By: Justin Lafleur
The 13th summer of Major League Lacrosse wrapped up with Chesapeake winning its second straight Championship on Sunday. An outstanding weekend of lacrosse at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. saw a monumental upset and a close finish on Semifinal Saturday before the veteran Bayhawks prevailed on Sunday. I was there and had these observations from the weekend.
Every MLL Roster is stacked
As the 7-7 Charlotte Hounds were jumping out to a big first-quarter lead over the 14-0 Denver Outlaws, this thought crossed my mind. Charlotte has a very talented roster. I bet if the teams played 100 times, Denver may win more times than not, but I would bet the Hounds win at least 40 times. They have Matt Danowski (the second-leading scorer in NCAA history), Mike Sawyer (2012 Tewaaraton Award Finalist and owner of the fastest shot in lacrosse history) and Jake Tripucka (of the 2013 National Champion Duke Blue Devils), just to name a few. You could even make the argument they’re more talented than Denver.
The team who gels collectively and plays best on a given day will win.
Just look at Ohio, which features impressive star power like Steele Stanwick (Virginia), Marcus Holman (North Carolina), Logan Schuss (Ohio State) and more. The Machine finished 2-12 this season. When you’re essentially going up against an All-Star Team every week, someone has to lose. Top-to-bottom, this league is stacked with talent. Cracking the lineup is a feat in itself.
Goalie play in Major League Lacrosse is outstanding
Don’t look at stats. Go to a Major League Lacrosse game and you will see the best goalies in the world. Watching on TV doesn’t do the goalies justice. Players in the league are strong, fast and talented. Coupled with a 60-second shot clock, there is nonstop action. Granted, there are a few last-second desperation shots to avoid a shot clock violation (which MLL goalies gobble up), but those are few and far between. More times than not, the offense gets off a quality shot with players who can pick corners from any distance… and MLL goalies continue to stand up to the challenge.
Use the eye test. There was one second-half stretch in the Hamilton-Chesapeake semifinal that Brett Queener and Kip Turner were trading spectacular point-blank saves. You see very few “soft” goals in Major League Lacrosse. With only eight teams, these are the eight best goalies in the world. Only 16 goalies are on active rosters per week. The fact that Queener owns a 59% save percentage for the season is pretty incredible. You’ll consistently see goalies across the league stop in excess of 50 percent of the shots sent their way. Just go to a game and you’ll be amazed.
So hard to go undefeated
Denver enjoyed a great season, but they’re the latest team to fall just short of going undefeated. A recent, well-known case was when the 2007 New England Patriots went a perfect 16-0 in the regular season before losing to the New York Giants (a Wild Card team) in the Super Bowl.
The Outlaws played with amazing consistency, but ultimately fell flat when it mattered most. They should be very proud of what they accomplished. Upsets happen, especially in one-game elimination formats. Denver lost to a surging Charlotte team which really came together down the stretch and was a tough out for Chesapeake on Sunday.
College vs. Professional
I have seen many more college games than professional, but every time I’ve been to an MLL game, I haven’t been disappointed. You could say they’re different games, but I say they’re variations of the great game of lacrosse.
Just look at basketball. In college hoops, there’s a 35-second shot clock featuring a lot more fast break, team-oriented play while in the NBA, the shot clock is 24 seconds with more half-court, isolation, one-on-one play. Different people prefer different games, but it’s still basketball. There are plenty of fans of both college and pro, so there’s no reason to have to pick one over the other.
There’s also the two-point goal in Major League Lacrosse, which some fans may think is a “gimmick.” The two-point shot was on display this weekend, beginning with a pair of two-pointers from the Hounds in the first quarter against Denver, and a half-field two-pointer from Danowski as time expired on Sunday. To score from the two-point distance is impressive, especially against these goalies (see above), so why not award two points? It keeps teams in games, giving them hope for a comeback with fans on the edge of their seats.
Something I love about college lacrosse is the value of each possession. Faceoffs are that much more important because you’re less certain when you’ll get the ball back. When you lessen the number of possessions in each game, it makes those possessions that much more meaningful with edge-of-your-seat excitement. The negatives are when teams stall, which is not good for the game. Major League Lacrosse created the 60-second shot clock to create an up-and-down tempo.
Like anything, both have their positives and negatives, but I like to appreciate each product for what it is. If you’ve only watched college lacrosse, I’d recommend checking out a pro game. If you’ve only watched MLL games, be sure to check out a college contest. The games can’t be that different… just look at Charlotte as an example (with more than one third of its lineup as rookies including Mike Sawyer, who was named Player of the Game in Charlotte’s semifinal win).
Players come from all different schools
You don’t have to come from Johns Hopkins or Duke or Virginia to succeed at the MLL level. There are plenty of examples: Brett Queener of Albany, Kevin Cunningham of Villanova, Drew Westervelt of UMBC. The league does a pretty good job of identifying under the radar talent, often drafting several Division II and Division III players as well. Talent comes from all over.
State of Major League Lacrosse
If there’s any doubt Major League Lacrosse is more than a “pick-up league,” watching an MLL game will erase any doubts. You see passion, fire and intensity. Players play for pride more than anything else, but they are professionals. They get paid. It’s refreshing to see players who are first and foremost playing for the love of the game; any financial compensation is a bonus. While they’re playing for this love, they are paving the way for the future when hopefully one day, players can play for a living.
There are signs that the league is on its way. The MLL has been in existence for 13 years, a positive sign in itself. It has television deals with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and streams games on YouTube. The MLL must be doing something right. There’s still a long way to go to reach its ultimate goal, but it won’t happen overnight.
Ultimately, the veterans win out
It’s incredible to see players like John Grant Jr. and Casey Powell still succeeding in lacrosse. Both in their late 30s, they were key cogs in the Bayhawks’ second straight championship and fourth in their history. Grant Jr. scored four goals on five shots to earn MVP of Championship Weekend, while Powell had a goal and two assists. In this case, the veteran Bayhawks won out, but Charlotte showed that age is just a number.