opinions on who should hold the second place trophy, Mundorf's name frequently pops up in that conversation. Rabil shares that opinion himself, praising Mundorf for being "the ultimate team player," crediting Rochester attackman Crotty for his athleticism and shooting abilities, and Long Island's Stephen Peyser for his quick release.

There are some, such as Cottle, who point out Mundorf's fourth-best 34 points, and 23 goals, also includes a recent rough stretch. Before registering a hat trick in Denver's most recent loss to Boston Saturday, Mundorf had only scored two goals in the previous three games. That included a scoreless effort in Boston's 15-12 victory July 3 over the Outlaws partly because defenseman Mitch Belisle rarely granted him time to possess the ball ("Brendan Mundorf and I always have great battles"). But Mundorf remains in the conversation as among the league's top players for the same reason Rabil's widely considered the league's best. Both have an insatiable thirst to play at a peak level, while pursuing their first MLL championship.

"We're very different players, but it definitely helps having a guy you're friends with who's striving to be the best," Mundorf said. "That's always going to push you to challenge yourself a little bit, knowing there's always somebody out there working as hard as you if not harder. He definitely pushes me when I' m out there working on my game."

"I want to be the best there is at the sport," Rabil echoed. "But with that comes a lot of responsibility. I like to believe I want to take on a lot of the blame if our team doesn't play well. With that, I want to work as hard as I can to make sure we don't lose."

Both Rabil and Mundorf have taken similar approaches in reaching that goal. They spent most of their offseason working on their shooting. Coach and teammates point to them as the team's hardest worker. Daye pleads to summer campers to follow Rabil's Twitter account because most daily updates detail how he's performing a new workout. Reese recalled countless times Mundorf beginning weight training at 6 a.m.

"For these guys to be on top of their games, the accountability falls back on them to make sure they're the ones getting in shape and they have sticks in their hand and they're working hard," Daye said. "Paul's a perfect example of that."

"He's the most intense guy out on the field," Slate said of Mundorf. "If we don't blow the whistle when we want it blown, he's almost looking at us. I like it because he's pushing everybody in a good way. When he's down on that field, he wants to get some good hard work done."


Denver attackman Brendan Mundorf cooled after a hot start to the season, scoring only two goals in three games prior to a three-goal outing in a loss Saturday against Boston. Mundorf is in the discussion about the league's elite players. Rabil said Mundorf is "the ultimate team player."

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Both study opposing players so they can perfect their craft. Rabil's adopted his tendency to shoot on the run from former Hopkins standout A.J. Hogan and studied the footwork of NFL running back Reggie Bush. Mundorf admires former MLL player Mike Watson for his aggressive dodging and the poise displayed from Boston midfielder Ryan Boyle. Dating back to last summer's 2010 FIL World Championships, Mundorf has awed at Rabil's footwork and shooting technique, while Rabil's respected Mundorf's tendency to "let the game come to him."

Both don't take losing well. Rabil and Belisle spent a considerable time text messaging each other after the Cannons' 16-12 loss two weeks ago to the Hamilton Nationals analyzing how they can stop the team's two-game losing streak. Anytime the Outlaws have lost this season, Schwartzman immediately notices Mundorf salty demeanor.

"I told Paul, 'That intensity you have and excitement you have for every game, that's what motivates me,'" Belisle said. "If you can share that with the team even more, that will get other guys fired up. He does a good job this year of zoning in and getting in that competitors' mindset."

"Brendan is very very pissed when we lose," Schwartzman said. "You can see it in his eyes that he wants to take it upon himself to do whatever it takes to help our team win."

Yet, they're different for reasons beyond the obvious fact that Rabil plays at midfield and Mundorf plays at attack.

Rabil's offensive dominance reflects one part of a balanced offense. The Cannons feature five of the top 15 league leaders in points, including Rabil (41), attackmen Matt Poskay (30), Ryan Boyle (25), Max Quinzani and Brad Ross (24). Many around the league argue what Rabil openly acknowledged: most of that balance points to Rabil's 14 assists and his ability to punish opponents for double teaming him.

"In my lesser performing games in years past, I had zero goals and zero assists," Rabil said. "This year, in my lesser games I'm still getting on the board and contributing."

Mundorf's hot start simmered after player and coach accounts suggest defenses worked hard on denying him the ball and forced stagnant ball movement, an area the Denver attackman concedes could improve.

"I've noticed I'm not getting any free looks and guys aren't wanting to slide off of me when I get a 12-yard shot," Mundorf said. "I think defense are focusing on me and giving me an earlier slide."

Rabil also is largely considered the face of the MLL. Red Bull has touted him in commercials. He's been featured in plenty of national publications. And Barney often boasts, "I'm glad he's on our team," because of the extra exposure his presence has brought the Cannons.

"He's definitely accepted the role of being the face of our team and the league and the sport at this time," Barney said. "I don't think he seeks it out, but he's accepted it. But it's really about him wanting to get better."

Meanwhile, Mundorf is considered an unassuming player who only generated buzz after having a strong start to the 2011 season.

"He just wants to win," Reese said. "He's not a guy who will toot his own horn and self promote. He's the guy in a room that no one notices. He's not there in the magazines and billboards. He's still one of the best players in the world."

But for now, that title definitely belongs to Rabil.


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