Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com
The D.C. Current (4-3) head into their final home game of the regular season battling for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next team in their way: the Boston Whitecaps (4-3).
This weekend’s game against the Whitecaps will have a huge impact on who will be heading to the playoffs. Saturday’s winner will have a full-game lead in the standings over the other and the loser will no longer control their postseason destiny.
“If we want a home playoff game or want to control our own fate in making the playoffs, we need to win this game,” said Defensive Head Coach Will Smolinski. “We are down to the time of season where the math is easy, and for us to guarantee a home game for the Eastern Championship we need to win the rest of the season, which we are more than capable of doing.”
Coming into this game, the Whitecaps have won four out of their last five games, including their last two matches. However, three of those wins came against the basement dwelling New York Rumble. Most recently they knocked off the team from the Big Apple with a 31-24 victory, which became the highest scoring game in league history (later tied by a Seattle-Vancouver match). The 31 points scored is the highest any team has recorded all season and vaulted Boston’s offense to the third-most points scored in the league.
In the same five-game stretch, the Current have lost three of their contests, one to each team in the conference. Last week the team rattled off a huge 26-24 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Spinners that ended the Eastern Conference leader’s four-game winning streak.
“I think there’s unfinished business with every game left this season,” said defensive standout Delrico Johnson. “We don’t have the luxury of sweeping teams like last year and being comfortable, so every game is a fight to show we are still on top of the league. We are more focused on what adjustments we can make to disrupt Boston.”
Those adjustments are going to be pivotal to stop this Boston team. Over the last several weeks the Whitecaps have continued to prove that they are one of the most complete teams in the league, no matter who they are playing. Every week Boston has been feeling the injury sting, with key players injured and their superstars not being 100 percent physically.
This weekend Boston will be missing their O-line handler, Teddy Browar-Jarus who is responsible for 20 assists and five goals. With his absence, it is obvious that MVP candidate Jeff Graham will have even more of an increased role in the offense and that Josh Markette will most likely become the main handler.
Rookie Tyler Chan is another focal point on Boston’s offense. Last week in their seven-point victory over New York, Chan recorded five goals, eight assists and a block in his best game of the year. His speed alone has put him into a separate category and could be the difference maker in the game.
“We go over the game plan every week at practice,” said Smolinski. “We are ready for Boston. Our offense has been playing clean, but Boston is the fastest team we have to play. They run fast and they think fast, which is why they put up the numbers they did last week.”
The one-on-one matchups will be the key to either team’s success in this game. In previous matchups, D.C.’s top D-line player Johnson would often mark up against Boston’s Graham, attempting to limit his influence. However, it will be interesting to see if he switches to cover Chan strictly because of his speed.
Offensively for the Current, not much will be expected to change. Last week the O-line played one of their cleanest and most complete games of the year. They are going to need to replicate that performance once again this week because as a team they have the second-lowest completion rate in the league with 89.31 percent.
“Offensively the game plan will be similar to those in the past,” said offensive cutter Lloyd Blake. “Be aggressive, run hard and clear space for your boys.”
Each week the superstars in Alan Kolick, Markham Shofner, Peter Prial and Jeff Wodatch are going to show up. But it is always interesting to see what other players will step up and have a big game. Last week it was Jonathan Neeley.
“Neeley’s always been a great player who can perform when asked to,” said Johnson. “It’s more of what the defense is giving us. Each week you’ll see a different player step up and make big plays, and I think that’s what a great team is. It’s easy to zero-in on the star players, but when you’re taught to play as a family, that’s when everyone on the roster becomes dangerous. Last week we saw Neeley take advantage of his opportunity.”
We have seen these performances all year long from different O-line players; Blake and Tyler Monroe are other players that quickly come to mind.
“I don’t know if I can predict who will have a big game for the O-line but I think that is what makes us dangerous,” said Blake. “It will come down to who has a favorable matchup and who is seeing the field well.”
If the squad duplicates what they accomplished offensively last week, the key battle will be the Boston offense against the D.C. defense. The Whitecaps have only been broken 43 times on the season and have the fewest drops in the East with 17. In contrast, the Current lead the East in blocks with 86.
No matter what the score, you will not be able to count either team out. Both squads can score in bunches and are playing for their playoff lives. When these two factors are put together, great things are expected to happen.
“This game is big, not just for our fans, but because it shows that we still have work to do to reach our goal of another Championship,” said Johnson. “We talked about being hungry these past couple of weeks, and I think it’s shown through our play last week. Now it’s time to go out and prove again that we are still hungry, but in reality we won’t be satisfied until we once again reclaim the title.”
Come cheer on the Current as they take on the Boston Whitecaps in the squad’s final home game of the regular season this Saturday. First pull is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.