I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First, let’s start with the bad: Now that we’ve officially reached the all-star break, the PLL’s regular season is approximately two-thirds complete. That’s right, the fireworks show is already working its way to the grand finale — grand opening, grand closing, just like that. It feels like we were just talking league mergers and entry drafts, now we’re about to start watching scoring differentials like our lives are at stake.
Now, it’s time for the good news. Honestly, “good” undersells this news to an almost embarrassing degree. It’s not even great news, it’s great and incredibly exciting news, and it’s just for you.
Yes — literally you, the person reading this right now. Are you ready? Here it is:
Your favorite team is just over two months away from winning the 2021 PLL championship. Sure, the other teams are going to put up a decent little fight the rest of the way, but let’s be real here — they’re all just pretenders to the throne, tiny, inconsequential speed bumps on the final stretch of (your favorite team)’s road to the championship. Has the (your favorite team) franchise stumbled along the way? Of course it has, but history doesn’t remember stumbles, history remembers champions, and once the all-star break comes to an end, it’ll be time for (your favorite team) to take the next steps towards lacrosse immortality.
How can this championship be such a foregone conclusion? Well, you may not want to jinx anything, or count your chickens before they hatch, but honestly, if you really take a minute to think about it, there’s no way (your favorite team) ends its season anywhere but atop that podium, trophy in hand, with gallons of official league-sanctioned beverage cascading through the air like the fountains of the Bellagio. Take a look below to find out exactly why (your favorite team) is obviously winning it all this year, and when you’re done, make sure you book your tickets and DC hotel room for the weekend of Sept. 19 — you won’t want to miss the celebration.
(Note: I wrote some comments about the other teams too, but you can just ignore all that stuff — honestly, I had a minimum word count I had to hit, so I just jotted down the first garbage that came to mind. All the other sections took me like, three minutes, tops, and I didn’t mean a single word of any of them. Of course, when it comes to (your favorite team), I meant exactly 100% of what I wrote. Feel free to skip straight to their section, the one where I say the things I actually mean, if you’d prefer.)
Archers (3-3, 80S, 58SA)
Let’s be serious, Archers fans: You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you? Even with that reinforced defense and gaudy score differential, you were never going to just Iverson-step over every other team on the way to the championship. There’s too much talent and parity across this league; it just wasn’t going to happen. With that being said, if there happened to be a tiny a dip in Archers stock over the past week or so, feel free to double down on your investment over the break — the road may have gotten a little bumpy, but the Archers are equal parts Ferrari and freight train, and the ultimate destination remains in sight.
Sure, they just dropped three games in a row, but they were all by a single goal, and all losses are by no means equal. Honestly, with all the positive credit the team had established during the first third of the season, those weren’t even really losses, more like teaching moments. It’s kind of like this: Say you go for a walk and happen to stumble across a baby bear, which of course you pick up because it’s fuzzy and adorable. If that bear’s mother arrives on the scene, and you decide to fight it, you’re about to be handed a loss, straight up. If you walk away from that fight (note: you’re not walking away from that fight), you won’t be thinking about things like faking a jab and following with a combo, or maybe mixing a little karate into your repertoire, because you won’t take a single lesson from that experience that’s going to help you come out victorious the next time you decide to fight a bear. Losing by a single goal? Now, that’s a teaching moment. One little tweak on one little play and everything could be different; the Archers will ultimately be better for this little hiccup on their schedule.
When it comes to offensive dominance, Grant Ament’s at least on the medal stand when it comes to Most Valuable Player, Attackman of the Year, Goal of the Year, Demoralizing Dodge of the Year, Underhand Assist of the Year, and pretty much any award we make up as the season goes along. With a league-leading 26 points, Ament’s putting together quite possibly the finest sophomore campaign since 2015 Tom Schreiber, and with 19 points on the season, the 2021 version isn’t doing too bad either. Finally, Will Manny’s tied for the league lead with 16 goals, and of the four players holding onto a share, he’s the only one yet to play his seventh game.
