(Photo Courtesy of Philadelphia Barrage)
All six teams are in Annapolis, Md. and the league’s two-day training camp has begun. The season will officially get underway tomorrow, as all six squads begin a nine-day season schedule to determine the 2020 MLL champion.
This season, which is the 20th for the league, is different. Really, really different. It will be a battle from start to finish. But on July 26th, one team will be left standing, hoisting the Steinfield Cup high above their heads.
Every team wants to be the last one standing, and in a situation like this, every team has a chance as the separation between the top and bottom could prove to be razor thin given the grueling schedule that every team must face, and challenges that come with that. But what is the biggest key that each team must lean on if they do want to be hoisting the Steinfield Cup at the end it all?
After making the playoffs for the first time since 2015 last season, Boston has gone through a bit of retooling this offseason, bringing in attackmen Bryce Wasserman and Randy Staats to play alongside Mark Cockerton and give their attack a whole new look. Midfielder Bryan Cole was also brought in via trade. And while the Cannons’ new-look offense os certainly a major point of interest, the key to them hoisting the Steinfield Cup lies on the defensive end of the field, where they have also done some retooling.
From Nick Marrocco in cage through talented poles like Justin Pugal, and SSDM’s Zach Goodrich, this Boston defense can be the heart and soul of the team once again. But it will be crucial that some of these new faces, like Matt Gilray, who should be a big piece of this unit, can find their feet and fit into the system in a timely fashion, especially given the shortened time these guys have to get acquainted.
The defending champs, who will be led by new head coach Tom Mariano, have the advantage of playing in their home stadium for this shortened 2020 MLL season. Also, they return a huge chunk of their squad, including multiple superstars like Lyle Thompson and Colin Heacock, for last year’s team that won the MLL title. And while having those stars is crucial and leads many to dub the Bayhawks, as the most talented team in the league, it will be the guys who never get as much credit as they deserve who will be key for this squad to repeat.
Chesapeake has one of the deepest midfield units, which is huge in the tournament format that this season will be played in, and much of that quality happens to be on the defensive end. Isaiah Davis-Allen is one of the best SSDM’s in the league and with CJ Costabile at LSM, they make one of the best D-mid tandems in the league. They will also added LSM Chase Levesque in the draft, who was one of the best LSM’s in the country at Boston U. and could really turn some heads this season. This Defensive midfield unit features players who can make an impact on both ends, and that is one of the scariest aspects of this Bayhawks team.
The Hammerheads, who are essentially the old Dallas Rattlers, come into the season looking to utilize the youth talent they possess all over and translate that into wins. They will lean heavily on Sean Sconone, who is one of the best goalies in the league, for defensive success as their defense has plenty of questions. Things are a bit different on the offensive end, where the heap of the elite talent on the roster lies.
Leaning on that talent will be crucial if this team wants any shot at even making the playoffs. The Hammerheads have six players listed as attackmen on their roster, including Bradley Voigt, who really shined last season, recent draftee Michael Kraus, Will Sands, who they acquired via trade and is one of the best feeders from X in the league, and Lucas Wittenburg. These four will likely be their core pieces on attack – which could prove to be almost impossible for defenses to guard no matter who is out there. Ryan McNmara will likely play midfield, which creates even more matchup problems.
After coming up short in the title game last season, the Denver Outlaws are looking for revenge this season. And while they did lose some quality pieces in the offseason, they still have much to lean on. And much of that returning talent they will be leaning on the most is on the offensive end.
Just on attack, Denver returns veteran John Grant Jr., Chris Aslanian, who really shined as a rookie, and Ryan Lee. Daniel Bucaro, who missed last season due to injury, will also be suiting up for this first time as a pro this summer. That attack unit is lethal. With the veteran Grant Jr. leading the way and the amount of young talent and experience around him, they could replicate similar success to what they had last season. And if that is the case, we could very much see Denver back in the title game this season. Also, they will likely have many chances to do just that with Max Adler at the faceoff dot.
New York Lizards
One of the worst teams in the league last season, the Lizards are looking to flip the script in 2020. And with some new faces on both ends, they could very well do that if they play their cards right – especially at the attack spot.
New York’s midfield is pretty similar to what it was last season, and should be strong. Nick Aponte, Sean O’Brein, and Justin Reh are all ballers and can work very well in different offenses. SSDM Mark Ellis is a ground ball machine and can help ignite transition opportunities. But their attack looks much different. Dylan Molloy is the only returning starter who was a starter at the start of last season. They brought in Connor O’Hara via trade and drafted Andrew Pettit. Also, Colin Burke, who is listed as a midifler, played attack in college. This new-look attack unit can put up numbers, plain and simple, and they will need them to do just that of they want to truly flip the script from last season.
The Philadelphia Barrage are back. Made up of the old Atlanta Blaze’s roster, Philadelphia is one of the most fun teams in the league. They have speed. A lot of speed. And there is no place where that speed shows more than on the offensive end. This Barrage offense will come at any defense like lighting in a bottle. And the ability to do that is the biggest key for this sqaud’s success.
Despite losing Randy Staats and Bryan Cole via trade, Philadephia still has Tommy Palasek, Brendan Sunday, Shayne Jackson, who was the NLL MVP this past season, and Mark Matthews. And that’s just their attack line. At midfield, this team features Tim Barber, Jon Mazza, and others who can hurt you in a multitude of ways. And they also have Alex Woodall at the faceoff dot to give them as many chances as possible. And they don’t waste those opportunities, having the ability to score in bunches and attack defenses from almost any place on the field. If this offense meets expectations, they will make headways this season.