On July 29, 2017 the Cannons and Launch taught us all a very important lesson: Never leave an MLL game early.
The Launch ambushed Boston early on and held a 16-6 lead midway through the third quarter. Florida boasted a potent offense with Kieran McArdle and company hitting their stride right before the postseason and Boston was stuck in last place in the league...Game over, right? Wrong. The Cannons rattled off the next 11 goals in a lightning quick 12 minutes of gameplay.
Davey Emala scores...
Just like that the Cannons had the lead with nine minutes left in the game. The Launch then made like Ali against Foreman and punched back, eventually winning in an 18-17 thriller.
The Boston-Florida game was actually closer to the league norm than a freakish aberration. Had Florida maintained its lead, that would have been a rarer feat. 65 percent of all MLL games in the regular season last year were decided by three goals or less and nearly 40 percent of games came down to a one-goal difference.
"To the outsider looking in that would probably seem pretty shocking, but I think for us that are in it, every week I think we know," said Bear Davis, head coach of the 2017 Champion Ohio Machine. "We know there’s a good chance it’s going to be one run in the game. Every game potentially is going to come down to those last five minutes and it doesn’t matter if you’re up by seven at halftime. That’s not a thing in our league. That’s not really a big deal and you know you’re still in the game."
65% Games decided by three goals or less 38% Games decided by one goal
"The margin of who’s going to win versus who isn’t going to win is so narrow," said Commissioner David Gross, who has watched almost every game since the league's inception. "If you just take a look at two years ago, seven teams of nine tied with the very same record for first place – meaning three of them didn’t even make the playoffs."
He's referencing the mind-boggling finish to the 2016 season, which saw Ohio, New York, Denver, Charlotte, Boston, Rochester and Chesapeake all finish with identical records. What seemed like a mathematical impossibility came to fruition due to the level of parody in the league.
"It came down to crazy tiebreakers to find out who was in and who wasn’t in," Gross said. "Denver that year was 2-6 and never lost another game to win the Championship. Even going into the last game, there was a scenario where they wouldn’t make the postseason."
So why are there so many close games?
With only nine teams in the league and 19 players dressing per game, there is much more high level talent available than there are roster spots. Meaning, there is very little separating the top players in the league from players who don't dress on a regular basis. Even as the league has added teams since 2006, it has been hard for individual clubs to separate themselves from the talent-rich pack of teams.
"I think tomorrow you could have 12 teams playing and you wouldn’t see an ounce of drop-off in this league," Gross said.
"The kids playing today are phenomenal. The quality of play keeps getting better in this sport all the way down to the youth level. You have more and more rookies coming in and making an immediate impact because you have more and more varsity programs, which definitely helps."
The tightly packed standings, surplus of talent and bevy of games that come down to the final play affect nearly everything that teams do to prepare week to week. Attention to detail becomes paramount against those slim margins, as the Ohio Machine demonstrated by being the last team standing this past year. Davis said the team put a special emphasis on "last play of the game" planning for the one-goal or tied games he expected to face.
“I felt like last year we put more into that than we probably ever had. Just really know situational lacrosse in the last five minutes. We really felt like that was very important.
"I think we made a conscious effort to really make sure that we were in the know," Davis said. "We knew every situation that we wanted, what we wanted to try to get out of it. I think this allowed us to really be successful in those situations."