As for the defense? Honestly, just throw that Lyle Thompson Super Mario Star performance from last weekend right out the window, because there was nothing anyone was doing about any of that. The Archers are still allowing a league-low 9.7 scores per game, and Adam Ghitelman is still stopping a league-high 61% of the shots he’s facing. They say defense wins championships (making those numbers especially good news), but in case it turns out to be offense all along, the Archers lead the league with 13.3 scores per game as well. The Archers are covered on both ends of the field, they’re dangerous in transition, and they have the kind of balance that can (and in this case, will) carry a team all the way to the championship.
Atlas (4-2, 79S, 76SA)
Atlas fans, you’ve been through it all. You’ve heard the laughter, you’ve tolerated the GIFs and the memes. You’ve been told you had the most disproportionate publicity-to-production ratio in professional sports, and you’ve watched a bunch of Maryland alums (Maryland alums! Of all people!) dance their way to back-to-back titles. Finally, you’ve watched your beloved roster get stripped down to its framework like it parked in a bad neighborhood, but despite the trials and tribulations, you stayed on board and trusted Ben Rubeor’s vision, waiting for brighter days ahead. Well, hopefully you screenshotted all those tweets crafted at your expense, because it’s almost time to be handsomely rewarded.
Forget Rookie of the Year, it’s entirely reasonable to believe that Jeff Teat (13G, 9A), despite his delayed debut, could end up this season’s Most Valuable Player. In fact, if the people in charge of that kind of thing only wanted to give him one of the two awards, he might, oddly enough, have a better shot at taking home the MVP. In the two Atlas games without Teat in the lineup, the team averaged nine scores per game. In the four games since his arrival? 15.25. He’s fourth in the league with 22 points, tied for fifth in one-point goals, and tied for sixth in assists, and again just a reminder, he’s only played four games of professional post-collegiate American field lacrosse, and that was with no training camp or preseason play. Just showed up, introduced himself, and proceeded to make it all look ridiculously easy.
After the Atlas went their first four games without a power play goal, they’ve since scored one in each of their last two, and were both from Teat to Jake Carraway, a pairing you should get used to seeing together for quite some time. With Carraway’s range, Eric Law’s versatility, and Mark Cockerton’s left side two-man production, Rubeor upgraded his offense (despite parting with some of the biggest names on the planet) in record time.
Michael Rexrode has emerged as one of the entry draft’s most productive members, Craig Chick’s eight caused turnovers trail only Troy Reh (he’s caused one more and played in one more game) in the category, and while we don’t know exactly if/when we’ll see Jack Concannon back in the lineup following his groin injury, JD Colarusso stopped 53% of the shots he faced in last week’s 16-10 victory over Chaos. Throw up those horns with nothing but confidence this summer, Atlas fans, GM of the Year Ben Rubeor is taking you from the basement to the penthouse.
Cannons (2-5, 85S, 97SA)
Y’all. Did you see what Lyle Thompson did against the Archers last Sunday? Scoring nine points against anyone is an incredible accomplishment, but doing it against the 2021 Archers is borderline incomprehensible. Thompson’s performance against the Archers was like —OK, you know that part in every heist movie where the voiceover talks about how practically impossible it is to infiltrate that casino safe/bank vault/CIA headquarters? Well, imagine they go through that whole explanation (“They’ve got Matt McMahon, a Cyborg and two different guys named Moose, and if you happen to survive all that, you’ve still got to deal with Adam Ghitelman”), only for the star of the movie to walk right in, grab everything and leave.
After a string of extremely un-Thompson-like performances over the previous weeks (credit where due, Michael Rexrode and Jack Rowlett played relentless, physical defense against him in their matchups), it was finally disclosed that Thompson had been dealing with a muscle strain, and after going completely airborne to score his fifth goal of the game, you could see the athletic wrap that had unraveled and fallen by his right knee, meaning cotton and elastic have now joined the rest of us on the list of things with no chance of covering Thompson once he heats up.
