May 29, 2014

MLL Primer - A-to-Z on the Season So Far

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The defending champion Bayhawks have stumbled out of the gate at 1-3, but have all the tools to repeat and plenty of time to right the ship. (Bill Danielewski)

Its season already underway, this weekend marks the first for Major League Lacrosse where all players from the collegiate class of 2014 will be participating after last weekend's Memorial Day hiatus. How have things shaken out so far on the year? Lets take a spin through the alphabet.

A – Attendance

Late April are the busiest time on the lacrosse schedule in the entire calendar year. There is the NCAA tournament for all three divisions, the NLL playoffs and high school playoffs as well. The MLL is just starting and traditionally, the play is up and down in the beginning because of a short preseason, one practice a week, and top players unavailable due to playing with NLL squads or NCAA coaching commitments (and for some, collegiate careers need to be finished). The league has made more games readily available to watch online or on TV. Add these factors up and it's easy to understand that getting to an early-season MLL game may not be people's top lacrosse priority, but numbers are down so far this year. In 2013 the average league attendance was 5,069 people. In 16 games this year it is 4,497. Boston, New York, and Ohio are the only teams that have seen their average attendance go up, but New York and Ohio have only played one home game apiece so far. Denver's average should rise considerably after the always popular Fourth of July game, but a team and league cannot rely on being prosperous only one night in a whole season.

B – Peter Baum

The No. 1 pick in last year's collegiate draft, Baum elected instead to go with the LXM Pro Tour, but is in a Machine jersey this year after the two promotions agreed to allow players double-duty and has put up strong numbers. He has 10 goals and three assists in four games – sixth in the league in points - and has had multiple points in each game. He looked dominant in the team's 15-8 victory in the season opener over Charlotte, scoring three goals, tallying an assist, showing shooting range and good field vision and is not afraid to attack his defender.

C – Chesapeake Bayhawks

The two-time defending champions have all the tools to contend for a three-peat, in spite of stumble out of the gate at 1-3 going into this weekend. Adding Brendan Mundorf, Brian Megill, Peet Poillon, Stephen Peyser and Joe Walters. In the rough start, Walters has yet to play and the team has the worst face-off winning percentage in the league (41.3). It's a veteran team with a lot of championship experience and there is time to rectify what has gone wrong, but right now it is odd to see Chesapeake – who people were calling "the blueprint for the rest of the league" in the preseason – at the bottom of the standings.

D – Kyle Dixon

In previous seasons, the midfield was the strength of the Chesapeake Bayhawks and the team's depth at the position was the envy of the entire league. Dixon was one of the key contributors, especially in 2012 when he scored 21 goals, 15 of which were two-pointers, breaking his own single-season record. This year, however, he has played in three games and only tallied one assist. He has zero goals (and zero two-point goals) on 14 shots this season. The Bayhawks need Dixon, as well as the other midfielders, to step up and help move the ball around and spread out the field.

E – Chris Eck

The Boston Cannon's face-off specialist is well-known as one of the best at his position - considering he is the only FOGO that Team USA is bringing to the FIL championships in Denver this summer. Greg Gurenlian has led the league in winning percentage the past couple seasons (of players with at least 50 face-offs), but Eck is tops in the league in face-off percentage (65.8 percent) and in ground balls (30), despite playing in only three games so far. Boston truly missed him the lone game he missed, as Craig Bunker went 9-23 against the Denver Outlaws in a 10-9 overtime loss where even one extra possession could have meant a win for the Cannons.

F – Florida Launch

Florida has its first professional lacrosse team and the results have been mixed. On the field, after a lackluster effort in Week 1 against the undefeated Outlaws, the Launch have won three consecutive games and are second in the league behind only Denver. The team has given up the third fewest goals allowed and is tied for the third most goals scored. Florida, however have a lower average attendance than Hamilton did last season, better than only one team in the league.

