By Heather Crowley, Major League Lacrosse writer
After a hard fought 20-16 win over Chesapeake, the Denver Outlaws will play the final game of their month-long road trip against the Machine in Rochester, N.Y. on Friday. Coming off their pivotal road victory over the Bayhawks, who were undefeated at home until losing to Denver, the Outlaws are in a three-way tie for first place in the league with the Cannons and Bayhawks.
Nearing the All-Star break, Denver is perched in perfect position for another post-season run. The Outlaws will play four of their last six games at INVESCO Field where they hold an all-time record of 21-5 in the regular season. The Outlaws have become synonymous with the post-season, making the playoffs every year since joining the league in 2006. They have also never finished a season with less than seven regular season wins.
This year, MLL Championship Weekend, presented by Warrior, will take place August 21-22 in Annapolis.
Denver takes on a Machine team who has had a roller-coaster season so far. The season long road show started out well for the Machine, as they won three of their first four games. Since then, they have dropped two in a row and are now 3-3 on the year. In the history of the franchise, the Machine have never won more than three games in a single season.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams in the 2010 season and they enter the game in different places. While Denver is coming off an impressive win over first place Chesapeake, the Machine dropped their last game by eight goals to Boston. That blowout loss was only the second time all season the Machine was involved in a game that was decided by more than three goals. The Machine can hang with any team in the league and their games almost always come down to the finish, so the fourth quarter will be a critical part of the matchup this week.
But this season, the final quarter has not been the Outlaws’ best. In its past three games, Denver has been outscored 16-8 in the fourth quarter. The Machine, on the other hand, has only been outscored in the final quarter twice this season and both were by just one goal.
Denver will need to pay close attention to attackers Kevin and Mike Leveille, who are both shooting close to 50% on the season. The brothers lead the Machine in scoring, combining for 27 goals and 16 assists, and have become two of the best finishers in the league.
The Outlaws feature great scorers of their own. Attackers Brendan Mundorf, Drew Westervelt, Matt Brown and Midfielder Max Seibald lead a balanced attack, having all scored more than 13 goals on the season.
“We have a lot of good players and have been shuffling the lineup but everyone has remained positive and stepped up when they have gotten a chance,” Denver Head Coach Brian Reese said. “We need to work on our consistency. We should be at the same level from game to game and within games. We can’t have bad quarters; we just need to maintain our focus and consistency.”
Denver also saw three of its members selected to the 2010 MLL All-Star Team. Goalie Jesse Schwartzman, Defender Matt Bocklet and Attacker Dan Hardy will all play against the US Men’s National Team in Boston on July 8. Schwartzman has a 4-1 record and posted a 12.02 GAA during the five games he’s been in net, with a .542 save percentage. The US team also features six Denver Outlaws, the most from any single team in the league. Mundorf, Westervelt, Seibald, Defenders Eric Martin, Lee Zink and Goalie Adam Fullerton will represent the United States both at the All-Star Game and in the World Games this July in Manchester, England.
Machine Goalies Bud Petit and Mike Gabel both sit at the bottom of the league in goalie’s stats with GAAs of 13.64 and 13.20 respectively. This matchup greatly favors a high scoring Denver offense. Against one of the toughest defenses in the league versus Chesapeake, the Outlaws posted 20 goals; their highest scoring total this season. If this is a sign of things to come, it could be a long game for The Machine.
“It was great that our offense got going last week,” Reese said. “It shows that when we do the right things on offense, we can be very good. We moved the ball well, went hard to the goal and worked to get each other open. If we do that, we should have success against anyone.”
Despite success last week Denver still needs to put together a complete game. The defense racked up 11.5 penalty minutes and could not completely shut down Chesapeake. Look for Denver’s offense to get going early. This outing could be the perfect opportunity for all of the Outlaws to get on the same page and play an all around unified game.
You can see the game live on Universal Sports and ESPN3.com and follow our Live Blog and Chat presented by Warrior.com beginning at 7:15 PM ET on game night.