Major League Lacrosse (MLL) will decide its champion when four of its six teams square off this weekend in Annapolis, Maryland. But the league's new outpost in Columbus is already gearing up for next season, when the Ohio Machine will begin play as one of two expansion franchises.

Major League Lacrosse (MLL) will decide its champion when four of its six teams square off this weekend in Annapolis, Maryland. But the league's new outpost in Columbus is already gearing up for next season, when the Ohio Machine will begin play as one of two expansion franchises.

"Ohio's an area that's growing by leaps and bounds for lacrosse," said Machine coach Ted Garber, a lacrosse veteran who has coached for decades at the pro, college and youth level.

MLL, which hosted an all-star exhibition in Crew Stadium to help launch the league in 2001, has had its sights set on Central Ohio for years. A New England investment group finally pulled the trigger on an Ohio franchise last year based on measurable factors (elite college recruits from the area, equipment sales) and less tangible factors.

"If you drive around neighborhoods, you see goals set up everywhere," said Machine President and General Manager John Algie, who compared such scenes to his childhood in lacrosse hotbed Long Island.

The rosters of MLL employ the world's top lacrosse players - the ones who didn't choose lucrative white-collar careers, anyway. Garber remembered one player who scored 16 goals in two games then left to work in European banking rather than earn about $1,500 per game playing lacrosse.

Still, there will be no shortage of talent. Algie said multi-year All-Americans are regularly cut due to the limited number of roster MLL slots. Thus, the Machine expects to sidestep the usual expansion team woes and contend immediately.

"We're not shooting to come in and be doormats for a couple years until we build the team up," Garber said.

They also intend to match or exceed league average attendance of 6,417 - up 21.6 percent from last year - despite agreeing to play their first two seasons 30 miles north of Downtown in Delaware's Selby Stadium. Team brass said they chose the location because it presented the best combination of ticket price, amenities and stadium aesthetics.

Most games will be on Saturday nights. Season tickets cost $100 for seven games.