In coming weeks, fans of major professional televised sports leagues like the MLB, NBA and NHL will see the highly anticipated returns of sports in the form of abbreviated, COVID-19-adjusted seasons. The NBA is creating a local bubble, while the MLB is trying its best to keep its employees socially isolated — the latter of which being an incredibly difficult avenue that college athletics will most likely pursue, should there be sports this fall.
But before most of these leagues even begin, fans of Major League Lacrosse (MLL), one of two major professional field lacrosse leagues in the United States, will already have seen their season come and go barring any disruptions.
The MLL’s 20th season kicked off its nine-day stretch last weekend and will conclude this weekend with a four-team playoff starting Saturday and championship game for the Steinfeld Trophy on Sunday. Throughout the week, the league has carried out its regular season with all six teams playing five games in seven days inside an empty Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
To ensure proper social distancing and public health measures are taken, all players were tested prior to arrival and are receiving daily temperature checks. In addition, team benches reside on opposite sidelines as opposed to their typical configuration of side-by-side.
Since its inception in 2000, the MLL has endured a series of business booms and busts, expansions and contractions, in an attempt to grow the game of lacrosse in markets across the country.
So, after 20 years, it is only natural that the MLL has adapted to the hurdle of COVID-19 and has been able to put forth another season.
Although a plethora of talent exited the league in 2019 to go to a newer touring league — the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) — some, like Denver Outlaws midfielder Mikie Schlosser, remain committed to the league. And while this season’s parameters are less than ideal, Schlosser is just grateful for the opportunity to play lacrosse.
“I think the league is very resilient,” Schlosser said. “They’ve done a lot to change and keep up with the times. I’m just very fortunate that they’re able to put on (this season) and give us a chance to play and the fans a chance to watch. That’s what it’s all about.”
Schlosser played for the Michigan men’s lacrosse team from 2014 to 2017 and was a key offensive contributor during all four years, recording 50 career goals and serving as a captain his junior and senior seasons.
Since graduating college and entering the MLL, Schlosser has dished out 41 goals and 10 assists in three seasons with the Outlaws. Last year, Schlosser scored 17 goals and earned his first trip to the MLL All-Star game, but the Outlaws failed to win back-to-back championships after a 10-9 loss in the 2019 MLL championship game to the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
With a shot for redemption and the season up in the air with COVID-19, Schlosser spent the past couple months of quarantine training to get back to that moment.
“Our goal every year is to win a championship,” Schlosser said. “That’s the only thing we are trying to achieve here. The individual stuff guys couldn’t really care less for. … At the end of the day, things are fun if you’re successful. No matter what happens during the game, if we win, I’m happy. It’s kinda all or nothing. It’s hard to have fun if you lose in my opinion.”
With the season underway, his training has paid off. Through four games, Schlosser has already notched three goals and one assist. The Outlaws are undefeated and, having already clinched a playoff berth, are poised to have another shot at the title.
This season, the MLL expanded the active day roster for teams from 19 to 25 players. Schlosser believes that a deeper roster has allowed Denver to overcome the physical stress of playing so many games in such a short timespan. In a typical MLL season, teams will play once a week, but this week, each team is guaranteed to play at least five games.
“We’re able to cycle through a lot more players,” Schlosser said. “I think our games seem pretty fresh still just considering we have extra subs that we normally wouldn’t have. So I think that is allowing people to get their rest and not (exert themselves) as hard in the games.
“So far I think we’re off to a good start. We just gotta try to keep getting better each game and keep having fun.”
In the MLL bubble, Schlosser and his teammates have made an effort to cram a typical summer’s worth of fun and memories into just over one week inside their hotel. Whether it’s playing Wii Sports in someone’s room, joking around in the shuttle to the stadium or getting together after a game for a team dinner, the Outlaws are working on building a tight team bond off the field with the hopes that it will produce positive results on the field.
“I think a big thing, especially at this level, is that there’s a lot of talent everywhere, so you have to enjoy the moment and enjoy being with the guys,” Schlosser said. “Because that’s what ultimately makes a difference in the end. I love competing with my teammates and winning. I think that’s kind of how I put it all together.”
The lacrosse community will look back on the MLL’s 20th anniversary season someday, and it will be impossible to ignore its peculiarities. It will mark a period of adversity, excitement and quite possibly evolution, for a league that has struggled to manage the rise of the PLL and its own internal battles.
Still, despite those daunting challenges, it’s a season that’s happening because it could bubble its players — the one sure-fire way to protect athletes and staff without a vaccine available.