Rochester, L.A. favorites to win MLL championship

The MLL regular season is wrapping up in a couple weeks. The contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders. A couple high-profile players are vying for the MVP. So much is in up in the air, but Quint Kessenich digs deep for answers.

Updated: July 24, 2007, 6:02 PM ET
By Quint Kessenich | Special to ESPN.com

Who's the best team in Major League Lacrosse?
It's difficult to predict who will win the MLL title this year because of the playoff format. Teams will wrap up their regular seasons on August 11 and play the semifinals on August 25th in Rochester at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m ET. The turnaround for the finals is grueling as the championship will faceoff the next day at 1 p.m. on ESPN2. Two of the first six MLL finals were impacted by semifinal injuries -- year No.1 Baltimore was banged up as Dan Denihan and Mark Millon weren't 100 pct., and last year Denver limped into the championship with dinged up middies. Right now, Rochester and L.A. would be the favorites to win the Steinfeld Cup, followed by Philadelphia and Denver.

Who should be the MVP?
John Grant Jr. or Brodie Merrill. My vote will go to Merrill. He makes Alex Smith a 70 percent faceoff man, and completely takes his man out of the offensive equation. He's the ultimate possession maker, creates transition off the ground and by picking off passes, and scores in transition.

Why is L.A. dominating defensively?
The Riptide defense is rangy, fast, in great shape and unselfish in their slide concepts. They break out hard after stops and turnovers and don't give up second-chance opportunities. Coach John Tucker does an exceptional job of watching tape and installing a simple defensive gameplan. He prioritizes well, isolating the opponents three or four main threats and focusing the attention appropriately.

Who's the Rookie of the Year?
The Class of 2007 is a sub-par group. Actually it's less than sub-par. From top to bottom, it's the worst rookie class in league history. The data supports that rip. There are just a handful of impact rookies. Alex Smith (Delaware) of Rochester will win the Rookie of the Year Award. I have been impressed with Greg Downing (Fairfield) of LA, Ray Megill (Maryland) in Boston and Mitch Belisle (Cornell) of LA.

Who will make the playoffs?
Rochester, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Denver.

Who is the best player at each position?
The MLL still remains a midfielders league -- Graham Gill, Casey Powell and Matt Streibel are the leagues three best offensive midfielders.

The best poles in the MLL are Brodie Merrill, Jack Reid, DJ Driscoll and Kyle Sweeney.

On attack I've been impressed with John Grant Jr., Ryan Boyle, Brendan Mundorf and Mikey Powell.

Defense can make or break a goalie -- especially in the world of the shotclock. Every MLL goalie has the ability to have a hot night. I think Matt Vallone of SF really turned the corner this year. Rob Scherr has shown a lot of courage in New Jersey in front of a pourous group, but Brian Dougherty and Mickey Jarboe have been consistently excellent. It's difficult to quantify just how much "Doc" means to the Philadelphia team.

If I had to pick one short-stick defensive midfielder it would be Denver's Benson Irwin. And if my team were in OT and we had to win a faceoff, the guy I'd want out there taking the draw would be Alex Smith.

My All-MLL Underrated team includes: JJ Morrissey, Brian Spallina, Matt Vallone, Jeff Zwicky, Sean Lindsay, John Christmas and Scott Ditzel.

What is the next expansion city?
Dallas. I have also spoken to groups in Virginia Beach and Cary, N.C. who are interested in owning teams. I think the league office and individual franchises need to look at holding more games at neutral sites. Make the MLL more like a rock concert tour -- go to the fans in Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Toronto, Columbus and St. Louis. There is a chance that the 2008 MLL All-Star game will be played as part of ESPN's X Games. That would be terrific cross promotion for the sport.

What are your favorite restaurants in the MLL cities?
Joe Beninati and I really try to get out as much as possible and enjoy some of these great towns during our summer tour. If you're looking for steak, you'll love the Denver Chophouse and then be sure to walk through LODO. In San Francisco, there are dozens and dozens of hot spots to choose from. I recommend the Redwood Room for appetizers, and then the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building for dinner. You'll need reservations.

We are headed out to L.A. for our game on August 11 which will include a trip to Manhattan Beach for some beach volleyball. Joe B. has a killer serve.

Boston's North End is a summer staple -- be sure to budget in some time the following day to burn off the carbs while jogging alongside the Charles River.

In Rochester for Championsip weekend, I'm looking forward to Nathaniels, the Distillery and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

What teams would you move after this year that just aren't working in their current markets?
I will be shocked if there are teams playing in New Jersey and Philadelphia next season. Long Island should move to Stony Brook University. I also believe that teams should take more games to the fans at the beach -- Avalon, N.J., Dewey Beach, Del, Ocean City, Md. and Virginia Beach.

Who's calling it quits after the 2007 season?
There are quite a few veterans who may be playing their last season of professional outdoor lacrosse. These are future Hall of Famers -- guys who built the league, and all of them have difficult decisions to make during the offseason. Some of the icons coming to the end of the line include: Roy Colsey, Mark Millon, Jesse Hubbard, Kevin Cassesse, John Gagliardi, Blake Miller, Mark Frye, Christian Cook and Tom Marechek. These are players who have sacrificed so much of their time and efforts to grow the game and the league. They have all been wonderful ambassadors spending hours with young fans and players and I have really gotten a kick out of watching them showcase their talents for the past seven summers.

What do you enjoy most about this summer's ESPN2 coverage?
There are a couple of upgrades in our seventh season. Hi definition is a huge plus for the fans who have trouble finding the ball. Our helmetcams have captured some really sick plays and the extra mics on players brings the viewer inside the game. Sometimes we forget how violent lacrosse is. The mics remind us.

Who is the best coach in the league?
John Tucker and Tony Resch. Interesting to note that both were superb high school coaches.

Who will be the four or five difference makers down the stretch?
Rochester goalie Mike Levin and midfielder Gavin Prout need to play well for the Rattlers to win the title. In L.A., Greg Downing and Michael Watson could be the difference. If Denver is going to rally and secure a postseason bid, then Jeff Sonke will have to dominate, and rookie Drew Westervelt must make an impact around the net. A Barrage repeat rests on faceoff man Andy Corno.

Quint Kessenich covers Major League Lacrosse for ESPN2. The Game of the Week airs in HD this Thursday night July 26 at 9 p.m. ET as Philadelphia invades New Jersey.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.