The ninth of Thompson’s points was the game-winning feed to Shayne Jackson, who finished with three goals and an assist in just his third game with the team. This is especially important, because there are two things that people unfamiliar with Jackson are going to hear quite often in the coming weeks: First, he’s the 2020 NLL MVP. He knows how to turn passes into assists, and he doesn’t need much room to do it. Second, he won an NLL Championship with the Georgia Swarm back in 2017, and he did with his linemate, you guessed it, Lyle Thompson. Head coach Sean Quirk brought Jackson on to be the Tampa Gronk to Lyle’s Tampa Brady, and we all know how that turned out.
The Cannons certainly aren’t a one-man show, and newly-named All-Star Ryan Drenner is quietly leading the entire league with 16 goals of his own. As for the midfield, I don’t know if Paul Rabil got offseason LASIK or something, but he’s putting 82% of his shots on goal this season (up from 42% in 2020), and his 20 points are second amongst midfielders. Brodie Merrill is the league’s top defenseman when it comes to ground balls, and as for goalie Nick Marrocco? When the season’s over, Cannons fans everywhere will call that point-blank stop against the Archers “The Save,” and they’ll point to it as the one moment that triggered the 180-degree turn that sent the team straight to the finals. Sean Quirk stuck with some of his old Cannons, wisely brought back some of the even older ones, and in the end, they’ll be rewarded handsomely.
Chaos (2-4, 62S, 74SA)
If you’re a Chaos fan, and you were a Chaos fan last year as well, a slow start doesn’t have you all that concerned. You’re right not to worry, because the team’s once again figuring it all out, and just like last season, it’s time to shift into gear, ignore the win-loss record to this point, and fight for a spot in the championship game.
Of course it was going to take a while, but the team has taken an almost Moneyball-ish approach to replacing last year’s attack, incorporating Chase Fraser and Ryan Smith into the offense in recent weeks. With Mac O’Keefe solidifying his role and looking more comfortable every time he steps on the field (particularly with his two-man wing play), the Chaos offense has evolved into something far more complementary than it was when back in its original form, and Josh Byrne is reaping the benefits. In the first three games of the season, Byrne tallied six points, shot 20% (3-15) and committed nine turnovers. In games 4-6, he tallied 13 points, his shooting climbed to 42% (8-19), and he only committed five turnovers. When you get the right pieces in place, and the system starts to click, it only makes sense that the leader’s productivity rises accordingly..
Adding CJ Costabile (2 CT, 1T 1A, 4GB in just two games) to the lineup brings versatility and strength to the transition game, as well as the roster flexibility that comes with signing someone who minors in faceoffs. These gameday rosters are incredibly tiny, and getting you a man who can do both frees up necessary space that will certainly prove valuable down the road. And sure, it would’ve been nice to head into the break with a win over the Atlas, but stopping that attack without top defenseman Jack Rowlett is a tough ask; assuming he returns after the break (he’s listed on the league’s official all-star roster), the close defense will more greatly resemble the one that held the Cannons to just 10 goals the previous weekend. That said, it doesn’t matter who’s on your team, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing — if Blaze Riorden’s in the cage, you’ve at least got a shot to win that game. Riorden was recently added to the injured list, and he’s skipping the all-star game to recover, but assuming he’s back by Week 8, he’ll get two games in front of his home crowd at the University of Albany (as will former Great Dane Troy Reh), the perfect pep rally on the way back to the championship.
Chrome (2-4 60S, 69SA)
Okay, so the 12-6 loss to the Waterdogs last weekend wasn’t great. And no, no team in the league has won fewer games. Or scored fewer goals. While some see a serious problem, Chrome (and faithful Chrome fans everywhere) see prologue: This is just the falling down you’ve got to do before you get back up and win, a pit stop to ditch some of the people who jumped on the bandwagon when these guys were busy knocking down giants one by one. No team has been tested like this one, but fortunately, many of these guys are completely familiar with late-season rebounds, so none of this feels all that overwhelming.
