MLL INSIDER: Mid-Season Report
By Gordon Boone
I've been wrong about a lot (just ask my wife) and much can happen in the MLL with 6 games remaining but here we go...
Baltimore Bayhawks: Baltimore: This is a hard place to start for me personally as watching the rapid deterioration of this once great organization to its present low. It's kinda like being forced to watch your golden child being kidnapped and tortured. Not only is the team struggling on the field (2-4), their GM quit after game four and the attendance is pathetic. This organization continued its parade of missteps (firing Gary Gait, dismantling the team, kids ticket prices of $20.00, and acting as prior ownership never existed) this week when they had a great promotional email sent by the NFL Ravens to their PSL holders (of which I am one). Yet when I clicked through to the offer on the Bayhawks' website there was absolutely nothing what so ever there to act upon.
On the field the Bayhawks defense is the only thing that reminds me of what once was the most successful team in MLL history. This could be partially attributed to the wise addition of old friend Jake Reed to the coaching staff when Gary Gait was fired and Dave Huntley was not retained. Tom Marachek was off to his typical sensational year until a hamstring injury sidelined him from this thin attack unit. Marachek most likely will sit out until after the World Games. Even Mark Millon's offensive wizardry can't carry the load alone and Matt Ward is still finding himself especially after Long Island's Gagliardi gave him a "welcome to the MLL" lesson last week. Jude Collins and Mark Frye are still great at midfield but the supporting staff is going to step up or I predict a number of the older Bayhawks will retire.
Bright Spots: Drafting Greg Havalchek & EMO of 36%
BOO: Allowing the use of #22
Prediction for the balance of the season: Put a fork in them. This season is over as it's too late for the Hawks' management to correct their pace of "one step forward…three steps back". I also see more auctioning off player assets for future draft picks prior to the trade deadline. Building for the future sounds good but it can be a foolish philosophy because in the MLL the future is always now. In the past Baltimore and Long Island followed this model and have a 95% record of making the playoffs and have 80% of the championships as compared to teams like NJ & Boston who tried to build through the draft and between them they have only 1 championship appearance.
Johnny Unitas Stadium
Boston Cannons: (5-1) The Cannons have taken over the reigns as the MLL's best team on and off the field. Always an attendance and sponsorship leader, the Cannons are finally getting it on the field through Billy Daye's leadership, a great defense & goaltender, and getting back to letting Conner Gill be "the straw that stirs the drink". Last years Cannons, with a spectacular team on paper, couldn't get it done as there were to many cooks in the kitchen and not enough leadership to get past a struggling Long Island team who destroyed them in one of the best games I have ever seen.
Bright Spots: Their GM, Ownership, drafting Bucktooth & defense
BOO: Not hiring Billy Daye earlier
Prediction for the balance of the season: If Boston gets Mike Battista healthy coupled with their strong F/O & Defense they are presently my odds on favorites to finally get the MLL Championship. Cannons make the playoffs
Chicago Machine: (0-6) Chicago is on their way to becoming the new New Jersey. The only thing Chicago lax fans have to be thankful for besides Morris & Culver, is that Baltimore's management isn't running the Machine as first slated. Your guess is as good as mine as to the future of this team.
Bright Spots: Mike Gable & Drafting Morris
BOO: combining personnel & coaching positions, EMO of 12%
Prediction for the balance of the season: Punt
Denver Outlaws: After a fast start the Outlaws have fallen back a bit with 2 losses to division rival Dragons. These guys ring up the points with a Shots On Goal of almost 70 percent. AND their MDD shuts down opponents 85% of the time.
Bright Spots: Management & attendance, Matt Brown
BOO: Goalie needs to get sharper from outside (Ten 2 ptr's)
Prediction for the balance of the season: Outlaws win the west and raise the season attendance bar
Long Island Lizards: (2-4) My preseason favorite for the MLL crown Lizards have had a rough start and lost some close games. Not having former MLL MVP Jay Jabert (concussions) and Ryan Moran in the line up yet really hurts. Jalbert makes everyone else on his team better as every defender has to pay attention to him.
