Barrage dynasty hopes remain alive with MLL playoff berth

With an eye on the Steinfeld Cup and the MLL semifinals on Aug. 23 in Boston, we take a look at the four teams who have qualified for the postseason.

Rochester (8-3)
You should know: Tha Rattlers got off to a quick start, scoring 55 goals in their first three wins, but then lost three of four. Currently on a four-game winning streak.

John Grant Jr. is the front runner for MLL MVP with 39 goals and 12 assists. This team has a distinct style, relying on two-man games and transition to score goals, while allowing Brodie Merrill and Jack Reid to roam free on defense. Their offensive balance is untouchable with Grant, Joe Walters, Casey Powell and Jeff Zywicki doing the heavy lifting.

There are two areas where Rochester may be vulnerable: goaltending and playoff inexperience. Mike Levin has struggled since early June. Coach B.J. O'Hara has adjusted and called on rookie Brett Queener in relief the last two weeks.

The Rattlers have never won a playoff game, and their roster isn't getting any younger. The time is now.

"In pro sports there's usually more turnover than you can predict," O'Hara said. "We're not the youngest team. We can't keep them together forever."

Denver (8-3)
You should know: Averaged more than 10,000 fans per home game and went undefeated at home this summer. Their road record is 2-3 with losses in L.A., Chicago and Washington. Can they win in Boston?

Denver has great team chemistry. Half of their players call Denver home and half commute to games. I don't like their upcoming schedule: a bye week on Aug. 2, followed by a meaningless season finale and another week off on Aug. 17 -- they might be rusty in the Aug. 23 semifinal.

The addition of Princeton defenders Dan Cocoziello and Zach Jungers has put the "D" back in Denver. Goalie Jesse Schwartzman has been superb in his second year. I have a ton of respect for the Denver short stick defensive corps of Benson Irwin, Nate Watkins, Casey Cittadino and rookie Mike Ward.

But this Outlaw team is built around midfielders Jeff Sonke, Brian Langtry, Josh Sims, Matt Hanna, Peter Striebel and Drew Westervelt. They can always find matchup superiority. Langtry is a strong candidate for league MVP. He's a chatterbox on the field, always keeping it fun and never stops yacking. Outlaw coach Brian Reese explained why Langtry is having a breakthrough campaign. "He's smart and puts the ball in the right places," Reese said. "He knows exactly what to do before he starts his dodge. He knows what to do when the defense slides to him and finds the open man."

Philadelphia (7-4)
You should know: Coach Tony Resch deserves considerable credit for what Philadelphia has accomplished. They clinched a playoff berth Saturday night with a win over Boston and with L.A.'s win later that evening.

The Barrage are nomads -- every game has been on the road. They've logged 18,000 miles with a lineup that has changed from week to week because of injuries, general availability issues and travel snafus. Resch kept them from imploding after back-to-back losses in Weeks 3 and 4, surrendering 44 goals in the process. It appeared as if their dynasty was in ruins, but since that swoon, Philadelphia is 5-2 and has only given up 14 goals once.

Goalie Brian Dougherty and attackman Ryan Boyle were catalysts in the turnaround. They've also gotten outstanding play from Kyle Sweeney, Seth Goldberg, Matt Striebel and backup goalie Kevin Keenan.

This team responds to adversity -- they remind me of the old Iowa wrestling teams under famed coach Dan Gable. Mental toughness perseveres.

What has stood out in the last few weeks is the team defense and return to the egoless offense-defense system that captured three titles in four years. Philly uses patience and the full 60-second shot clock. Once they get the lead, they are unbeatable.

Experience will be on the Barrage's side. But age will work against them if they advance to the final. Defender Brian Spallina is a mauler who owns four championship rings. He's not afraid to take a minute to make a point. His summer timeshare is in the penalty box. In the offseason, Brian is a first grade elementary teacher at the Smith Street School in Uniondale, N.Y. It's one of the great contrasts in professional sports.

Los Angeles (7-4)
You should know: The Riptide have won five of their last six and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday. In four losses, they have given up an average of 18 goals. In the seven wins, that number is 9.9.

Coach John Tucker has adapted to a lineup loaded with new faces including Brett Hughes, Kyle Harrison, Jesse Hubbard, Kevin Huntley, Kevin Buchanan, Mike McDonald and Jimmy Borrell. This is a very different team from the one that lost to Philly in last year's final.

What does L.A. do well? I can't rave enough about defender D.J. Driscoll.

Harrison shrugged off an early-season shooting slump to find his game, and L.A. won three in a row over Rochester, Chicago and Denver. That's classic Harrison -- rising up when his team needed him most.

Short-stick defensive midfielders J.J. Morrissey and Borrell are both blazers who ignite transition. But the Riptide's MVP may be Huntley. The southpaw from Johns Hopkins has 28 goals -- a rookie record.

Shooting percentage was a major story line for L.A. in May and June, and Huntley was the solution.

"The shot clock makes you take your opportunities when they come to you," says Huntley. "At Hopkins we worked for the best available shot -- now we take the first available shot."

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