The Denver Outlaws took it to the San Francisco Dragons early and didn't let up. In both teams’ inaugural seasons, the number one seeded Outlaws used rookie attackman Brendan Mundorf's six goals and assist, along with twelve, often exceptional, saves by Trevor Tierney to put the first Western Team into an MLL final. The Outlaw defense did a nice job of shutting down the 2006 MLL Player of the Year Ryan Powell, by incorporating a shut-off whenever possible and quick, aggressive slides.
Carson, CA – The Denver Outlaws had already lost to the San Francisco Dragons twice heading into their semifinal match-up. Those two losses were the only blips on the #1-seeded Outlaws record. The Dragons had had their number in the regular season. It was evident early that Denver wanted to change that early and often in this match-up. Midfielder Jeff Sonke got it rolling with a two point blast just :29 in off a Josh Sims pass. Sims added a solo goal thirty seconds later. Not even a minute in, the Dragons were down 3-0 and in trouble. San Fran’s Ryan Powell, the 2006 Warrior MLL Offensive Player of the Year and Bud Light MLL MVP, didn’t get a touch until about three minutes into the game. Denver made it clear early that Powell was going to have a long day just trying to get open, yet alone beating them like he did in their earlier matchups (12 and 7 points in their two earlier match-ups, both San Fran wins). Powell was blanketed by rookie defenseman Sean McCarthy, a 2006 Hofstra graduate and All-American, that wasn’t picked until 43rd in this year’s college draft.
Powell’s first two touches came on deadball situations on the endline. On his second touch, he was driving on Denver defenseman Lee Zink. The lefty Zink kept Powell in a v-hold. Powell used a rocker dodge to try and get top-side, when Denver goalie Trevor Tierney flew out and flattened Powell. The hit set the tone, especially on the unsettled transition, Sonke found Sims again, giving a 4-0 lead to Denver.
Fighting for their playoff lives, Dragon midfielder Tom Zummo finally got the Dragons on the board with just over four minutes left in the 1st period. He used his patented subtly quick dodge to power to his right and rip a bounce shot past Tierney. (see: http://www.lax.com/stories/1707 ) Rookie defenseman Stephen McElduff would give San Fran further life by adding a two point goal just :28 into the second period. Unfortunately for San Fran, this is as close as it would get, especially after the Brendan Mundorf show took over. Mundorf fought his way to the goal on the majority of his goals. The rookie from UMBC pulled his man in and powered to the goal as he is making more and more of a name by doing. Mundorf had five of Denver’s nine 2nd quarter goals.
“Sometimes you just start shooting and you’re feeling good. You’re not thinking about what you’re doing too much and good things happen for you,” said the Bud Light MVP of the game, Mundorf. “Just one of those times you’re not thinking about it and good things happen.”
San Francisco would fight throughout to keep the game tight, but ultimately the Denver halftime lead of 14-7 proved just too much. Especially with the intensity the defense was playing with and Tierney in goal. There were a few times when Tierney made saves coming across the crease that he had no business making.
The game started to get a little chippy (mainly due to Powell’s frustration) as with about four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, Powell threw a punch at Denver defenseman Lee Zink. Zink wanted nothing to do with the fight, but Powell kept going at him. To be fair, I didn’t see what exactly caused Powell to erupt, but it didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary, just tough defense that constantly frustrated and limited Powell’s effectiveness. Both players were given unsportmanslike conducts, while Powell was lucky to not have been ejected.
The surprising statistic of the night was at the face-off X. San Francisco’s Tim Booth played well there, limiting the normally dominant Denver duo of Chris Cercy and Geoff Snider. When San Fran’s Peter Inge was struggling against Cercy early (how could he not since Cercy clearly moves before the whistle on every face-off, getting called for it maybe once), San Fran switched to Booth. Booth used a jump and jam effectively that allowed him to get a few against Cercy, or at worst stop his pushing the ball into an unsettled opportunity. Denver tried to counter that with Snider, who was no answer to either Booth or Inge. While the Dragons were still barely better than 50% (20 of 38 for 52.6%) it did give San Fran life late in the game after the early domination by Cercy.
The Outlaws proved to be a very powerful offensive team this year and have arguably the best midfield play in the league. That’s probably the main reason they’re heading to the championship. One of the impressive things against the Dragons was the play of all of their role players. In talking with GM Brian Reese after the game, he stressed what they looked for in his team. While my tape recorder failed me, the gist was that they picked players to play their roles. They went out and got d-middies (Benson Erwin and Casey Cittadino), face-off guys (Chris Cercy and Geoff Snider), and then filled those in with all of the rest. They didn’t pick people hoping they could do something they hadn’t showed before.
The attack has a bunch of very good attackman, but probably lacks the really big time names. Mundorf had five goals and an assist, Matt Brown out of the University of Denver had three goals and an assist, Jeff Zywicki (probably the highest profile of their attack but didn’t play after his senior season in ‘05) had four goals and an assist. Mundorf was an honorable mention All-American his junior year and a 3rd team selection his senior season. Brown was never an All-American in college, but was 4th in scoring for the MLL this year with 46 points. Denver stole Brown with the 43rd pick in the Supplemental Draft last fall. McCarthy on defense is another example. It goes to show what can be found later in the drafts.
“The best thing about it is you have guys that play their roles and play it well and take a lot of pride in it,” said GM Brian Reese. “When we do that, it’s a great team effort; you don’t have to rely on one person or one position.”
The loss ends a very successful season for San Francisco. It’d be hard to have missed the efforts defenseman Eric Martin made last night, scooping up six groundballs and basically being all over the field for San Fran when it seemed that they needed some life. One has to wonder where San Fran 2nd leading scorer, attackman Joe Yevoli, was as he wasn’t dressed. Powell still managed to dazzle, as he only had a goal and an assist, but was faced with pressure from all sides. Giving him the benefit of the doubt with his third quarter eruption, he more than made up with it being the last from either team to leave the field area as he signed autographs and took pictures with the fans milling around, proving yet again that he is a great ambassador for the game.
Denver moves on to face the Philadelphia Barrage in the MLL Championship game on Sunday at 2 pm Pacific Time (5 pm for those on the East Coast - live on ESPN2). It’ll be the first time that the two teams face each other, providing an enticing match-up.
“I think we’re going to play as a team, relaxed, playing well, that’s all it really comes down to. We can play a team that slows the ball down a little, but we’re good in transition. Our defense has a pretty sick 6-on-6 defense and we have an offense that can play 6-on-6 or that can bring the ball and run-and-gun,” said Mundorf of what Denver needs to do to be successful on Sunday. “We don’t really go into a game with a certain style we want to play. We just let things happen. Our first goal is to take care of the game between the lines, groundballs, face-offs, it all starts from there pretty much.”