After three weeks of the 2012 MLL season, only two unbeaten teams remain.
By Week 5, there will only be one.
The final two undefeated teams in Major League Lacrosse are set to square off Saturday at 7 p.m. with the Outlaws hosting the defending MLL Champion Boston Cannons at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Last season the Cannons took two-of-three games that the teams played one another. The road team won all three matchups a year ago, but all were tightly contested – two games were decided by one goal with the other resulting a three-point Boston win.
“Obviously it is a big game and a great opportunity to really see how we stack up and where we are,” Head Coach Jim Stagnitta said on the MLL conference call Wednesday. “We’re still putting the pieces together, we’re a little banged up going into this one, but the guys have responded at every level to every opportunity we’ve had thus far. I think everyone is excited about the opportunity, but we also understand that we need to step it up still another level to be able to compete with Boston. They are very, very talented and we’re looking forward to finding out where we are at this point.”
The Outlaws attack got a boost last week with the return of Brendan Mundorf and Jordan McBride from the NLL. Those two, coupled with the return of Josh Sims from a year away from lacrosse has given the Outlaws a formidable attack unit.
Last week in Denver’s 19-11 win over Long Island Mundorf, McBride and Sims combined for nine goals and a pair of assists.
“We have a lot of different guys who have stepped up and contributed at different times and I think that has been a key,” Stagnitta said. “We started the season a little light on the attack side and this weekend we were really able to shore that up by adding (attackman Brendan) Mundorf and (attackman Jordan) McBride to the mix. We certainly got points from each of those guys. We were counting heavily on (attackman/midfielder) Josh Sims to really give us a foundation down there.”
Joe Yevoli, who registered six points in the team’s first two games is another player who has found success after several years out of Major League Lacrosse.
Boston counters with a veteran attack line of its own. Ryan Boyle has been the feeder for the Cannons, and has posted a league-best 12 assists through the first three weeks of the season.
Boyle, along with Ari Sussman and Matt Poskay have combined for 17 goals, while Kevin Buchanan posted a hat trick in his first game of the 2012 season last week.
The Outlaws relied heavily on their midfielders for offense early in the season while waiting for some key attackman to return from the NLL. Now that the attackman reinforcements have arrived, the Outlaws hope to become more balanced offensively.
Jeremy Sieverts has been the surprise story of the MLL this season, going from not dressing in a game for Chesapeake last season to the league’s scoring leader entering Week 4 of 2012.
Sieverts, who leads the league in both goals (11) and points (17), has used his unique blend of size and strength to present matchup nightmares for defenders thus far.
Peet Poillon is tied for third in the league with eight goals on the year and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Terry Kimener has fit the offensive scheme well in the early portion of the season, posting multiple assists in each game for the Outlaws.
“Early on the midfielders were certainly our go-to guys and that is where we started all of our offense,” Stagnitta said. “We’ve had some pretty even contributions across the board there and I think that’s really where the offensive explosion has come from, that balance. While (midfielder) Jeremy (Sieverts) has been off to a great start, (midfielder) Terry Kimener and certainly (midfielder) Peet Poillon have done their parts each and every week.”
Boston’s midfield is led by one of the league’s top players, reigning MLL MVP Paul Rabil. He’s been up to his own high level of play thus far and is tied for second in the league with 16 points on the year. Rabil has been dangerous as a shooter and a distributer with seven goals and nine assists through three weeks of play.
“Boston is talented from to bottom,” Stagnitta said. “Watching them on film, there aren’t a lot of weaknesses. You have to concentrate on (midfielder Paul) Rabil but they have a couple of other guys too.”
Mike Stone (7 goals) is another scoring threat from midfield for the Cannons with J.J. Morrissey, Brad Ross and Pat Heim familiar names on the midfield line for the defending MLL Champs.
The Outlaws’ veteran defense is anchored by MLL All-Decade Team member Lee Zink. All-Stars Matt Bocklet and Eric Martin have returned to their old form that helped Denver set a league single-season record for fewest goals allowed during the 2011 season.
Dillon Roy has had a strong start to the season and Matt Bernier has scooped up 11 ground balls in his first MLL campaign.
Goalie Jesse Schwartzman, who is coming off a MLL-record setting season has allowed just 28 goals and ranks third in the league with 30 saves.
“We rely heavily on Jesse and Lee,” Stagnitta said. “We have some young guys around them and it was important to draw from their leadership and experience.”
For Boston, Kyle Sweeney, Brian Farrell, P.T. Ricci and Jack Reid have combined with goalie Jordan Burke to hold opponents off the board.
The Cannons 24 goals allowed are the fewest in the league among teams that have played three games. They set a league record by holding Rochester to just three goals in their season debut.
Burke has been a major reason for the Cannons’ defensive success as he leads league goalies in goals against average (8.0), saves (40) and save percentage (.625).
Chris Mattes had started the year for the Outlaws winning 24-of-40 (.600 pct.) but has been sidelined with an injury.
The Outlaws received a pleasant surprise last week when rookie faceoff specialist Stephan Robarge won 17-of-30 faceoffs in his MLL debut, en route to winning the Cascade MLL Rookie of the Week.
“It was huge – that was unbelievable,” Stagnitta said of Robarge’s debut. “He’s a technician as a faceoff guy and I’ve been very impressed with that part of it. He certainly was unflappable.”
Robarge will face another tough battle this week against MLL faceoff leader Chris Eck, who has won 53-of-87 faceoffs (.609 pct.) on the year. His 20 ground balls are also tops in the league this year. Eck lead the league in 2011 as well, winning 156-of-262 (.595 pct.) faceoffs.
“I’ve watched Chris Eck play and he’s a tremendous competitor and a great face-off guy,” Robarge told MLL.com earlier this week. “But what I’m going to do is use the same method as him. If he gets the clamp I’m just going to work hard and drive into him and just make sure it’s a 50/50 ground ball. I’d like to think that nobody will out hustle me on a face-off. So I’m going to use that and I’ll get strong wing play from my wing guys. That’s basically what I’m going to try and do. Tie him up and again out-hustle him.”
Matchup to Watch
Battle of the Jays
Schwartzman defended shots from Rabil during practice at Johns Hopkins for three seasons (2005-07), while Bocklet and Rabil squared off in practices during the 2007 season.
Schwartzman and Rabil won a pair of NCAA National Championships together as teammates (2005, ’07), with Bocklet joining for the 2007 victory. but Saturday it’ll be Bocklet and Schwartzman doing their best to shut down the two-time MLL MVP.