It happened a week before it absolutely needed to, but everything fell into place in week 13. Four teams have booked their trips to Philly for Championship Weekend, and now that we know who they are, week 14 of the regular season is pretty much pointless, right? Come on, are you new here? This is Major League Lacrosse, of course it isn’t.
I’m not quite sure how or why, but this league has a knack for scheduling events months in advance, which retain their relevance remarkably well, as evidenced by Saturday’s Battle of the Philadelphia Four. (Denver vs. Hamilton, 3:00 p.m., CBS Sports; Charlotte vs. Chesapeake, 7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Granted, the Rattlers-Cannons matchup lost its main-event status when both teams were eliminated last weekend, but you can’t win ‘em all. Or can you?
Speaking of segues, the Denver Outlaws clinched their playoff spot sometime around Memorial Day and locked up the top seed about a week later, so this weekend would be a nice time for them to sit back and relax, if it weren’t for that whole “never losing a game, ever” thing they have going for them. They can finally see the finish line of a perfect regular season, only they have to defeat the # 2 team in the league to get there, because this is the MLL and of course they do.
See, even when there’s no pressure, there’s a ton of pressure!
Now, considering we’ll most likely see at least one of these matchups again during Championship Weekend, let’s not waste time getting too preview-y. There’s plenty of time for that sort of thing, but for now, let’s just discuss what’s on the line this weekend: playoff seeding.
If the Nationals beat the Outlaws on Saturday afternoon, not only do they become the answer to a trivia question, they lock up the # 2 seed heading to Philadelphia. If the Nationals lose, and Chesapeake beats Charlotte later that evening, the Bayhawks move into second place by virtue of a tiebreaker advantage over the Nationals. Now, if the Hounds beat the Bayhawks (regardless of Denver-Hamilton outcome), they switch places, and the # 4 seed Bayhawks take on the Outlaws in the first matchup of Championship Weekend.
Now that we’ve established seeding possibilities, do they really matter? Denver head coach Jim Stagnitta doesn’t think so, and he could certainly be right, but in the league’s history, only twice has the champion emerged from Championship Saturday’s second game, the matchup between #2 and #3 seeds. So it’s better to be the #4 seed than the #2 or #3, right?
Well, therein lies the dilemma: what if I told you that you’re statistically more likely to win the Steinfeld cup as a # 4 seed, only you have to defeat the (potentially) undefeated Outlaws the day before to get there? Is it worth it?
History notwithstanding, that #3 spot is likely on the minds of both Charlotte and Chesapeake this weekend (in addition to ending the year on a high note, of course). If you’re of the belief that the Denver Outlaws are the best team in the league (and that’s been a perfectly reasonable belief for quite a while), and you can play them on either two weeks rest or on 22 hours rest, I’d probably recommend the latter. Besides, one of those two teams to win it all from the #2 vs #3 spot? The 2012 Chesapeake Bayhawks. Great to have that stat on their side.
Win or lose, the Nationals are playing in the second semifinal game of Championship weekend, the only question is who their opponent will be. With that in mind, say you’re the Nationals: who are you rooting for on Saturday night? They were 1-1 against both Charlotte and Chesapeake (oddly enough, they won their first matchups in OT against both opponents) this season, but with their week 13 defeat fresh in their minds (not to mention Geoff Snider re-introducing himself to the league by laying Brett Queener out well after he’d passed the ball), they’ve most likely established a healthy contempt for the Charlotte Hounds.
You don’t pet baby bears in the wild, and you don’t mess with Canadians’ goalies. These things are just common knowledge.
But there we go, getting ahead of ourselves once again. It’s tough to keep from looking ahead when you’re so close to Championship Weekend, but week 14 is so pivotal it demands its own spotlight. It’s the final weekend of the MLL regular season, and for those moving on, there’s just one last piece of business to take care of.
Good luck to your squads, and be sure to check back here for more leading up to Championship Weekend.