Wil Denver remain the team to beat?
Quint Kessenich shares his thoughts as the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game approaches:
Denver let a key game slip away against Boston on July 4 at Invesco Field before a record crowd of 21,000. Denver has the league's premier attack with Drew Westervelt, Brendan Mundorf and Matt Brown clicking. Coach Brian Reese's squad has been riddled by injuries: Kyle Harrison, Brett Hughes, Eric Martin and Josh Sims all have missed time recuperating.
The Outlaws must find a dodging midfielder who can draw the slide and must improve their face-off percentage if they hope to win two games in Annapolis on Aug. 22 and 23. Denver's schedule for the rest of the regular season: at Washington, a home-and-home with Long Island and at Toronto. Outlaws fans can book their travel to BWI on Southwest Airlines for the New Balance Championship weekend.
Long Island (5-3)
Long Island has been buoyed by a stingy defense and hard-nosed ground-ball play. The offense, however, often sleeps through the alarm. Long Island is last in the league in assists and doesn't get the ball flowing well on offense. Coach Jim Mule dealt rookie Mark Kovler to Chicago for rookie John Glynn at the trade deadline.
The move makes sense. Glynn is a native of Lindenhurst, N.Y., and is a much-needed passer at the midfield. Can Long Island make a run for the 2009 Steinfeld Cup? It's possible as long as Brian Dougherty is in goal. "Doc" leads the MLL in all-time saves and wins.
The Cannons have four one-goal losses -- three to Long Island. The latest came on July 9. Boston was flat and dysfunctional on offense. Boston, on its best days, can beat anybody in the MLL.
After missing the playoffs in 2008, Boston added Ryan Boyle, Kyle Sweeney, Mitch Belisle, Ryan McClay, Mike Levin, Greg Downing, Kevin Cassese and Justin Smith and has the weapons to win it all.
The Cannons have a Hall of Fame-caliber one-two punch on offense with Ryan Boyle orchestrating from behind the goal and Paul Rabil dicing defenses from the top of the arc. If the Cannons can get solid play from goalie Levin and faceoff man Chris Eck (he's been plus-50 percent in the past five games), they will make some noise at New Balance Championship Weekend.
Toronto is floundering toward August after a quick start. But it has beaten the bottom-feeders of the league (Washington three times and Chicago once). Toronto has currently lost four straight.
The Nationals are the slowest team in the league and do not have a stable of midfield creators who can set up their world-class finishers (Merrick Thomson leads the MLL with 33 goals). Their strengths are defender Brodie Merrill, their pick-and-roll game on settled offense and their shooting percentage, which can bail them out of games. Will the return of 2008 MVP John Grant Jr. give them the juice to make a playoff run? Only three games remain and none is a cakewalk. The Nationals are at Long Island, host Boston and finish up with Denver at home on ESPN2 on Aug. 8.
The face-lift in Annapolis continues. Coach John Tucker has utilized 33 players and regularly plays seven rookies. Class of 2009 contributors include Matt Abbott, Jeff Reynolds, Ben Hunt, Dan Groot, P.T. Ricci, Michael Evans and Danny Glading. The Bayhawks have beaten Long Island twice and Chicago once.
Kyle Dixon has been the star, hitting the net eight times from 2-point range. Faceoff man Alex Smith is the MLL's best and Kevin Huntley has had some stellar nights. The theory is that Washington must win at least five games to have a shot at the last playoff slot; keep in mind they would lose the tiebreaker to Toronto. Washington plays Denver, then Chicago twice (ESPN2, Aug. 1) before concluding the regular slate at Boston.
Chicago is mathematically alive for the final playoff spot and fortunate to get to face Washington twice. It's all about the Leveille brothers in the Windy City. Kevin and Mike Leveille have combined for 63 points. Chicago has name talent on the roster, but it has not been producing for a variety of reasons.
Steven Brooks has been banged up; Terry Kimener and Billy McGlone have combined for only 14 points. Can Chicago defend? It held Denver to 11 goals in Week 1 but has been exposed on that half of the field on a weekly basis. Can Chicago get its save percentage above 50 percent?
Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at email@example.com.