A short-stick defensive midfielder has never won the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year Award. Only Josh Hawkins, who received two second place votes in 2016, has been nominated (since voting results were released in 2014). It’s an unsung position, but a dominant defensive midfielder like the Ohio Machine’s Dominique Alexander can drastically impact the way you play defense.
Part of the reason why short-stick defenders are underappreciated is the lack of statistics surrounding the position. When success is measured by “not getting beat cleanly,” grading out the position becomes incredibly subjective. Some teams slide more quickly to their short-sticks; others allow them to compete on an island. Defense is too team-oriented to credit any goal, any shot or any stop to one individual. Dive into the team stats, and there’s no question that Alexander’s presence is crucial to the Machine’s success.
The Machine allowed a league-low 11.9 points per 45 possessions initiated from the midfield – a full 3 points fewer per 45 possessions than the MLL average. Alexander and long-stick midfielder Brian Karalunas are the mainstays; other short-sticks have rolled through the lineup, from Jake Bernhardt to Mike Birney to Mike Messenger to, most recently, Pat Harbeson and Tyler Pfister. Through all those personnel changes, Alexander and Karalunas have been there.
Alexander’s approaches ooze confidence – in both himself and in the system. The Machine wants Alexander (and the rest of its defenders) to press out on hands. They make you work while you substitute, and they refuse to let you catch from where you’d like to start your dodge. If a defender gets beat, then they can slide to support him. Alexander rarely gets run by, though – and he challenges ball carriers so far away from the net that the net isn’t even on the screen. (Uh, unless you’re in Ohio. Then the net is always on the screen.)
The extra length of the stick is noticeable when you’re closing out on hands or trying to surprise a dodging player with a slide. Mitch Belisle – who switches between longpole and short-stick – would have disrupted this play with a six-foot pole. Very few short-sticks can cover this type of ground – and even more importantly, recognize when an offensive midfielder is being put in a pick-and-roll situation.
Alexander (8CT) finished fifth among short-sticks in caused turnovers behind Will Haus (11CT), Domenic Sebastiani (10), Mark Glicini (9) and Harbeson (9). His teammates – the Faceless Men! – were the ones piling up the stats. Matt McMahon (33CT), Brian Karalunas (33CT), Jackson Place (28CT) and Steven Waldeck (18CT) all finished in the top-12. Many of those caused turnovers were assisted by Alexander, who impeded his man’s progress as his teammates doubled down.
There aren’t many offensive players who can post up Alexander. So many physical midfielders create offense either by backing down their defenders or by bull-dodging them toward the middle of the field before rolling back. Alexander holds his own against both types of dodgers, and his teammates foam at the mouth for opportunities to blindside the ball carrier.
The Machine’s defensive rotations are so crisp whether they’re at even strength or man-down. The Faceless Men killed off a league-high 81.3% of penalties this season. The lone short-stick on that unit: Dominique Alexander.
Extra-man units in this league have no trouble creating their shots. A couple passes into their initial circle, and a skip lane is already open. The sticks are so dialed in that expecting a defense to outrun the ball is a fool’s errand. Alexander and the Machine manage to do it – watch him split two as he anticipates this skip from Jeremy Sieverts, before blocking Zach Currier’s stepdown look. (Sidenote: Yes, he did proceed to run this across midfield for the one-man man-down clear.)
Alexander’s role in this defense won’t be recognized at Friday night’s MLL Honors ceremony, but it’ll be pivotal for Ohio’s hopes to hoist the Steinfeld Trophy on Saturday night. The Denver Outlaws have the league’s best midfield offense, scoring 18.1 points per 45 possessions initiated from up top. The Outlaws’ offensive midfield against the Machine’s defensive midfield is a classic, strength-on-strength matchup made for the championship stage.