Saturday, July 25, 2015

Major League Mashup: July 25, 2015

Team Feature: Washington Admirals
by Kyle Stolcenberg

The Washington Admirals began their season with a snitch-range victory over New York before dropping the next two out-of-range. The team failed to put up much of a fight in its next series and was swept by Boston in three very heated, out-of-range games. In response to internal conflict following the 1-5 start, the Admirals parted ways with players Max Miceli, Emma Troxler, and Andrew McGregor as well as player/coach Raul “Beto” Natera; General Manager James Hicks now coaches the team. 

With this restructuring of the team we can also expect to see a shift in playstyle. Under Natera the Admirals tended to play a very direct offensive style, often using Miceli to drive and looking for alley-oops to Troxler or Darren Creary. Hicks’ leadership brings a more structured approach which will distribute the offensive load more evenly throughout the team as well as allowing the players to excel in the traditionally patient, pass-heavy style of the Mid-Atlantic.

The biggest issue for the Admirals at this point in the season is time. Though the new coherence of strategy and mentality appears to give the team a much higher ceiling than before, it has only had one week (after Boston) to prepare for the series against Ottawa this weekend. With a large portion of the offensive firepower gone from the roster, the Admirals will have to play patiently and rely at times on pre-existing chemistry. Look for the team to improve throughout the weekend but expect a much more reliable system to develop in the month between its last series and the MLQ Championships.

The Admirals will also need to deal with issues which festered under the previous leadership, including a lack of communication between chasers and beaters - which led to countless free goals being given up on fast breaks - and a tendency to turn the ball over unnecessarily in attempts to make big plays.

Key Players:
Steve Minnich and Michael Dong: Together these players account for the majority of the Admirals’ physicality on both sides of the quaffle game. If the beater-chaser communication does not improve they will be called upon to make important fast break tackles as well as bringing a capacity for powerful finishes around the hoops to a team which in general relies more on finesse. Look for John Bridstrup and Pierson Geyer to begin stepping into this role and relieving some of the pressure from Minnich and Dong.
James Hicks: Though traditionally a keeper, Hicks has stepped effectively into a beating role early in the season. Having a powerful and accurate arm as well as an impressive capacity for physical play, his success will be limited only by decision making. With a chaser defense around him which does not always tackle well, it will be crucial for him to choose beater battles sparingly and avoid being distracted from quaffle play.

Recap: Washington Admirals vs. Boston Night Riders
by Erik Morlock
On Jul. 11 2015, Boston rolled past Washington with a three-game sweep, all out of snitch range. The Night Riders were impressive in most facets of the game, and it is clear the Admirals need to make drastic improvements to finish the season strong.

Boston had an incredible efficiency that one could see from the first minute of the first game. Wasting no time upon gaining possession, the Night Riders rushed into their offense on nearly all of their possessions, whereas the Admirals consistently transitioned to their offense slowly. The Admirals either needed to organize their offense or catch their breath, but the two teams could not remain at the same speed for very long in any of the games. Strategic beating allowed the Night Riders to make quick transitions and the Admirals were no match defending against the fast Boston attack completed by their beaters.

The Admirals struggled to find a similar offensive rhythm. Although they had glimmers of defensive success, it was the Admirals offense that left them unable to keep the game close. Especially after fatigue and frustration set in, the Washington team resorted to long ambitious passes or a complete absence of passing for almost every possession. In game one it took 14 minutes of film time for an Admirals alley-oop to be successful. When the Admirals went back to try again the following play, they were quickly stopped.

The Admirals offense needs to have multiple ways to attack their opponent’s hoops, which was essentially the key to the Admirals single win against the Titans. The Night Riders also consistently created confusion for the Admirals with their high-pressure defense. Boston would defend high up in their own half, leading to stagnant Admiral offense. The one exception to this came from Admiral chaser Kyle Stolcenberg who was able to exploit Boston’s small weaknesses, displayed with quick runs inside and consistent passing. His first play of game one resulted in a goal for the Admirals. However, it was not enough to turn the game around. The Admirals looked like they had lost game one when it was only 30-0.

