Let’s start with the basics: This is a playoff match-up between the two teams who most deserve to be here.
The Boston Whitecaps are undefeated. The D.C. Current has played Boston to two of its three closest games (20-19 on April 27 and 23-19 on June 1) over the course of the season. Boston has scored the most goals and given up the fewest. D.C. has scored the second-most goals and given up the second fewest. The basic team-level stats clearly favor Boston; however D.C. has, over the course of the season, proven to be the closest competition:
So D.C. has taken more throws to score fewer points. D.C. has gotten more D’s and dropped at a lower rate. Boston has completed passes at a higher rate. Great. It is a team sport, and this is a large sample size. These numbers mean something. The thing is that these numbers were put together by neither monoliths nor the Borg. These numbers were accumulated by players. And in the case of this match-up, by some of the very best in the league. In the Eastern Conference, 9 of the top 12 scorers will be playing in Boston:
|Christopher Mazur||New York||56||24||32||388||92.47|
|Ben Faust||New York||45||16||29||166||86.14|
The four players from the Whitecaps on this list (Markette, Prial, Graham and Malacek) break out evenly between throwers and cutters (as defined by whether a player has thrown more assists or caught more goals) while the 5 players from the Current on this list (Shofner, Kolick, Oung, Keegan and Wodatch) break down to three throwers (Shofner, Kolick, and Keegan), one cutter (Wodatch), and the most balanced player of the top 30 scorers in the east (Oung).
Then again, this is not news. The more good players you have in any match-up in any sport, the more likely you are to win. From individual sports on up to football and soccer, talent wins. The difference is in how much each individual player can positively (or negatively) affect the outcome of a game. In basketball, for example, there are 5 players on the court at a given time. This leads to the somewhat obvious (and correct) conclusion that one player can have a large impact. Contrast this with soccer which has 11 players on the pitch (let alone the massive difference in area between the fields of play), and it will be clear that while Lionel Messi is a transcendent talent, he does not affect the game in the same fashion as Lebron James.
One more look at the list above will inform you that MLU games are not won by one man. If they were, the NY Rumble might well be in the playoffs on the shoulders of Mazur. Then another thing becomes obvious: Two players cannot do it either. Faust and Mazur together are the highest scoring duo not only in the East, but in the entire league. This would seem to imply that the quality of a team is not in the numbers that individuals put up, but rather in the ability of multiple players to account for seemingly outsized production for their teams.
For Boston:Stat % #: Players (in descending order)
|Pts||52.42||6: Markette, Prial, Graham, Malacek, Brian Zid, Alex Cooper|
|G||52.05||5: Prial, Graham, Zid, Markette, Danny Clark|
|A||55.61||6: Markette, Malacek, Brent Anderson, Prial, Cooper, Graham|
|Thr||50.49||5: Cooper, Malacek, Graham, Markette, Prial|
|Cmp||50.50||5: Cooper, Malacek, Graham, Markette, Prial|
|TO||55.04||5: Malacek, Cooper, Graham, Teddy Browar-Jarus, Jake Taylor|
|Cth||54.16||6: Graham, Markette, Cooper, Malacek, Prial, Clark|
|D||50.38||6: Jon Hirschberger, Jack Hatchett, Will Neff, Graham, Alex Simmons, Prial, Browar-Jar|
Noticeable here is, first of all, the repetition of names on the offensive end. Sure, they occur in different orders, but the same names pop up over and over again. Second is the consistency across statistics. Either 5 or 6 players account for over 50% of each statistic, with the notable exception of D’s. While it is only an increase to 7, D’s are simply harder for any one individual to accumulate and thus more of a team effort.
Now D.C.: Stat % #: Players (in descending order)
|Pts||57.06||5: Shofner, Kolick, Oung, Keegan, Wodatch|
|G||51.70||5: Wodatch, Oung, Shofner, David Cranston, Robert Dulabon|
|A||60.82||4: Kolick, Shofner, Keegan, Oung|
|Thr||53.35||5: Kolick, Keegan, Oung, Brent Bellinger, Keven Moldenhauer|
|Cmp||53.65||5: Kolick, Keegan, Oung, Bellinger, Moldenhauer|
|TO||56.82||5: Keegan, Shofner, Kolick, Oung, Bellinger|
|Cth||50.66||5: Kolick, Oung, Keegan, Bellinger, Wodatch|
|D||52.78||6: Ryan Todd, Oung, Kolick, Delrico Johnson, Wodatch, Shofner|
Two things immediately become apparent when looking at D.C.’s stats after considering Boston’s first. There are fewer players involved in the top usage-rate positions and 60% of the assists go through 4 players. Whether due to a team discipline, sheer talent or constantly playing in tight games, this concentration of assists is remarkable. It is clear that the pace for this match-up will be set by the best players on each team, and each side has reason to suspect that they will be better prepared.
D.C. has come together right now at the end of the season to form into something stronger than they were earlier in the season. They have been tested, and then tested again. Boston, on the other hand, played well enough from the start of the season to go undefeated and clinch a playoff spot early. While they’ve certainly proven they can play, neither of these teams has yet proven they are ready for the MLU playoffs
That will all change Sunday night at Hormel Field in Medford, MA at 7 pm. These two teams will follow some of the top players in the league onto the field, and from there all bets are off.