5/28/10 9:40 AM
Toronto Weekly Update
By Redmond Zmudzien
After a 25-12 dismantling at the hands of the Chesapeake Bayhawks on Saturday Toronto is looking to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole this weekend. The Nationals are now 0-2 after winning the Major League Lacrosse Championship in 2009. Only one other defending champion in MLL history has ever started the following season 0-3; the 2005 Philadelphia Barrage. The now defunct franchise started off slow and then got blasted by the Bayhawks 31-9 in Week 3 to fall to 0-3 on the season. The Barrage never recovered from their slow start and finished the season at 4-8, which is exactly what Toronto is hoping to avoid.
Last weekend the Nationals were victimized by Chesapeake faceoff specialist Alex Smith who went a devastating 34-of-39 on faceoffs as the Bayhawks dominated possession. Toronto was forced to battle for groundballs on the wings to gain possession.
“Alex is a great faceoff guy,” said Toronto head coach Dave Huntley. “Our wing play was better than the week before, but still needs to get better if we are going to get the possessions we need.”
After dropping their season opener 16-9 to the Chicago Machine, Toronto was once again right behind the eight ball from the start when the Bayhawks scored less than a minute into the game.
“Chesapeake’s got a great team and I don’t think that was really a clear reflection of how we are as a team,” said Toronto defenseman Brodie Merrill. “We got a lot of new guys in the lineup and I think were still kind of finding ourselves a little bit.”
The Bayhawks seemed to dominate the midfield, in large part due to Smith, but the Nats had trouble in their transition offense, at times relying heavily on Merrill. Merrill is arguably the best player in the world and did his part on offense (one goal, one assist), but Toronto didn’t receive enough production from the rest of its squad.
“We’ve missed a lot of really what I would call easy chances. We’ve had some good chances, but one on one with the goalie, in close and either goalies make good saves or we flat out miss the net,” Huntley said.
This week, Toronto will play a rematch of last season’s MLL Championship game against Denver. The Outlaws will be looking for revenge after falling to the Nationals 10-9 in the title game, with Toronto potting the game winner with less than a minute to go.
“I think really [the Outlaws] were the class of the league last year throughout the regular season and have traditionally been one of the top teams in the league,” Merrill said.
Denver is coming off of a 13-10 victory over the Long Island Lizards, behind a dominant six point performance from midfielder Max Seibald. Seibald had three goals and three assists and was honored as the MLL Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. The Outlaws did so behind Tom Slate, who filled in as interim coach due to head coach Brian Reese’s one game suspension. Reese was suspended for coming into contact with a referee in a Week 1 loss to the Boston Cannons.
The Nationals will look to capitalize on Outlaws goalie Jesse Schwartzman’s slow start. The 2009 MLL Goalie of the Year is currently second to last in the league in goals allowed with 25, in front of only Toronto’s own Doc Schneider.
Shooting the ball on Denver’s side, Seibald is a dangerous player that the Nats will need to try to contain as he is second in the league in scoring with 11 points. If his team feels any sense of urgency after an 0-2 start though, Huntley isn’t letting on.
“We split the four games we had with [Denver] last year. They are very tough at INVESCO so we will need to be better than we were last week,” he said. “In a 12 game season every game is important. The only must win games are the ones where your season ends if you lose so at game three we are a long way from that.”
However, some Toronto players may start searching for answers if the Nationals fall to 0-3 this weekend.
“We’re certainly not panicking, but the deeper this goes the more important the games are so we got to play with a bit of a sense of urgency this weekend and get back on track,” Merrill said.
Toronto travels to Denver Saturday May 29 to take on the 1-1 Outlaws at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Faceoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST. This game can be seen live on ESPN3 and Cox Sports R.I. It can also be seen on tape delay on Universal Sports at 1 a.m. and May 30 at 2:30 p.m. on Brighthouse Sports in Florida.