Boston is as Boston Dees.
No typo; this team, while it has had its share of offensive brilliance, has been defined by its defense since 2013. The composition of the 2015 defensive rotation will look a whole lot like it did in 2014 (which was much like the defense looked when they won the title in 2013). Of all of the O- and D-rotations in the conference, Boston’s D-rotation is the unit losing the lowest percentage of points played at 18.7. Of the 15 players who played the most D points last season, the Whitecaps are losing a grand total of one (Alex Cooper).
This is bad news for the rest of the conference. No matter what Boston does with their roster of 40 players, they have a core of defenders with experience not only generating defensive possessions at the highest rate in the conference, but also converting those opportunities into goals at the second-highest rate:
|Team||D Poss/Pt||D Poss Conv.|
Boston has set itself up for baseline success by returning one of the most consistent defenses in the league for the third consecutive season. However, the other side of the disc tells a different tale.
When we look at the offensive rotation in aggregate, it is losing players responsible for 48 percent of the offensive points played in 2014. Of their top 10 players in offensive points played, the Whitecaps are losing six. Those six are not just players who filled in the void between stars on the field, but include two of the more unique players in the league’s short history: Brandon Malecek and Danny Clark. While their skillsets could not be more different, they were both significant contributors to Boston’s offensive style. Malecek is one of the most powerful stationary throwers in the game. The distance his right-handed throws cover coupled with the velocity at which they do so allow offensive cutters to push their cuts deeper on the field, away from both the thrower and any potential help defenders. While he has built his game into an all-around threat with and without the disc, his hucks and throws to long-distance under cuts will always be his calling card.
Clark, on the other hand, has built his all-around game up over the years on a base of speed, hops, speed and left-hand-dominance. If you need someone to chase down, say, a rocket-launched flick or an airmailed backhand, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Clark. By being the sort of deep threat to open up 30-yard incuts through the threat of beating his man deep, he served as a perfect cutter to not only allow Malecek’s skills to have a target but also to demand that opposing defenses respect the deep game enough to open up under cuts for the rest of the team.
In addition to these two, the offense is losing Jim Foster, Matt Rebholz, Jeremy Nixon and Henry Brecher. These four, while not superstars, are incredibly capable and consistent. They combined for 43 goals, 40 assists, and a 92.90 percent completion rate. All completed passes at over 90 percent, played 70 plus offensive points and were involved in at least 16 goals. In short, these are the sort of high-quality role players who make an offense run efficiently. Without Rebholz and Brecher, a higher-risk thrower like Malecek could well prove too volatile. Without a matchup nightmare like Nixon working downfield, there would be more pressure on Clark to be the Alpha and the Omega of cutters. Without Foster to fill in spaces, Jeff Graham and Josh Markette would need to flex their dynamic muscle on more plays.
The 2014 offense was a balanced and deadly offensive attack. It scored the most points per possession and used the fewest throws to do so while conceding the fewest break opportunities of any team in the East. Losing 60 percent of a devastating attack is likely to result in a drop in performance.
I typed all of that to type this: Boston’s offense is where questions about their 2015 campaign begin. Who will be their primary deep thrower? Who will be their primary defense-stretching cutter? Who will fill in for the departure of four steady contributors who, on other teams, would likely have filled larger roles? Will the offensive structure deviate from the classic Boston vert-stack look? Will their new offense score efficiently enough to get their experience-laden defense on the field?
This team has 40 players listed on the roster, with no distinction between practice players and those who are expected to play in games. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Coach Sam Rosenthal is using the depth of his talented menagerie as both a smokescreen for other teams and to hedge his bets with respect to which players will prove themselves worthy of spots in the the rotation as the season progresses.
The Boston Whitecaps will be a team working to gel on offense as the season opens, which will likely result in some early season hiccoughs. They have the defense in place to overcome offensive errors, but there is the distinct possibility that they will dig a few holes too deep to crawl out of early in the season. How this team weathers the early season learning period will be a bellweather for the rest of their 2015 campaign. If the new-look offense proves itself a steady and seaworthy ship, Boston has retained a defensive side which will push them to the top of the league. If the offense falters into inconsistency, it will be a long season of playing the comeback game on defense.