Bright Spots: Face off man Vlahakis, MSJ alum Berger & team leading
MLL in GBs
BOO: early season chemistry issue
Prediction for the balance of the season: The Lizards are a tight knit group and seem to be on their way to closing ranks chemistry wise. If they can stay within striking distance and Cattrano gets hot, Jalbert comes back strong after the world Games they will be very formable. But that's a lot to ask. While I hope I'm wrong the Lizards barely miss playoffs.
Los Angles Rip Tide: (2-4) While the record is competitive LA's only two wins are against the Machine. LA's attack matches with any ones and their goaltending is outstanding. That said LA is close and tinsel town's team need some star power and should consider acquiring Gary Gait's and or Mikey/Casey Powell's rights.
Bright Spot: Management & goaltending
BOO: League low for shooting percentage and ground balls
Prediction for the balance of the season: With a tough schedule in front of them and a lot of ground to make up LA misses the playoffs that they will host.
Home Depot Center
New Jersey Pride: (3-3) The Pride got out of the gate quickly in 2006 but have struggled when not playing at home. While having a reputation as an unreasonable trading partner New Jersey pulled off a smart trade by acquiring middie Kevin Boland. This mid-season trade tells me that Kevin couldn't travel and Chicago wanted to get something for him cause he's worth a heck of lot more than a 3rd round draft pick in todays MLL. This was smart on Jersey's part as Boland is an assist machine from the midfield. The tide may have turned for Jersey as their players (Tierney, Curry, Jalbert, Cook) used to be the ones snatched up by the perennial championship contenders Long Island & Baltimore.
Bright Spots: Their GM & Trading for Boland
BOO: Ticket sales & EMO of 13.5% is bad
Prediction for the balance of the season: If Jersey's passionate ownership can step up and give their players more "love" and erase the past years of apathy this team has all the tools to win it all. While I'm pulling for this team, historic trends hold as the Pride fail to make the playoffs.
Philadelphia Barrage: (5-1) Chemistry is so very important to wining in the MLL and the Barrage GM, Keith Mecca, says they've got it back in Philly with a bunch of locally bred guys. Not letting the inmates run the asylum was a great way to get that chemistry back. And no one is better than Coach Resch at team building.
Bright Spots: Trading for Moyer & 40% EMO
BOO: Face offs & Ticket sales
Prediction for the balance of the season: With a string of rare come from behind & 1 goal wins Philly needs to help Doc out and improve at the face off X to get to the playoffs. Philly makes play offs.
Rochester Rattlers: (3-3) The Rattlers are surprising and are year in and year out the best coached team in the MLL. A great new stadium, rowdy fan base, and rebuilt team should produce success for years to come. Rochester is my Dark Horse pick
Bright Spots: Brodie Merrill, Coaching, PAETEC Park & Mike Levin in goal
BOO: EMO is only 18%; needs to win some away games
Prediction for the balance of the season: With big wins over division rivals NJ & LI the Rattlers then stubbed their toes against Baltimore. I see the Rattlers playoff hopes possibly coming down to their last game with Boston. Proven organizational leadership pushes the Rattlers past the hungry Pride for the last play off spot.
San Francisco: I have to say the Dragons are a pleasant surprise. I know first hand how hard it is to set up a new team and they're doing a great job on and off the field. With a relatively light schedule the rest of the way and a tough defense the Dragons could make some noise as long as Ryan Powell stays healthy and Inge comes on at face off X.
Bright Spots: Management, Ryan Powell, Alex Cade & Brad Reppert
Brain Fart: Need a Home win & Face offs
Prediction for the balance of the season: Unless the face off men really catch fire the Dragons stay home despite great 1st year
LEAGUE PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS: Boston will play Rochester and Philadelphia will play Denver in the semis. Boston will beat Philly in the final and be the 2006 MLL Champ!