- Quint Kessenich, ESPNU
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The Philadelphia Barrage have won the MLL championship three times in the previous four seasons. But will the endless trek (18,000 miles and counting) they've been on this year wear thin at the worst possible moment? Will Rochester finally break through on a championship weekend? Or will a western team etch its name in the record books as a champion?
With those questions and more looming, Inside Lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich breaks down what we should be looking for as the championship weekend at Harvard Stadium in Boston approaches.
Fine tuning on Friday
Friday practice sessions at Harvard are critical for the installation of semifinal game plans. Are players missing? Late? Or stuck in the airport?
The most significant tweaks to the game plan occur on the defensive end and in the specialty situations. Wholesale changes won't -- they're too radical and complex. It's a fine line that the four coaches (Brian Reese, John Tucker, B.J. O'Hara and Tony Resch) must walk. It's important for MLL coaches to explain defensive matchups and determine who and when they are sliding. We'll see some of our best defense of the summer in Saturday's semifinals.
Regular season results are meaningless
Don't be fooled by regular-season success or failure. History has shown prior meetings don't matter. Toss them in the trash. As my ESPN announcer friend Dave Armstrong has always said, "It's not what's in the rearview mirror; it's all about looking through the windshield at the road ahead."
Quick turnaround gives Game 1 winner a slight advantage
Semifinal No. 1 between Philadelphia and Rochester finishes at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday. Winning players have a three-hour head start in their attempt to refuel, rest and scout the Los Angeles-Denver winner. It might not seem like much, but with less than 24 hours until Sunday's MLL final, it's a big boost.
60-second shot clock
Playoff tempo is more deliberate. It's ideal as far as I'm concerned -- faster than the college game but not out of control and overwhelming. Offenses will grind further into the shot clock working for the best available shot. The ball has value. Semifinal scores are typically in the 23-29 total goal range, which is ideal for fans.
Injuries are always a strong story line on Sunday because of the quick turnaround between semifinals and finals. Ankle injuries to Dan Denihan and Mark Millon limited their production and changed the complexion of past finals. Denver's Jeff Sonke was less than 100 percent in the 2006 final. How do teams react and adapt to injuries?
Rochester will rely on a two-goalie system with Mike Levin getting the starting nod and Brett Queener playing the second half. It has worked well in late July and August. Queener's out-of-goal antics are more successful when field players are gassed in the late stages of a game.
Philadelphia's Brian Dougherty has a career .590 save percentage in the postseason with a 12.42 goals-against average. He is 6-1 all-time in the playoffs. Denver's Jesse Schwartzman went 10-1 in NCAA playoffs games while at Johns Hopkins.
Clutch performers: Colsey, Streibel
Philadelphia's Matt Striebel has 16 goals and 10 assists in six career MLL playoff games. Linemate Roy Colsey has 22 goals (three 2-point goals) with five assists in six career playoff games. They are a big reason Philadelphia has won back-to-back titles.
Grant Jr. a lock for MVP
Rochester's John Grant Jr. will receive the MLL's MVP award for the second consecutive year. But Grant's 91 goals over the past two seasons are not the most in a two-year span. L.A.'s Jesse Hubbard recorded back-to-back 50-goal seasons with New Jersey -- the only times a player has scored 50 goals in a season. Hubbard had 104 goals during that span and looked like his old self last week against San Francisco.
It's about the ring
Hard to believe but this will be the eighth MLL championship. Brian Spallina is the only MLL player to win four MLL championships. Other members of the Barrage have won three titles: Brian Dougherty, Ryan Boyle, Michael Springer, Colsey, Striebel and Brian Kuczma.
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The MLL playoffs are down to the final four. For the Barrage to three-peat, they'll have to get by Rochester and its nonpareil goal-scorer John Grant Jr. in the semifinals. In the other, Denver and L.A. will duke it out. So who has the advantage?