Photo by Sean Carpenter – UltiPhotos.com
The Current were outstanding on both sides of the disc last season, but D.C.’s dominant defense was the driving force behind their historic season.
Most notably, the defense controlled the 2014 MLU Championship game. The Current tallied eight break points in the match while also limiting Vancouver’s Brendan Wong, who scored a league high 48 goals during the regular season, to just a single score.
The Current D-line was not reliant on one single player, but instead pulled from the strength of several standouts. Brent Bellinger, Delrico Johnson, Dominique Gibson, Brian Marshall, Calvin Oung and Peter Prial all received votes for MLU Defensive Player of the Year. Johnson, Oung and Prial each recorded nine defenses last season, tying for the third-highest individual totals in the Eastern Conference. Gibson recorded seven defenses after a midseason promotion and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Meanwhile, Marshall added six defenses and Bellinger contributed three goals, seven assists and two defenses as the main defensive handler.
“Last season, our defense was effective because of coach Will Smolinski’s defensive sets,” said D-line handler Freddie Tsai. “In order to replicate last season’s success, we are focusing on getting the rookies up to speed on the defense and scoring more consistently on our break opportunities.”
During the 2014 regular season, D.C.’s defensive lines scored a break point on over 33 percent of their pulls and recorded at least four-straight break points during a four-game stretch. In total, the Current defense allowed the second fewest points in the league (174) and produced the league’s best goal differential (+42) last year.
Handlers Nate Castine and Erik Salmi, along with cutters David Cranston and Eric Miner, return from last year’s squad. Cutter Andrew Cantone and handler Ryan Nam will make their Current debuts for the D.C. defense.
“You can look for Cranston, Marshall, Castine and Cantone to get some key match-ups,” said Defensive Head Coach Will Smolinski. “It is crazy to think that Gibson and Johnson will cover the second or third cutter and Bellinger, Tsai, Nam, Miner and Salmi will be covering second and third handlers. They are all solid defenders.”
The Current’s defense will once again feature a two-line system this season that regularly cycles different players onto the field to adjust and maximize particular match-ups.
“The success of the D.C. D came from the use of our entire roster and a rotation of more than 14 players on the D-line,” said Marshall. “This allowed us to come out energized every point and wear down the offensive lines of our competition.”
The addition of Assistant Head Coach Tim Eubanks, a defensive specialist, gives the D.C. defense an extra reason to feel confident.
“Tim has been excellent for us so far,” Smolinski said. “[He] has already offered some key feedback that has made us better instantly. You can’t fake or buy time on the sideline and Tim has it. He sees details that only a trained eye can and, because his eyes are fresh, he has seen some things we took for granted and overlooked.”
“As a team, we need the schemes to be second nature when implemented in games, otherwise a breakdown in coverage could negatively affect the rest of the defense,” said Tsai. “With coach Tim being a second set of eyes to make sure we run schemes correctly, the defense is quickly becoming a cohesive unit.”
However, for all their strengths and past successes, D.C.’s defenders know that there’s room for improvement as the season opener approaches.
“It is still preseason so we can still improve on all aspects on defense,” said Tsai. “Our defensive intensity, our knowledge of the defensive schemes and our offensive efficiency are the major areas of focus.”
In particular, the Current are trying to fine tune their clock management skills.
“Will has always stressed the importance of clock management,” said Marshall. “Similar to football, we’ve gone through two-minute drills to teach us to pay attention to the clock, so we know whether to throw that risky hammer and sneak in an extra point, or to holster and work the disc around to burn time off the clock.”
“We need to improve our clock management,” Smolinski said. “Our only loss (last season) came when we did not manage the clock well, on defense or offense.”
D.C. defenders will face a major test right out of the gate during Sunday’s season opener at home against the Boston Whitecaps, who handed the Current their only 2014 loss.
Come support the Current at Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University this Sunday at 1:00 p.m.