In 2016 the Ohio Machine scored 39 goals initiating from X. Steele Stanwick and John Grant Jr., who both retired this offseason, combined to score 14 of those goals and assist on eight more.
Finding a replacement at X was the top priority for the Machine. On draft day the team traded up, sending the seventh and 12th overall picks to Chesapeake for a chance to select Connor Cannizzaro fifth overall. The rookie out of Denver has been at his best in unsettled situations and competing for 50-50 groundballs. Cannizzaro has provided a solid punch from behind the cage – canning 7 of his 22 unassisted shots (31.8%) – but he’s not a high usage workhorse at X.
Without a ball-dominant X attackman, the Machine has been initiating from behind the cage sparingly, spending only 7.4 possessions per game at X (fourth-fewest in MLL). However, those possessions have helped jumpstart the offense at crucial moments. The man starting most of them: Former collegiate attackman Peter Baum.
Baum is shooting 7-for-15 (46.7%) when inverting at X; from anywhere else on the field, he’s finishing 10-for-43 (23.2%) off the dodge. He’s so fast that even the best short-sticks in the league whiff when trying to land a cross-check. His unorthodox sidearm release is so tough to read, plus it improves his angle as he soars above goal-line extended.
Marcus Holman (38.5% unassisted when dodging from X) can blow by short-sticks off the dodge, too. The Machine hasn’t replaced Stanwick with another consistent presence at X; instead, it has taken mismatches behind the cage to be exploited. No team is more efficient below goal-line extended than Ohio (15.7 points per 45 possessions initiated at X).
At X Baum’s passing prowess is on full display. Out of inverts, he has six assists and one turnover on the season. Process that for a moment. I know, it’s a small sample size, but among players with 10+ assists this season, only seven had as many assists as turnovers. When the defense slides from Baum’s mirroring teammate, he’ll thread a cross-crease pass to the backside pipe for an easy dunk.
That’s a high-level pass, but that window is typically smothered by the second slide. Most traditional midfielders will keep spinning the ball if the mirror isn’t open. Baum’s background as an attackman helps him find the cracks in the recovery, regardless of where the defense slides from.
Here’s the same look to the other side. This time, the Denver Outlaws crash down to Cannizzaro on the backside pipe, which leaves the Machine with a four-on-three at the top of the arc. Baum keeps his head up after his initial read is covered and finds the open man up top.
Like most midfields in MLL, Ohio’s first line is a nightmare to match up with. Bumping up a second pole to stop Baum, Tom Schreiber, and Kyle Harrison leads to problems down low. Leaving a short-stick on two of those three ain’t much more appealing.
How will defenses answer these inverts in the postseason? The Florida Launch rank first in MLL allowing only 12.8 points per 45 possessions initiated at X (although most of those possessions are spent dodging Tucker Durkin). Inverts are a whole different beast.
The Launch short-sticks are bruisers; but can they knock Baum off his course? If not, will the Launch sink into an invert zone?
It may seem strange to fret over an action that is only deployed a few times each game. Inverting Baum to X is only a tiny portion of what the Machine does well offensively — but those scarcely utilized, under-scouted actions often decide playoff games. Every team in MLL knows its opponent’s tendencies. Getting to your spots in August is as difficult as ever. In Baum, the Machine has a versatile MVP candidate who can sting a two-bomb or throw it back to his college days with an invert.