7/21/10 2:01 PM
After taking a weekend off for the Major League Lacrosse bye week the Toronto Nationals return to the field to take on the first place Boston Cannons (6-3). The Nationals will be coming into the matchup at 3-6 and sitting in last place in the league. While a loss would not mathematically eliminate the Nationals from the postseason just yet, it’s about as close as they can get to a must win game.
Last time the two squads faced off was July 1, a game that the Nationals took 15-13 in a fiercely competitive shootout. The Nationals have proven they can hang with any team in the league; it’s just been a matter of putting everything together on a weekly basis while also having suffered their share of tough losses.
In Toronto’s last game the Denver Outlaws came to town and shocked the Nationals in a 15-14 overtime defeat. The Outlaws came storming back from a 9-5 halftime deficit and outscored Toronto 9-5 in the second half to knot it up at the end of regulation. The Nationals were reeling after giving up the lead and Denver capitalized and struck just 48 seconds into overtime on midfielder Steve Giannone’s goal for the game winner.
The Nationals have been tough luck losers in a handful of close games this summer. Aside from the last overtime loss, Toronto has also lost two one goal games, including the infamous June 5 buzzer beater loss to the Chicago Machine. Toronto will look to build on its positives though, most notably it’s toppling of Boston the last time the two cities met.
Both sides of the field will look a little different Saturday since many MLL players are currently over in Manchester, England competing in the FIL World Championship. Boston will be without star players midfielder Paul Rabil, attackman Ryan Boyle and defensemen Kyle Sweeney and Ryan McClay. Toronto has been hit even harder by the World Games since the great majority of its team plays for Canada. In fact the Nationals’ roster will lose a whopping 15 players to Team Canada this weekend, including Billy-Dee Smith, Brodie Merrill, Dan Dawson, Geoff Snider, Jordan Hall, Mac Allen, Kevin Huntley, Mark Steenhuis, Ryan McClelland, Corey Small, Patrick Merrill, Phil Sanderson, Shawn Williams, Garrett Billings and John Grant Jr. No easy task to overcome, especially in such an important game for Toronto.
The Nationals will also have a different look on the sideline as head coach Dave Huntley and assistant coach Paul Stewart, who will be Team Canada’s offensive coordinator, areboth be in England for the tournament. Also, Toronto President/General Manager Stu Brown is Canada’s assistant general manager to round out the Nationals presence at the World Championship.
Toronto has turned to the player pool to fill the void left on its roster and has added several players including former Chicago midfielder Terry Kimener and former Lizards midfielder Anthony Muscarella. Kimener has 11 points on the season while Muscarella has added four of his own. Toronto has also made the best of an unfortunate situation with the Iroquois Nationals (who were unable to participate in the World Championship after the British Consulate would not approve their travel visas) as it has added a few of the Six Nation players to its roster. Toronto has reactivated some of its players that it previously thought would be unavailable, such as attackman Delby Powless and midfielders Brett Bucktooth and Stephen Hoar.
Aside from the bright lights shining on some different players this weekend, the Nationals must still deal with arguably the deadliest scorer in the league, Cannons attackman Matt Poskay. Poskay leads the league in scoring with 39 points, having tallied 34 goals and four assists this season. Poskay is quickly climbing the ranks of all-time Cannons as he is just four points shy of tying the team’s career goals record set by David Evans. Evans holds the record with 133 goals and is currently a lacrosse broadcaster and will actually be in the Cannons’ press box for Saturday’s game.
The Nationals will look to its goalie tandem of Scott Rodgers and Brett Queener to try and stonewall Poskay this weekend. Brett Queener comes into Week 10 ranked first in the league in save percentage at .586. Queener is also third in the MLL in goals against average at 12.64. Meanwhile, Rodgers has been a revelation for the Nationals as he has helped to solidify the first half goalie duties. The former Notre Dame keeper has played extremely well since being drafted by the Nationals in the second round, highlighted by his MLL debut in which he made 19 saves.
Toronto hits the road to take on the Cannons Saturday July 24 at Harvard Stadium in Boston, Mass. The first place Cannons can clinch a playoff spot with a win, while the Nationals are still battling to avoid being left out after winning it all last season. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. The Major League Lacrosse Web site will run a live blog during the game, starting 15 minutes prior to faceoff. The game can be seen live on ESPN3, Cox Sports Rhode Island and Cox Sports New Orleans. It can also be seen on delay Sunday July 25 at 2:30 p.m. on Brighthouse and at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet New England.