Take, for example, Tim Soudan’s 2015 Rattlers team, which went from trudging around in the depths of mediocrity to winning three of its last four games and reaching the MLL championship. Aside from Soudan, who was responsible for that turnaround? Some of the same guys who are going to be responsible for this one – names like MacIntosh, Ranagan, White and Galloway, the four captains of the 2021 Chrome.
Speaking of Galloway, his save percentage is currently sitting at 60% (tying Blaze Riorden for second-highest in the league), and most of all, he’s only allowed two 2-pointers this season, compared to the 1.13 per game he averaged during his first two seasons in the PLL. As for MacIntosh, he’s heating up as well, and shot six of seven over his last two games.
It took far more than it should have needed to take, but after a bunch of guys dropped out, Colin Heacock is finally heading to the All-Star game. Why wasn’t he on the list the whole time? Well, they didn’t announce when the players’ votes were due, but surely they have voted before he scored a combined seven goals and a two-pointer during that two-game span where his Chrome knocked off the then-undefeated Whipsnakes and the then-undefeated Archers in back to back weekends, right? Otherwise the whole thing would just be ridiculous.
That said, the all-star game is just a quick break before getting back to the championship run, and In case you were unaware, Heacock won an NCAA championship in 2017, then an MLL one in 2019. Will he complete the trifecta and officially become the undisputed king of odd year lacrosse? A pattern’s definitely starting to form here, and this pattern is excellent news for the men of Chrome LC, as well as yourself, the discerning fan who wisely chose to support them.
Redwoods (4-2, 76S, 68A)
If you’re a Redwoods fan, the Whipsnakes have been a haunting presence since Day 1, an evil spirit following you around and generally ruining your life. That said, with last weekend’s 13-7 win, you’ve finally turned on the light and discovered that the monster in the corner was nothing more than some dirty clothes on a chair, and now that there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s time to head back to the championship game.
One of the key figures responsible for shattering that Whipsnake mystique was TD Ierlan, who won 12 of 23 faceoffs against Joe Nardella and continued his run of finishing above 50% in every professional game he’s ever played. When he went 21-27 in his debut against the Cannons, it was only reasonable to hold your applause until he went against the Baptistes and the Nardellas of the world. Well, after winning 57% against Atlas, 54% against Chrome, and 77% and 73% against Chaos and Waterdogs, respectively, anything less than a standing ovation would be disrespectful.
The Redwoods made an example out of the Whipsnakes by hitting them from every angle, with Matt Kavanagh, Jules Heningburg and Rob Pannell scoring four points each. Whether by design, natural game flow, or just a matchup he especially enjoyed, Kavanagh took 11 shots (the most he’s taken since his first PLL game back in 2019), and looked confident that he could win his matchup at any time. This didn’t look like struggling 2020 Matt Kavanagh, this looked more like Matt Kavanagh from all the other years, and that’s the one who’s dangerous.
The Redwoods’ offense had to be redesigned with the offseason acquisition of Rob Pannell, and it was a calculated risk that looks to be paying off for almost everyone involved. After back-to-back games where he scored on all three shots he took, Jules Heningburg (13G, 5A) is now shooting a tremendous 59% for the season, and while that’s the third-highest percentage in the league, the two guys in front of him (defensive midfielders Danny Logan and Latrelle Harris are shooting 75% and 60%, respectively) have scored less than half as many times combined. In fact, the next double-digit goal scorer on the list is Jeff Teat, whose 45% shooting has him in twelfth place overall. With Pannell (second overall with 13 assists) distributing from the south, Myles Jones (third overall with 11) from the North, and Ierlan getting the ball right back for them, the Redwoods are poised to finish what they started back in the 2019 championship.
Waterdogs (4-3, 90S, 93SA)
Being a Waterdog hasn’t exactly been the easiest of situations. First, joining the league during the bubble season of 2020, meant extremely limited practice time, and the expansion franchise finished in sixth place with a 1-4 record. Next, the team lost ankle-breaking quarterback of the future Michael Sowers to injury during his first professional game, and he’s yet to return to the lineup.
