This wasn’t how anyone planned for the 2020 MLL Champions to be decided, but not much is going to plan in 2020, especially in the sports world.
How We Got Here
There’s been some information coming out about the evolving situation in Annapolis, but a lot is still unknown. The quick summary is that the MLL Championship this afternoon will be decided by what was a prescheduled semifinal matchup. Following Friday’s games between the Bayhawks and Hammerheads, and the Outlaws and Cannons, a Bayhawks player saw a trainer with possible COVID-19 symptoms. He received a test and the results were positive. That resulted the enacting their protocol for this situation which involved contact tracing, risk assessment, and additional testing for others.
This additional testing found more positive cases.
The end result was Chesapeake withdrawing and the Hammerheads elected to not continue playing given the change in the risk landscape of staying there. The Outlaws and Cannons felt since they had played each other and had no positive test on their teams arose to keep playing.
There you have it, a Cannons/Outlaws final. What does this mean for the actual lacrosse on the field?
Not Friday’s Game
Interestingly enough, when these teams met in Friday, it provided a bit of a preview for this game, but also, not really. Since the game had no postseason impact on seedings or even getting in, neither team showed their full hand to each other. Even living legend John Grant Jr. opted for a whiteboard instead of a stick, leading from the sidelines.
Speaking only in broad terms, Denver is in a much better position to hoist the trophy after the game is over. They won the top seed because they truly earned it. Grow game one, they really did look like the best and most complete team in the field.
Boston is the team with a reloaded offense still trying to learn how to play their best game together. They’ve had flashed of brilliance this week, but no complete game. At this point, they only need to do it once.
Let’s take a look at the matchups.
On Friday, the Cannons actually rested their primary starter Nick Marrocco and let backup Dom Madonna play. The crazy plot twist here was that Madonna actually had an outstanding game against the Outlaws. That should not mean the Cannons Captain and multi-year starter Marrocco will all of a sudden be on the sidelines for this game.
The Outlaws have been starting Christian Knight and switching to rookie Nick Washuta mid-game. The advantage of this approach is the Knight/Washuta combo also switches from a righty goalie to a lefty. While that’s relatively minor difference, it can (and has) brought havoc on opposing shooters, giving the outlaws the second best scoring defense in the league.
While the numbers of this week may be better for Denver, I’ll give the advantage to Boston. They have a more consistency with Marrocco, and they now have a great backup if case things aren’t going well.
This is one place that should be a grueling battle. Both teams have two FOGOs, and both of their starters have dealt with injuries this week.
Max Adler from Denver was suffering from dehydration earlier in the campaign and was admitted to a local hospital. He was ready to play the next day, but the coaches held him out, allowing backup Casey Dowd to take a game’s worth of reps. In his first game back, Adler was dominant. The two continued to split time in the Boston game Friday.
Boston really tries to stick with Kevin Reisman taking as many draws as possible before putting in Nate Farrell. In Boston’s game against Connecticut, Reisman was visibly hurting, and against Denver Farrell took two thirds of the face-offs.
Going back to last year, the Adler/Reisman battle was fierce. When on the field, there is no friendship between the two and it turns into an emotional battle.
He’s ready and he’s lethal, so advantage Adler.
Even though defense was one of those most stable positions for Boston, and most volatile for Denver in the offseason, the Outlaws unit has been great.
Rookie Tom Rigney has meshed seamlessly with Michael Rexrode and company. Denver’s real defensive strength is the midfield. Andrew Newbold at LSM with Charlie Hayes at SSDM are an impressive duo. Brian Begley and Pat Aslanian are also making plays on a regular basis in the most exposed position on the field.
On the other side of the field, Justin Pugal has been the top cover guy for Boston and he’s been phenomenal. Combining him with Michael Skudin and Scott Hooper and Charlie Ford has proven to be a great defense that can matchup well with any attackman. The Cannons midfield group is led by SSDM Zach Goodrich, who has Matt Gilray and Tim Edwards primarily at his side.
It may sound like a cop-out, but this one has called a draw.
Each one of these defenses is just as capable of locking down their opponent even as they are of having some momentary lapses. Whoever is able to be the most consistent for 60 minutes could be the biggest factor in deciding a champion.
The Cannons offense still has the most question marks surrounding it. The talent is there. Randy Staats is good for a highlight each game. Bryce Wasserman has been remarkably consistent with his dodging from behind to the tune of a goal or two every game in the exact same way. Mark Cockerton may be the most dangerous shooter in the league when his hands are free, and sometimes not even with that qualifier. Even dropping John Uppgren has proved to be an effective change of pace that yields immediate production.
The midfield is where consistency is needed. Challen Rodgers, Kyle Jackson, and Bryan Cole could be the best midfield line in the league, but they still are not all on the same page.
Denver, on the other hand, is radiating consistency. John Grant Jr. will be coming off of two full days of rest in what could be his last hurrah. The real story has been Ryan Lee, who has been nothing short of electric all week as a human highlight reel. While going into the week, it was thought Mikie Schlosser would be the number one threat for the Outlaws, but it has actually turned into running rookie Daniel Bucaro out of the box. He has been essentially un-gaurdable and demands a slide at the ready whenever he has the ball. Mixing in the speedy Jack Jasinski along with Chris Aslanian and Miles Silva as regular contributors, there seem to always be points to go around.
The advantage on the offensive front goes to Denver.
Who Becomes MLL Champions?
This author is not one to make predictions and not a betting man either.
The reason why is that any prediction has to come with a massive set of assumptions. If both teams play at their absolute best, the Cannons can with this head-to-head. That game would look like Denver winning more face-offs, but the Cannons defense causing just enough turnovers to make up for it. In that situations, the Cannons offense has to be hitting on all cylinders with the ball staying in the air and every member of their starting six either scoring or assisting each other.
That would be an awesome game.
Where it looks things will go, Boston will play well and Denver will pull out a win by a few points. If Junior is on his game, he’ll be feeding Ryan Lee all game long. Once the attack is able to garner more attention, that’s when the Denver midfield can go to work. The relentless pressure of Denver’s offense should prove to be to much and give the Outlaws another title.
With all of that said, get ready for nothing like that to take place. Pro lacrosse is a seemingly unpredictable world and only one this is guaranteed this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN?
A great lacrosse game.
Crowning MLL Champions
No. 1 Denver Outlaws vs No. 4 Boston Cannons
Sunday, July 26, 2020 at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN