Almost midway through the season, coach Brendan Kelly says the Chesapeake Bayhawks haven't put together a single complete game. And it's hard to blame the reigning MLL champions — in the past month they've hit the road for four consecutive away games, all the while shuffling the lineup through injuries and the end of the collegiate season.
Still, after drawing a split on their road trip, the Bayhawks (3-2) return to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium this weekend just one game back of first place. Chesapeake's opponent is none other than first-place Boston, who beat the Bayhawks three weeks ago in Cambridge.
"Being 3-2, we haven't had our guys click yet," Kelly said. "It's actually kind of a scary thought."
After a thrilling overtime victory over Denver on June 11, Chesapeake had just five days to fly cross-country and regroup before facing off against Long Island last Thursday. The Bayhawks sprinted out to a five-goal lead, but the Lizards roared back in the second half, scoring seven straight goals en route to a 14-11 victory. Kelly said there were some positives to take away from the game, however, as his squad managed more shots and ground balls than the Lizards.
Additionally, the Bayhawks debuted their new midfielder, Steve DeNapoli. In his first professional game, the Hofstra product managed one shot and three ground balls. DeNapoli has drawn rave reviews from his team; attacker Danny Glading called him an "amazing athlete" while Kelly praised his speed, hailing him as a "difference maker who brings a new dynamic" to the Bayhawks' offense.
DeNapoli gives Kelly another weapon in what was already one of the best midfields in the league. Many questioned how Chesapeake would replace the production of Peet Poillon, who the Bayhawks traded to Denver after he led the team with 24 goals in 2010. Michael Kimmel and Ben Hunt, a pair of rising stars in their second and third seasons, respectively, have answered the call. Kimmel has progressed nicely after last year's seven-goal campaign. The second overall selection of the 2010 MLL Draft has compiled eight goals this year to go along with four assists. Meanwhile, after a tweaked left hamstring held Hunt back at the beginning of the year, the Arnold native has notched nine scores and three assists in Chesapeake's last two contests.
If that's not enough, Kelly is expected to start Dan Hardy on Saturday. Hardy, the 2009 Rookie of the Year, was benched against Denver and Long Island because of matchup concerns.
"There are so many guys who can contribute on the offensive side of the field and it starts with the middies," Glading said. "It's huge for us to have them out there and break down defenses."
Boston stifled Chesapeake's midfielders early in their first meeting, as the Cannons took a 9-6 halftime advantage and never looked back.
"We just came out with a little fire in our bellies," Boston coach Bill Daye said. "We were a little more physical, we got up and challenged their midfielders. That's definitely the strength of their team and we know it."
In that game the Cannons got help from their own celebrated midfielder, Paul Rabil. The 2009 MLL MVP was held scoreless in the teams' semifinal showdown last summer, and he responded in Cambridge with seven points on five goals and two assists. While he is heralded as a prolific scorer, Rabil has adjusted to added pressure this season by doling out eight assists.
Kelly said the Bayhawks "took the Boston loss to heart and were very disappointed by the way they played." With nine days of rest and a return to Annapolis, Kelly thinks fans will see a rejuvenated Bayhawks squad on Saturday.
"They know what the job is at hand," Kelly said. "There are no whiteboard motivational speeches to get these guys motivated. They've got to come out here and respond and act like champions, which I think they'll do."