With the amount of sharpshooting, pin point passing and slick inside finishing we see in the MLL today, it is no wonder defenses are wracking their brain to figure out a way to get a stop. This past weekend, when the New York Lizards visited the Atlanta Blaze, we saw a defensive adjustment we rarely see in the MLL.
With 4 minutes and 39 seconds left in the 1st quarter, the New York Lizards dropped into their defensive half awaiting a clear from the Blaze. As Scott Ratliff drops the ball off for Chris Bocklet and the ball gets swung around X to James Pannell and Dylan Donahue, the short stick defensive midfielders for the Lizards, Chris LaPierre and Tyler German, curiously ran toward goal line extended and the 4 long sticks, Kyle Hartzell, Kyle Understein, Joe Fletcher, and Kyle Sweeney formed a diamond up top.
As the midfielders came on for the Blaze, they set up in a 2-3-1, intelligently spacing offensive players in between each defenders zone. As you can see in the clip below, Kyle Hartzell, the right wing defender in their diamond zone, has to rotate up to meet Colin Dunster. That pulls short stick defensive midfielder Chris LaPierre up to the righty wing to guard Terry Kimener. This leaves James Pannell sneaking from X and a righty jump shot from the wing that just sails high of the goal.
This will be one of the few good looks the Blaze will create all game against the Lizard’s zone defense. The Lizard’s strategically implemented their zone 7 times throughout the game to keep the Blaze offense off balance.
In many possessions when they would end up in their inverted zone defense, they would start the possession in man-to-man defense. Then after a shot, they would quickly switch to their zone.
After a shot off the pipe by Pannell, and the shot clock resets, New York, interestingly, decides to stay in the zone. However, their zone is very effective and leads to a 2 point attempt by Pannell that is blocked and then a low angle shot by Bocklet which leads to a groundball for Adams and another successful defensive effort by the Lizards.
The Lizards found success with their zone throughout the game. But it was most effective after a shot by the Blaze and low time on the shot clock.
With 25 seconds left on the shot clock and the Lizards in man to man defense, Matt Mackrides uses a pick from Greg Coholan to feed James Pannell on the crease. With that shot going wide and only 19 seconds left in the shot clock, the Lizards catch the Blaze off balance by implementing their zone. The Blaze get in a 1-4-1 and try to find a seam but end up having to settle for a low angle wing shot by Pannell with 1 second on the shot clock and Joe Fletcher closing on his hands.
Against a team who struggles to find assisted goals — Atlanta ranks second to last in assisted shooting percentage (25.3%) — it was a great coaching decision to play zone defense. While a lot of the Blaze’s offensive firepower still fulfilling NLL duties, this was a great chance for the Lizards to get comfortable jumping in and out of their zone and rotating accordingly. I will not be surprised if we continue to see the Lizards defense continue to throw their zone at different teams throughout the season.