The Night Riders really showed their strength during a string of defensive successes by the Admirals. Until that point, the Night Riders were able to dominate the Admirals physically, but in the beginning of game two the Admirals matched their physicality and achieved some quality defensive stops. In response, the Boston offense showed a change of approach with quick, fluid passing and was successful in breaking down the Admirals defense. Ultimately, Boston put on a show. They were practically unstoppable and dominated a team that proved it could be deceptively efficient when their opponent allowed them to be. The Night Riders got lucky with the absence of some intentional dislodging of hoops calls that they may have deserved, and the Admirals shot themselves in the foot with a number of cards, which included multiple red cards. However, Boston won itself the series by being the far superior team that weekend. The Night Riders quaffle movement and physicality overpowered the Admirals, and the Admirals did not have the organization, nor beater strength, to make up for the difference.

Preview: Ottawa Black Bears vs. Washington Admirals
by Jonathan Parent

The Washington Admirals will wrap up their division play this Saturday, July 25, with one last chance at a series win while the Ottawa Black Bears will be hunting for their first victory of the season in Brewer Park, Ottawa. Both rosters will be showing major modifications in what is expected to be the battle for third place in the East Division.

As has been the subject of much discussion, the Admirals will be entering their third and final series with some notable absences in the lineup. The departure of key players Max Miceli, Andrew McGregor, and Emma Troxler as well as coach Raul Natera leaves big shoes to fill in their wake, and the Admirals will have to bounce back ever stronger if they hope to avoid clinching a last-place finish. In spite of their five straight out-of-range defeats, the Admirals have tasted victory, unlike the Black Bears, and will no doubt be hungrier than before to savor it again. Aggressive defensive play and patience on offense will be key for the Admirals, as well as keeping their cool on the pitch and avoiding unnecessary cards.

With New York and Boston boasting such deep rosters this summer, Ottawa’s best chance at grabbing a series for themselves will be against a squad Ottawa can hope will be somewhat distracted by the slew of unfortunate events. But the factors contributing to an Ottawa victory will have much more to do with the Black Bears than with their opponents. The Black Bears possess the skill and experience needed to win this series so it will be a question of capitalizing on scoring chances and creating more of those chances in order to be successful. The Bears will also have to expect a very physical game style; getting their noses dirty on defense and avoiding tackles with speed on offense will be major ingredients for victory. Ottawa’s beater core will also be without Colin Wallace which will be a big loss considering the lack of size to oppose the Admirals’ keeper (and for this season beater) James Hicks and the 1.5 bludger strategy.

Key Players:
James Hicks will absolutely have to step up in the leadership department to make sure his team is focused and ready to play their game despite recent conflicts. If he can use his size and aggressiveness to his advantage, the Admirals can hope to control the beater play which will be crucial (especially once the snitch is on) in what is expected to be a close, hard-fought series.
Ottawa coach Jamie Lafrance will finally lace up for his first MLQ games after choosing to sit out the series against Boston. After an underwhelming and far from satisfying keeper performance by his team against the Night Riders, Lafrance will have to take matters in his own hands and lead his team from the pitch as well as from the sidelines. If Ottawa’s beaters can create confusion and chaos while Lafrance carries up the quaffle he should be able to drive right to the hoops for a goal or short pass.

After missing his team’s first series against Boston, heavy hitter Matthew Bourassa is back in the lineup to help his team create more scoring chances. Bourassa is as dangerous as Lafrance in a no-bludger situation and is also an excellent point defender that can tire out many ball carriers in a single presence. Look for the Black Bears to rally around Bourassa and imitate his defensive willingness as his presence in the lineup will likely spark a new-found sense of courage and confidence within the team.

This series is looking like a 50-50 from here and if both teams can apply their game plan and strategies effectively, it will come down to the seekers to decide the outcome. All three games should stay within snitch range, and I expect the series to finish 2-1.

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