G – Grippy Balls

Before the season began, MLL Commissioner David Gross informed the teams and fans that the league would be switching to a smoother, more traditional version of the orange lacrosse ball. The verdict was that the grippy ball wasn't as visible. The decision has not gone over well with players and coaches. Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle tweeted, "I still don't understand why we are not using the grippy ball. It is the best ball in lacrosse and making a change without player input is ?" It could also be hurting play on the field. Through the first 16 games of 2013 there were 395 goals scored. Through the first 16 games on 2014 there have been only 357. And that's with guys like Casey Powell, Paul Rabil, and Rob Pannell playing in all of their team's first four games. Two point goals have also decreased this season. The coaches and players feel it has a lot to do with the ball, but can (or will) the league go back?

H – History

This is Major League Lacrosse's 14th season. It's the first time the team has had a team in Florida. A couple of records have already been broken (which we will go into more detail later on) and more could fall. Kevin Leveille is on the verge of surpassing Tim Goettlemann for most career goals. The Lizards signed Devon Wills to the practice squad, making her the first woman to ever make an MLL roster. Should the Chesapeake Bayhawks turn things around in the standings and win the championship this season, they would be the first team in league history to win three consecutive championships.

I – In-season trades

While a lot of roster movement happened in the offseason, the first in-season trade has already happened. The New York Lizards traded C.J. Costabile to the Chesapeake Bayhawks in exchange for a 2015 second round collegiate draft selection. Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle said the team acquired Costabile for defensive depth and help at the face-off X. In two games for the Bayhawks, Costabile is 6-for-12 at the face-off X, giving him the best winning percentage on the team.

J – Jordan Burke

The 2013 season was not a good one for Burke. Not only did his team win only five games and miss the playoffs, but also gave up the most goals in the entire league. A lot of people shouldered the blame on Burke, who played through nagging injuries all season had a career-worst 14.82 goals against average, which was also worst in the league. This year, however, he has posted a league best 8.33 goals against average and is second in save percentage (61.6). He has made at least 16 saves in each game this season and twice has tallied at least 24 saves.

K – Kieran McArdle

Despite playing in only two games this season, Florida's McArdle is already tied for second on the team in points, even ahead of last year's MVP Kevin Crowley. McArdle has six goals this season and two assists and has one Rookie of the Week selection. He scores in bunches and will get more good looks playing alongside Crowley and the red-hot Casey Powell.

A physical presence and fan favorite, Mike Manley is a cornerstone in Rochester. (Bob Markey II)

L – Eric Law

When the Outlaws traded 2012 MVP and offensive leader Brendan Mundorf, many wondered how the offense would fare without him. Thanks to Law, though, the team hasn't skipped a beat. Denver is tied with New York for the most goals scored so far and Law is tied for second in the league in points (18). He has 12 goals in four games and has four more goals and two more assists than Mundorf does. He's also continuing his strong shooting. Last season he led the league with a .632 shooting percentage. This year, he may not lead the league but he's shooting a very strong .522 percent.

M – Mike Manley

Manley is known across the league as a physical and strong defenseman and he will be the cornerstone of the Rattlers defense for a long time to come. Manley has become an offensive threat as well with three goals – two of which are two pointers – and one assist this season. He leads all defensemen with six points, double second place Mason Poli. He also has more two-pointers this season than historic category leaders Kyle Dixon and Matt Striebel combined.

N– 2014 No. 1 pick

Having the No. 1 pick in recent years hasn't been an immediate return the investment. In 2012 and 2013, neither top pick – Rob Pannell or Peter Baum – played in the league that season, Pannell due to injuring his foot and gaining an additional year of eligibility and Baum choosing to play with the LXM Pro Tour instead. So for the Ohio Machine to be able to bring in 2014 top selection Tom Schreiber in the third game of the season is a big victory. In two games, he has four goals and one assist. Ohio head coach Bear Davis is a big fan of Schreiber's ability, versatility, and speed, even using him on the wing for face-offs and on defense. Slotting him on offense with Peter Baum, Steele Stanwick and Marcus Holman so soon allows them to establish chemistry sooner and lay a strong foundation for the future of the Machine.

