6/28/10 12:00 AM
By Heather Crowley
The Denver Outlaws sit at a crossroads in their 2010 season. After suffering another fourth quarter meltdown last week against the Chicago Machine the Outlaws now sit at 4-3 and have to regroup if they expect to be playing in Annapolis in late August. But wins will not come easily from here on out beginning this week when the Outlaws face one of the toughest opponents in league in the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
All conventional wisdom points to an Outlaws win. This will be Denver’s first home game since May 29 and the fourth of July game typically draws record high crowds. After going 2-2 on their month long road trip the Outlaws will look to get back on track at home in front of a raucous crowd eager to see their team and some fireworks.
“Everything seems to go smoother at home,” Denver head coach Brian Reese said. “We are in more control over some things at home than we are on the road. It’s nice being back in our locker rooms and in front of our home fans. Plus, with the crowd they are expecting, it should give us an extra boost.”
Despite the creature comforts of Invesco Field at Mile High the only word to describe this matchup is a battle. In their first meeting of the season, just two weeks ago, Denver looked to be firing on all cylinders. They handed the Bayhawks their first home loss of the season and knocked Chesapeake out of first place in the league. Behind solid midfield play, the 20-16 win also proved that the Outlaws offense can become one of the elite scoring units in the league.
Chesapeake is having a similar helter skelter season. The Bayhawks high scoring offense has managed to keep its rhythm but defensively the fundamentals have broken down. Chesapeake desperately needs to find a way to win after starting 4-1 and leading in the league standings they now sit at 4-3 and hoping to avoid a three-game losing streak.
It’s probably too early to call this a must win game for either team, but with both teams currently flirting with .500, the team that falls moves closer to their playoffs dreams being squandered.
“There is fine line this year between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs,” Mudorf said. “There are a lot of teams this year with similar records. When you play a team twice you definitely want to have 2 wins instead of 1-1, which could make a difference in having a spot or not having a spot in a few weeks.”
A critical point of the game for the Outlaws will be faceoffs. The Bayhawks, with faceoff specialist Alex Smith, lead the league in faceoff percentage at .607. Even in the loss against Toronto, Smith managed to out muscle his opponent and win 21 of 32. In his past three games he has posted a faceoff percentage of .635.
Denver is still looking for consistency at the faceoff X. In their last game, against Chicago, Outlaws rookie Andrew Hennessey played made his MLL debut and took all the draws winning just 16 of 36. Hennessey proved that despite his incredible collegiate success at the faceoff x there is a learning curve for rookies in the MLL.
Another major point of contention for the Outlaws will be taking advantage of the power play. Denver still holds league’s the best power play percentage at 48% but cannot afford to squander any opportunities against a Bayhawks team that can score in a hurry.
Finally, Denver needs to finish well. This loomed as a problem going all the way to last season as the Outlaws entered the fourth quarter of the title game with a one goal lead and could not hold on. The Outlaws have struggled mightily in the fourth quarter this season as well. In its past four games Denver has been outscored 21-9 in the fourth quarter. In their last game, the Outlaws were winning by one goal with just over eight minutes remaining and ended up losing by five.
“It’s not our personnel it’s our poise,” Reese said. “We talked about it earlier this year and we got to respond better when we go down by a goal or go down by two goals instead of letting things implode. We need to stick to the game plan.”
If they don’t stick to their game plan Reese knows his team could be in trouble against a talented Chesapeake team. “They have a lot of talent and are a very prepared team,” he said. “Coach Tucker always does a good job of mixing things up and giving us something to be prepared for. They have lost a few in a row but we also lost our last time out so I expect to see 2 hungry teams.”
2010 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior
August 21-22, Annapolis, MD
For information and tickets go to www.majorleaguelacrosse.com