July 1, 2012

All-Star Game Sets Stage for MLL's Second Half

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com

The Charlotte Hounds' Stephen Berger came away with MLL All-Star Game MVP honors on Saturday night in a high-flying event. In the second half of the season, will the Hounds finish stronger than expansion counterpart Ohio? That's one of Phil Shore's questions.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Take the fastest game on two feet and put together the greatest players in the world on one field and excitement will ensue.

That's what happened at the MLL All-Star Game on Saturday, when team Old School beat the Young Guns 18-17. Things got going right away as the Boston Cannons' Chris Eck won the first faceoff and scored in the first seven seconds of the game for Old School.

Eck would best Young Guns face-off man Matt Dolente, of the Hamilton Nationals 18-17 at the stripe. That slight edge proved crucial as the teams went back and forth throughout the night and every possession was important.

Stephen Berger of the Charlotte Hounds was the star of stars, earning MVP honors thanks to a game-high three goals. Ten other players from both teams scored two goals, including Paul Rabil, Casey Powell and defender Brian Farrell.

Farrell of the Young Guns tied the game at 17 with a two-pointer with 3:42 remaining in the game but Chesapeake's Steven Brooks scored the game-winner with just 56 seconds left in regulation. Brooks scored two of the Old School's final three goals.

There were dive shots, goals from long-poles (including one from Boston's Kevin Buchanan, usually an attackman) and the skills challenge—ruled by defenders—at halftime to energize the fans. Kyle Hartzell tied the fastest shot competition record held by Rabil, shooting 111 mph to win the competition. Rochester's Joel White won the gauntlet competition and Hamilton's Brett Queener won his second freestyle competition with some nifty stick skills and a soccer kick into the goal, beating the aerial styling of Chazz Woodson and Jovan Miller and the theatrics of Berger.

With that, the second of half of the MLL season is upon us. While the All-Star Game was a celebration of an exciting season thus far, there is still the back end to play. Here are some storylines to follow leading up to MLL Championship Weekend in August.

Whose championship is it to lose?

The Bayhawks seem primed to win the title. They sit in first place at 7-1 and have beaten the Lizards, Outlaws and Cannons, the three other playoff teams if the season ended today. Chesapeake is third in goals scored and third best in goals against, showing a well-balanced team.

Chesapeake has had past success, winning three titles and playing in the playoffs seven of 11 seasons. The big pieces they added this offseason—Drew Westervelt, Kip Turner and John Grant, Jr.—are all veterans with lots of playoff experience that should help down the stretch.

Will Long Island's young team continue to thrive?

This was a team that looked like it was built with the future in mind but the chemistry of the team came together faster than anticipated. The concern is that the roster is too young and will struggle down the stretch against more experienced teams.

The Lizards will have their work cut out for them trying to upend the Bayhawks and Cannons but they have guys that have tasted success before. Max Seibald, CJ Costabile, Grant Catalino, Ryan Young, Parker McKee and Tommy Palasek all won or played in the NCAA Division I championship game. They have winners and with the team concept they've played with they should see continued success.

Who are the MVP candidates?

Paul Rabil is the leading candidate. Many believe he is the best player in the league. This year he still is extremely difficult to defend and can still score, but now he's also distributing better than ever. His 25 assists in only eight games are already a career-high and his 46 points are best in the league.

Brendan Mundorf is another great option. Before the season started Denver was expected to have a down year but they are currently 5-3 and tied for third in the league. The veteran leadership of Mundorf and his 31 points are a huge reason for the Outlaws success.

Kyle Dixon and his league-leading 10 two-point goals will also be in the running.

Will Hamilton make another second-half surge?

Last year the Nationals started the season 1-3 only to finish 7-5 and reach the MLL championship. They struggle early on because many of their players also play deep into the National Lacrosse League playoffs. That was no different this season but the hole is a little deeper this year, with a 2-5 record.

They are only 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot however and the schedule is rather favorable. They will play five home games in the second half and will play the Machine twice and the Hounds once, the only teams worse than them in the standings.

Which expansion team will finish with more wins?

The playoffs may be too far out of reach for either first-year team, but there is still a sense of pride to finish as the better expansion side as the teams measure their progress against each other.

Charlotte (2-6) has swept the two-game season series with Ohio (1-6), but the Machine has something the Hounds do not: a win against someone other than an expansion team (Rochester).

Charlotte has more proven pieces than Ohio that just need to gel together. The Hounds also do a better job scoring than the Machine, which should help them keep pace with other teams and stay ahead in the win column.

Will the Rattlers recent trades help them make the playoffs?

The Rattlers have been active with in-season dealing, acquiring Brad Ross from the Cannons and rookie Rob Rotanz from the Machine. The midfielders were acquired to add some depth and scoring from the midfield, something the Rattlers sorely needed.

Rochester is last in the league in goals per game. Ross has paid immediate dividends, scoring three goals in his debut and another in the next. Rotanz is a two-time All-American that has played in two games this season, scoring once. He scored 40 goals as a senior at Duke.

They're nice moves, but the Rattlers four losses are by over eight goals a game. Rotanz and Ross will be hard pressed to make up for that differential.

Will the Cannons regain their early dominating form?

After four consecutive wins to start the season the Cannons have stumbled. Coach Duffy said in an interview in early June that the team struggled with turnovers.

Boston has the most goals scored and fewest allowed, so taking care of the ball will be key.

The Cannons will be challenged their next four games, facing 2011 runner-up Hamilton, Long Island, Denver and league-leader Chesapeake.

In the midfield, acquisitions Bill McGlone (six goals, one assist) and Martin Cahill (zero points) need to step up their performances and contribute more.

It won't be easy, but the Cannons are a veteran team and are more than capable to get back to form.


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