O – Old faces in new places

The 2014 MLL offseason saw a lot of trades that moved players from their longtime teams to new franchises. Brodie Merrill played five consecutive seasons for the Toronto/Hamilton Nationals (add three more on top of that as he was part of the Rochester Rattlers roster that moved to Canada to become the Nationals) and won every Defensive Player of the Year award from 2006-2011. This year he is on a revamped Boston Cannons defense and has helped the team go from most goals allowed in 2013 to fewest goals allowed in so far 2014. Ned Crotty and Matt Striebel both were longtime Rochester Rattlers that were traded to the New York Lizards this season. Crotty has five goals and two assists in three games, while Striebel has four goals and two assists in four games. Brendan Mundorf had played all of his first eight seasons in the league with the Denver Outlaws, winning the 2012 MLL MVP, but was traded to the Chesapeake Bayhawks this offseason. He has eight goals and four assists in four games. He leads the Bayhawks in points, but the offense hasn't gelled together yet.

P – Casey Powell

He is the ageless wonder. Fully committed to helping lacrosse grow in Florida, Powell has picked up where he left off last year in his cameo efforts to help aid the Bayhawks win another league title and been nearly unstoppable this season in a more full-time role playing with the Launch. He leads the league in scoring (23 points) behind 11 goals and 12 assists. He has been named Offensive Player of the Week twice this season. Powell also retook the league's all-time scoring record. Last year, Ryan Boyle surpassed him but Powell has stormed back this season and now has 428 points. His 5.75 points per game also put him on pace to break Paul Rabil's record of 72 points in a season. In a recent article on the MLL's website, Powell credits some of the success to a position change from midfield to attack, a place on the field he said he feels more comfortable at and can get more touches and be more involved in the offense and the flow of the game.

Q – Brett Queener

The Launch is third in the league in fewest goals allowed this season and Queener is a big reason for that. He's made 61 saves this season and has a 61.6 save percentage. Both those numbers are best in the league. That also his best save percentage since he saved 71.2 percent of the shots he faced in six games in 2008. His 10.86 goals against average is also his best output since his 9.71 goals against average in 2008. Launch head coach Stan Ross named him he team's lone captain at the beginning of the season and the veteran has done a good job leading a young defense featuring two players that were drafted last year and rookie Joe Mauer, who's only played in one game thus far.

R – Rochester Rattlers

Despite being only a game out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, expectations were very low for the Rattlers in 2014. The team traded the faces of the franchise and their main sources of offense – Ned Crotty and Matt Striebel. Many liked their draft but figured the team would struggle mightily, especially offensively, before the rookies made their way to Rochester. Four games in – and without top-picks Jordan Wolf and Miles and Ty Thompson playing – the Rattlers, however, are a respectable 2-2. The young team has beaten veteran playoff hopefuls New York and Boston.

Once again the backbone of the unbeaten Denver defense, Jesse Schwartzman became the MLL's all-time wins leader this spring, passing Team USA predecessor Brian Dougherty with his 61st against Boston. (John Strohsacker)

S – Jesse Schwartzman

In the Outlaws third game of the season, goalie Jesse Schwartzman earned his 61st career win, becoming the league's all-time winningest goalie. He passed the legendary Brian Dougherty for that honor. He's also taken sole possession of second place in games played (84). In win No. 61, Schwartzman made 24 saves, including a big one on Boston's Kevin Buchanan in overtime, and was named Defensive Player of Week 3 for his efforts. He's played in all but one Outlaws game since making his first start in mid-2007. This season he's second in the league in minutes (240:35), second in goals against average (9.23) and third in save percentage (61.1 percent).

T – Justin Turri

Since coming into the league in 2012, the former Blue Devil has been a solid two-way midfielder. He played a key role with the Denver Outlaws in their very strong transition game and he even scored nine goals in 2013. This season has been a bit of a coming out party for Turri, however. He has six goals (three off his career-high) and four assists (one off his career-high). Turri leads Rochester in scoring. He's tied for 11th in the league in points and has more points than former Tewaaraton winners Max Seibald and Kyle Harrison.

