Face Off: 4:00 pm EST
Fan Zone Opens: 2:00pm
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You can only control the controllables. Two games ago, Boston was 5-5 and in the driver’s seat, steering their way to the postseason, something almost surprising after a 1-5 start, and fully in control. Now, after a crushing overtime loss to Chesapeake and a lackluster performance against Hamilton, Boston’s grip on the controls has not only loosened, but has completely changed hands. At 5-7, the Cannons can still make the playoffs, but they are now forced to depend on other teams to get them there.
“There’s still a long way to go, and, while we don’t control our destiny, we need to concentrate on playing our best against a very good Ohio team,” said Coach John Tucker. “I think that our team is an excellent group of guys and sometimes they’re challenged by adversity, but I see us stepping up and playing our best on Saturday.”
Even if the Cannons win their final two games, their playoff chances remain insecure. Their postseason hopes rest in the claws of the Charlotte Hounds (6-6), a team that Boston is 2-0 against this season. If the Hounds win their last two games (home vs. Hamilton and away at Chesapeake), then the Cannons’ season is over. If the Cannons win both games and the Hounds lose both, then the Cannons are in. In fact, the Cannons would make it if they win both and the Hounds win one and lose one, because then the Cannons and Hounds would be tied for fourth place and Boston holds the tiebreaker.
But first thing’s first: Win out. The Cannons must focus only on what they can control. In order to put themselves in a position to be helped by other teams, namely Charlotte, the Cannons must first win their final two contests—it will be very difficult to play after August 10 if they don’t. The first of these crucial games is this Saturday against Ohio. The Cannons are back home for the first time since July 6 and are ready to unleash the frustration that has built up over the last couple weeks.
“We have to play better across the board. I think our defense, and especially our transition defense, was not very good and we have to address those things throughout the week,” said Tucker.
Just over a month ago , in the first meeting between the Cannons and the Machine, Boston defeated Ohio on the road, 13-10. A commanding performance from rookie Cam Flint (four goals, one assist) ignited the Cannons, helping them to reach their third win in a row and fourth overall.
While Boston is far superior to Ohio (1-11) on paper [see game notes], this season has proved to be a tale of two different Cannons teams. Which one will show up on Saturday? The flat, uninspired, and unexplosive team that goes through the motions on offense and doles out unforced turnovers left and right? Or, will it be the dynamic, smart, and patient team that shares the ball and makes things happen? Last Saturday in Hamilton, the Cannons reverted back to the team we saw early in the season with the 1-5 record. Boston can no longer afford to play this way.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say we haven’t been playing as well," said Tucker. "The all-star break put a little bit of a slide on our momentum. We have to regain that and get back to the fundamental things that brought us success. We either had poor shot selection or turned the ball over.”
The Cannons had a hard time getting going offensively, partly due to lackadaisical play with a plethora of unforced turnovers, but Hamilton’s defense should also be given plenty of credit. Their defensive unit shut down Paul Rabil, the MLL’s points leader, who only saw the back of the net once on a two-pointer in the second half. The two points are his third-lowest point total of the season. However, Rabil has been hobbled by a sports hernia, an injury that kept him from participating in the all-star game.
“I think it’s pretty painful," said Tucker. "For the position that he plays, it’s a difficult injury to get and play full strength and go full speed, but he’s going to play through. He’s committed to helping us as much as he can these last two weeks. It’s a tough road.”
On Saturday, Cannons fans hope to find the reinvigorated Boston team they had become accustomed to during the four-game win streak.
“It’s a huge advantage for our team to be at home," said Tucker. "We play better there. We play with more confidence and we have an outstanding group of fans that support the organization. The unseen kind of benefit is the opportunity to get everyone up there to practice on Friday. This will be our first full practice since before the all-star game, so we’re looking forward to that chance and fine-tuning some things.”
One of those things, as Tucker cited above, is defense, an area that has been inconsistent because of the abundance of personnel that play the same position.
“If you look at our organization, even when I took over, we have a lot of the same kind of defenders," said Tucker. "We’ve had to mix and match a lot of players. We have a lot of guys who are long-stick midfielders, so we’re really trying to coordinate and stop other teams’ attacks. Guys have been sacrificing their positions and they’ve been playing really hard.”
Moving so many defensive pieces around makes it difficult to develop chemistry and play well as a single unit, which has been the biggest defensive hindrance, but Tucker has been happy with individual performances.
“I thought Ricky [ Pages] was very, very good considering he hasn’t played in a while due to his injury," said Tucker. "He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm and he’s a big, strong, tough kid. He did not disappoint us and was one of our better players throughout the game. There’s a strong chance he’ll play this week.”
Tucker also praised goalie Jordan Burke, who stopped 22 shots, including nine in the third quarter, against Hamilton last weekend.
“He’s done a great job," said Tucker. "He’s been back and healthy now for a number of weeks and ever since he’s been back he’s done a tremendous job keeping us in games. He’s a very steady, reliable, consistent player who doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s a very quiet leader. He’s been fantastic.”
The Cannons have to take care of business in these last two games and then hope that the formidable opponents of Hamilton and Chesapeake don’t go lightly on the Hounds. Charlotte lost a very close game to Hamilton in Ontario in the fourth game of the season, going down 16-15. Four games later, the Hounds found themselves on the opposite side of a 16-15 decision, outlasting the Bayhawks in Charlotte.
The Cannons can get by, but only with a little help from their friends. Make sure you come out to Harvard Stadium on Saturday to cheer the Cannons to victory!
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