Fortunately, the team has righted the ship and then some, and after a two-win stop in Minnesota where they humiliated their opponents by the combined score of 31-13, they’re in a prime position to ride a few more revenge games all the way to the championship.
Ryan Brown receives a great deal of credit for his shooting ability, and indeed he should, but let’s get something straight: Brown could be the 38th best shooter in the world, and he’d still be an absolute monster because of the way he dissects defenses and tiptoes his way into scoring opportunities. Fortunately for you, Waterdogs fans, he’s not 38th best, he’s first best, and now that he’s with an offense where he’s being more heavily utilized, it’s back to business as usual.
Ben Reeves is flat-out faster around the arc than anyone trying to cover him (it doesn’t make a great deal of sense that someone might even be faster when running along a slight curve than a straight line, but he just is), and with six assists in just three games, rookie Ethan Walker is emerging as a major distributor in the Waterdog offense. Connor Kelly is the league’s top scoring midfielder, Mikie Schlosser commands a slide the moment he steps on the field, and Zach Currier is what happens when you slide every single one of your create-a-player’s attributes as far up as they can possibly go. It’s too early to know the exact criteria, but when the season’s over, Currier’s stats are going to earn him a spot in some kind of historic club (at least something like “over 10 goals, 10 assists and 40 ground balls”), and he’s probably going to be that club’s only member for quite some time.
Defensively speaking, Liam Byrnes and Eli Gobrecht are first and third in caused turnovers, and Dillon Ward isn’t exactly heating up in goal (he saved 63% against the Cannons and 60% against the Chrome last weekend), he’s actually thawing out – the sub-40% games will prove to be the outliers, not the norm, and after this past weekend, it’s safe to say that World Games Ward, the same Dillon Ward who won the MLL championship in 2018, is back.
Whipsnakes (4-2, 68S, 75SA)
Yes, the reigning two-time champs have looked mighty human at times this season, and yes, the famous streak has come to an end. Big deal. All that matters is that the Whipsnakes lock up a spot in the postseason, and once that’s out of the way, it’ll be time for the rest of the league to experience the worst case of deja vu they’ve had since the last one.
Some of these teams need help on offense, while others need help on defense. Meanwhile, the one thing the Whipsnakes need happens to be the easiest thing for them to acquire, and that’s time.
Matt Rambo appeared to initially sustain his upper-body injury during the first quarter of the Whipsnakes’ Week 3 loss to the Chrome, and he, Michael Ehrhardt and Matt Abbott were all unavailable for last weekend’s loss to the Redwoods. Fortunately, the all-star break has arrived at the perfect time, and after the festivities in San Jose, the Whipsnakes aren’t playing another game until July 31, when they face the Waterdogs out in Colorado. The team goes on yet another break right after the 31st, and they don’t pick back up until August 13, meaning some of these players will have over a month to recover. All-Star weekend was like the end of a UFC round where the champ had gotten caught in a choke hold with just a few seconds remaining. If they’d been forced to keep playing, the Whipsnakes might have been in trouble. However, they’re going back to their corners and resting up for three whole weeks, so it looks like we’ll never know.
Unless their injuries are worse than anyone’s letting on, a little time should be all this crew needs to return to dominance, and there’s plenty of it on the way. There’s no replacement out there for the likes of Matt Rambo or Michael Ehrhardt, because those guys are up here (holds hand up about three inches above head) and the other guys are, say, here (drops hand about six inches), so there’s no need for Jim Stagnitta to rock the boat making any big moves, and there’s no need to sacrifice future success for short-term gains. All he needs to do is relax, wait for his team’s power meter to recharge, and he’ll be back dropping hurricane kicks on the rest of the league in no time.
Who can beat the two-time defending champions when they’re at full strength? According to the past 600 days or so, that answer would be “pretty much nobody.” Let these little teams get their ego-boosting wins while they can, Whipsnake fans: When this crew reassembles, the threepeat will be inevitable.