Photo by Pete Guion – UltiPhotos.com
The D.C. Current are heading to the MLU Championship on July 19th after taking down the Boston Whitecaps by a 18-17 margin in the Eastern Conference Finals. Before you check out the highlights from D.C.’s first ever conference title, here are a few thoughts on the big win.
Early Missed Opportunities
The Current jumped out to an early two-goal lead in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. But D.C. missed out on several opportunities to claim the contest as their own early on.
The Current committed at least six turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of the game including a crucial misconnection. Holding a 4-2 advantage, Dan Kantor hand -blocked his Whitecaps mark. Cody Johnston picked up the disc for D.C. and tried to hit Kantor 10 yards down the field, but the pass floated and Boston was able to regain possession. A handful of passes later the Whitecaps were able to hit a streaking Danny Clark for the score to narrow D.C.’s lead to 4-3.
That score by Clark started a four-goal string for the Whitecaps. Boston would knot the game at four all by scoring their first break point of the day before the end of the first quarter. Then they received the disc to start the second frame and easily worked it up the field to take their first lead of the game at 5-4. The Whitecaps would then extend their lead to 6-4 when they nearly scored a Callahan, but instead settled for a short field score.
MIA: Deep Shots
One of the hallmarks of D.C.’s fabulous season has been quick possessions resulting in long scores off of big hucks. That facet of the Current’s game was noticeably missing in the first half as they chose to work Boston’s defense on underneath cuts, instead of opting for the deep shots down the field.
“It kind of felt like old Boston vs. old D.C. in the first half,” said Alan Kolick. “We played a little bit like we were intimidated and scared to make mistakes. I think we were a little tentative because we came in as the favorites and we were trying to protect something instead of being aggressive like we had all season.”
D.C.’s defense was stellar throughout the game, but in the first half they were slightly overaggressive, at least in the eyes of the referees. On two separate occasions D.C. players went up for 50/50’s in the end zone and were able to keep the disc away from their Whitecaps counterparts. However on both plays the referees found fault with D.C.’s defense, ruling a goal for Boston on a strip in the first instance and then giving the disc to the Whitecaps on the goal line which led to a quick score.
End of Quarter Play
This has been a point of emphasis for the Current this season and throughout the year D.C. has done a fine job of making good decisions as time winds down. But that quality decision making was sorely lacking last Saturday as D.C. allowed Boston to score in the final seconds of each of the first three quarters, including two break points.
Let the Hucks Fly
Down by three coming out of intermission, D.C. started taking shots to the end zone. Three of the Current’s first four scores in the half came directly off of hucks. Markham Shofner hit Sean Keegan to start the third quarter, then on their next offensive possession Keegan hit a hustling Tom Doi on a deep shot, before Kolick hit Shofner for a break point to cut Boston’s lead to 11-10.
“They made it very difficult for us to run what we normally do and that’s why we made a couple of adjustments in the second half and you saw things open up a little bit,”said Current Head Coach Keven Moldenhauer. “One thing I said was that we have to loosen up, I said we have to let things fly, and first thing in the second half Keegan made a big play. Those are 50/50 shots but that’s our recipe, to just let things fly.”
DC D Making Boston Earn It
D.C. has been great this season and more often than not it’s because of the play of their stellar defense. The Current’s D-line didn’t get off to a monster start against the Whitecaps last Saturday but they certainly closed strong.
It started slowly, with D.C. getting what assistant coach Will Smolinski likes to call “small victories” forcing Boston into high stall counts and long points. On two occasions in the second quarter the Current’s defense forced the Whitecaps into possessions of ten throws or more and in the third quarter D.C. made Boston throw 10+ times on two other possessions including one that lasted 21 throws.
Those long points add up and wear down an offense, and D.C. was able to take advantage of it at the start of the fourth quarter. The Current held the Whitecaps scoreless over the first five minutes of the final frame and ripped off three-straight break points to retake the lead at 16-14, getting huge D’s from David Cranston, Matt Gordon and Dominique Gibson.
“Breaks happen because you wear a team down,”said Moldenhauer. “That doesn’t happen in the fourth quarter, that happens in the first three quarters. We were sending lines at them and I was watching their O-line go up and down the field and they had to work pretty hard. They were scoring but the guys were making them work and I knew that was going to pay dividends in the end. And in the end people got exhausted and our D-line was able to make some big plays.”
Huge Second Half
D.C. played a poor first half, but the Current, like they have all season long, put together a quality second half. The Current got two breaks in the third quarter to win it 6-4 to get back within one goal. And then D.C. started the fourth with three-straight breaks that powered the squad to a 5-3 margin in the frame.
“It took us awhile to get going,” said Shofner. “But once we finally found our stride it was a pretty efficient second half on offense and then we just let our D drive us home.”
Prial Comes Through in the Clutch
Peter Prial is one of the best players in the entire MLU, but he had difficult outing for most of the 40 minutes last Saturday. Prial was responsible for three turnovers in the first quarter alone, as he was beaten to the disc several times by his defender. Prial, one of the team’s leading goal scorers, didn’t find the end zone until halfway through the third quarter.
“They put Jack Hatchett and Matt McDonnell on me,” said Prial, “and that was the best D I faced all year.”
Prial could have been the scapegoat for D.C. since he committed a short field turnover that resulted in Boston’s tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.
But Prial was able to redeem himself, keep his team’s championship dream alive and remain as the only undefeated player in MLU with his last second grab.
Staying on the field after committing the turn on the previous point, Prial was able to beat his man deep allowing Shofner to launch a pass towards the endzone. Prial boxed out his defender, raised high into the air and claimed the disc from a crowd of eager arms for the game-winning score.
“I’m really happy that my mistake wasn’t the end of the season for the team,” said Prial. “I was pretty upset about throwing that short field turn, but then I was really happy I was able to make that catch and make amends for it.”
Alan Kolick has been nothing short of amazing this season. Not only has he consistently put up points, but Kolick does little things so well. He is always available to reset the disc and is nearly impossible for defenses to stop because of the way he is always moving on the field. On Saturday Kolick scored seven points off of one goal and six assists. But those points weren’t his most impressive moments. Midway through the fourth quarter, Boston had just scored to snap D.C.’s streak of break points. The Current turned it over on offense to give the Whitecaps the chance to knot the game at 16. But Boston wouldn’t even get close to the goal line, thanks to Kolick’s run through D on a pass near midfield followed by the score later in the point to record the bookends.
“I guess it’s becoming a habit now,” said Kolick of his late game D’s. “I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. I think my guy kind of slowed down on the cut so I was able to get in front of him there, so I’m pretty glad that he didn’t run through it.”
Fans were so appreciative of Kolick’s efforts they even started an M-V-P chant.
“It feels good to hear that,” said Kolick. “It was an interesting feeling. The crowd was great tonight, a lot of my friends were out here. It was a really good environment.”
Get your tickets now to see the D.C. Current take on the Vancouver Nighthawks at PPL Park for the MLU Championship game on July 19th.