U – Undefeated

The Denver Outlaws are the only undefeated team remaining in the league. Once again, Denver faced an offseason of questions and doubt after setting MLL records with a perfect regular season only to fall short in the playoffs against Charlotte. Then came the news that Jim Stagnitta would no longer coach the team, and B.J. O'Hara would take the helm. And how can the team succeed after they traded 2012 MVP Brendan Mundorf? Through all the doubt, however, the Outlaws are the only undefeated team in the league and have extended their regular season winning streak to 24 games. They also have four players in the top 10 in scoring. They don't look as dominant in all facets like they did last year, whicih also showed a perfect start means nothing without a championship, but you have to admire how the organization continues to succeed despite some large subtractions year after year.

V – Vengeance

Two teams had to lose to the Bayhawks for Chesapeake to win its second straight title: the Charlotte Hounds and Hamilton Nationals. The Nationals do not operate anymore but the team's players have moved to Florida as part of the Launch. Both the Launch and Hounds have taken advantage of the Bayhawks slow start and beaten the team that ended their seasons and championship hopes last year. The Hounds gave the Bayhawks their second loss of the season, 12-7, and the Launch beat them the following week, 15-12. The wins don't take away the disappointment from the 2013 playoff losses, but they are a step in the right direction in helping their chances for a title in 2014.

W – Star Wars

On May 4, the Denver Outlaws hosted the Ohio Machine in a special "May the Fourth be with you (May the Force be with you)" game. The Outlaws wore special custom Rebel Alliance X-Wing Pilot jerseys while the Machine wore jerseys that represented the Storm Troopers. The Outlaws overcame a 9-7 deficit at the end of the third quarter to beat the Machine, 14-12. The jerseys were then signed and auctioned off on EBay. Proceeds benefitted the Wounded Warrior Project.

X – LXM

With the merger of MLL and LXM this season, several players have made their long awaited return or debut in Major League Lacrosse. Peter Baum leads the Ohio Machine in scoring, while Kyle Harrison is second on the team with six goals and four assists. Head coach Bear Davis also said on the Week 5 coaches call that Erik Krum is the team's best presence on the crease. In New York, Shamel Bratton has played three games with the Lizards and is used primarily as a defensive middie. Sam Bradman started off slowly with the Rochester Rattlers, but in his past two games he has three goals and one assist. Each has made a contribution to his team and should continue to be a part of the team's plans moving forward.

Y – Ryan Young

A big part of the success of the Charlotte Hounds last season was thanks to the emergence of Young, who had 30 goals and 10 assists in 13 games after potting just 17 in two years for the Lizards. Forming a great partnership with Matt Danowski, Young helped lead the team to the MLL Championship game. This season, with Danowski playing in only two of the team's four games thus far, Young has only three goals and four assists in four games with a paltry .158 shooting percentage. Charlotte has scored the fewest goals in the league, has the worst shooting percentage, and is tied with Ohio and Chesapeake for last in the standings with a 1-3 record. If the Hounds are to get back on track, Young will have to play more like he did last year and get this offense going.

Z – Jay-Z

A world-renowned name in as both music celebrity and sports owner, Mr. Carter took a swipe at lacrosse in a lyric in a new song. Featured on DJ Khaled's "They Don't Love You No More," he raps, "Haters wanna' ball, let me tighten up my drawstring/Wrong sport, boy, you soft as a lacrosse team." The lyric is believed to be a shot at Canadian and lacrosse fan Drake, but it received mixed reviews in the lacrosse community. A number of MLL players blew it off while some took offense to it. Major League Lacrosse issued a statement challenging the rapper. The statement said "Mr. Carter [Jay-Z's real name is Sean Carter] would not last one minute on a lacrosse field during a match and he is more than welcome to come to any of our games and try." Will Jay-Z respond and really show up to a game? Probably not, but the story did make headlines on many media outlets, including MTV.


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