Replete with All-Stars, the Barrage are the team to beat


We're back where we started -- nine weeks of MLL in the books and Philadelphia is once again on top while the lights have gone out in Chicago and San Francisco. Suddenly, Long Island's season is on the ropes, while Washington's and New Jersey's playoff dreams morphed into nightmares.

On ESPN2 this week, fans will see Los Angeles likely steamroll Denver in a key West Coast tilt (Tuesday, 3.30 p.m. ET). In the east, Rochester and Boston kept pace; both are in the midst of what will be a captivating last four weeks of the regular season.

It appears as if eight wins will secure a playoff bid -- win seven, and tiebreakers will be involved. The two Division winners get playoff slots and then the two teams with the highest records qualify.

1. Philadelphia Barrage

Team has a bye this week -- ideal because it has multiple All-Stars. The Barrage will finish the season at L.A., at Boston and against New Jersey in Portland,. Ore.

The corporate line: Philly has won four of its past five games while giving up 13.8 goals per game; in its first four games of the year, the Barrage were allowing 17 goals per game.

Tell us what you really think: The Barrage are back and nobody wants to play them in August.

Projected finish: 8-4.

2. L.A. Riptide

Despite being 1½-point underdogs, the Riptide hammered Denver at home, 16-6. They finish the year with Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco twice.

The corporate line: L.A. dresses 10 new faces from a year ago.

Tell us what you really think: L.A. has phenomenal team speed, excellent coaching and strong chemistry. Riptide players took the field as one swarm Saturday night, with helmets on. It's a low-key approach that reminded me of college football's Iowa Hawkeyes.

Projected finish: 8-4.

3. Rochester Rattlers

Led Washington 15-3 after three quarters en route to a 19-6 win.

The corporate line: The attack of Jeff Zywicki, Casey Powell and John Grant Jr. totaled 13 points Saturday.

Tell us what you really think: If the Rattlers get quality goalie play from Mike Levin, Brett Queener or Adam Fullerton, they can win the "Steinfeld Cup."

Projected finish: 8-4.

4. Denver Outlaws

Left its offense at baggage claim last weekend, putting only 15 shots on goal in Los Angeles. The Outlaws are unbeaten at Invesco but 1-3 on the road.

The corporate line: Denver has the league's best core of defensive midfielders with Benson Erwin, Nate Watkins, Mike Ward and Casey Cittadino.

Tell us what you really think: Denver has scored one transition goal in the past two games. The offense is out of sync. At one point on Saturday night in L.A., the Riptide shorted all three Outlaw attackmen.

Projected finish: 8-4.

5. Boston Cannons

Cannons beat Long Island at the buzzer Saturday night with a last-second Christmas gift. Boston travels to Annapolis on Saturday.

The corporate line: Matt Poskay scored six goals on 15 shots against the Lizards.

Tell us what you really think: This team scares me. I think they're pretty good with question marks at the defensive midfield position. A potential home-field advantage in the playoffs and an extra home game certainly won't hurt, but their remaining schedule (at Washington, at Rochester, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Denver) is brutally tough.

Projected finish: 6-6.

6. Long Island Lizards

Heartbreaking loss for the Lizards in Boston on Saturday. Gecko's have lost two straight but get this weekend off to work on their tans before a final surge to the playoffs.

The corporate line: Faceoff ace Peter Vlahakis is orchestrating the most impressive summer at his position in MLL history.

Tell us what you really think: If seven wins isn't good enough to make the playoffs -- then L.I. must win out against San Francisco, at Rochester and in their finale versus Washington.

Projected finish: 7-5.

7. New Jersey Pride

The youthful Pride lost to Philadelphia 16-11 on Thursday.

The corporate line: What should their nickname be next summer when they are calling Cary, N.C., home?

Tell us what you really think? Rookies Matt Danowski, Stephen Peyser, Joe Cinosky and Jordan Levine are keepers. But New Jersey is still two athletic midfielders away from being an upper-tier team.

Projected finish: 4-8.

8. Washington Bayhawks

Our ESPN2 crew went to a Los Angeles Dodgers game last Friday -- parking cost $15 and a beer cost $12.

The corporate line: After a 3-1 start, Washington has dropped four in a row.

Tell us what you really think: Bayhawks host Boston on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Projected finish: 4-8.

9. San Francisco Dragons

Defeated Chicago behind four points from an inspired Billy McGlone. San Francisco finishes up the year against Denver, L.I. and L.A. twice.

The corporate line: I love the way the Dragons break out of their defensive zone. They got points from Eric Martin, Steve Holmes, Greg Gurenlian and Matt Cassalia on Saturday.

Tell us what you really think: I liked Kezar Stadium and trips to Napa Valley -- so I'm upset we're not televising games in San Francisco this summer.

Projected finish: 2-10.

10. Chicago Machine

Machine lost to San Francisco 17-14 on Saturday. They play three playoff teams to end the season -- L.A., Denver and Rochester. Thanks for coming out.

The corporate line: Steven Brooks, Terry Kimener and Mike Leveille are three rookies who management can build around.

Tell us what you really think: Is it over-the-top to say that Chicago might be the league's most improved team?

Projected finish: 2-10.

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