The MLL Championship will be played this weekend, but for the second season in a row the Boston Cannons failed to make the MLL playoffs with a very disappointing 6-8 mark, despite having the League’s top midfielder in Paul Rabil and perhaps the best longpole in Brodie Merrill. Cannons management and loyal fan base are left wondering what went wrong and where they go from here.
At first glance the Cannons look decent on the stat sheet overall. As a team they finished in the top half of many offensive statistical categories (4th GF 187, 4th Shots Taken, 4th Shooting % and 2nd in F/O %).
Many Cannons observers will point to the one goal losses suffered this year, five in all. OBTW, they did also win three one goal games. In the end the bottom line is a loss is a loss no matter if it is by 1 goal or 10 goals. Good teams will manage to grind out results in the tight games. In the MLL there are not many easy games and how you perform in close contests really matters.
Taking a look at their offensive personal The Cannons really need to find some athleticism and a dodging presence to take pressure off of Rabil. I have been a frequent critic of Rabil recently, but despite scoring only 20 goals this season (a career low) he really showed he can be a terrific passer with 33 assists. Paul Rabil is the least of The Cannons worries.
Let’s look at attack where Will Manny and Steve Berger both had outstanding seasons. Manny to me had a breakout season with 52 points (5th in MLL) he is showing that he is developing into one of the top attackmen in MLL. You have to hand it to Berger too who played really well off ball and scored 30 goals for 41 points, both career highs at age 32.
After that the production really drops off. Ryan Boyle without question is a Hall of Famer and one of the best ever to play in MLL or NCAA lacrosse for that matter. However, by watching the games it looks like he is ready for masters lacrosse. Although the acumen and stick skills are top notch his inability to win his matchup on a consistent basis and lack of athleticism need to be upgraded. His 27 points this season tie a career low, matching last season. For the Cannons to improve this attack spot in particular needs to be upgraded.
At midfield, after Rabil and Kevin Buchanan there is a drop off in production. Rookie Rob Emery certainly looks the part with size and a very heavy right handed shot, but like in his Virginia career he looks to be a little inconsistent. Brent Adams and Owen Blye both had their moments during the season, can any of this group of three step up and take their game to the next level? Matt Striebel was even brought in at the end of the season. Like Ryan Boyle this veterans best lacrosse is behind him. One thing is clear, The Cannons need to find another midfielder that can step in and score 25-30 goals.
In 2013 The Cannons were the worst defensive team in MLL, giving up a league high 202 goals and 15 2pt goals. Although there was an improvement this season the defense is far from Championship quality. In 2014, 185 goals were given up for 7th in MLL, and they still led in 2pt goals against with seven. The Cannons need to upgrade this unit in order to make a playoff run. Brodie Merrill was brought in this year and he still looks like he is a primetime LSM. First round pick Scott McWilliams looked like he was getting more settled in late in the season and hopefully can develop into a solid starter. Can the Cannons acquire a tough defenseman that provides some physical toughness? Mitch Belise can provide that, but after him where is the physical play? Kyle Sweeney and Scott Ratliff are skilled defenseman that lack physical presence. Jordan Burke has yet to regain his 2011 form, but can all the blame be placed on him or subpar play in front of him? The answer lies somewhere in the middle and the goalie position needs to be looked at closely as well.
The bottom line is The Cannons need plenty of help and improvement across the board. Their front office needs to come up big and get their roster younger with more athleticism and talent to get them back into contention. But as we look back at 2014, The Cannons are what they are, a below average MLL team with some major upgrades needed.