What a wonderful start to the Premier Lacrosse League’s third season last weekend at Gillette Stadium.
While there were a plethora of takeaways from all five games played, here are my biggest ones:
The Cannons are… actually good?
Yes, you heard me right. Cannons LC was quite impressive in their first two games as a team.
Cannons LC, the PLL’s eighth club was added this offseason as a result of the PLL-MLL Merger. As an expansion team, you’re generally “picking up the scraps” of all the other teams, so it usually takes teams a while to build a formidable enough roster to compete with the league’s best, but we saw the Cannons do that in their first game.
They took one of the best teams in the league in the Redwoods down to the wire on Friday night, ultimately losing 12-11. They then proceeded to steamroll the Waterdogs 13-7 in their second game of the year on Sunday.
Head Coach Sean Quirk wanted to build this team with savvy veteran leaders who know how to win at the next level. The strategy was more or less frowned upon by pundits as they wondered how much gas the older guys would have in the tank, but it is working out fantastic so far. The Cannons (per my charting) are second in offensive, defensive and net efficiency through their first two games, only behind the Archers.
Brodie Merrill and Paul Rabil have seemingly found the fountain of youth, giving us vintage performances in both games this weekend. Rabil had five scores in his first two games adding an assist to average three points per game. Merrill leads all defenders in ground balls per game and is tied for fourth in caused turnovers per game. With many questioning if this would be the last season for those two going into the year, they all but silenced that notion this weekend.
The Cannons got solid contributions from all over their roster. Zach Goodrich showed everyone why he is the reigning MLL Defensive Player of the Year as a short-stick midfielder. Stephen Rehfuss is putting the rookie of the year race on notice. Nick Marrocco looked like the best goalie in the league.
Cannons LC Offensive Coordinator Sean Kirwan is bringing an infusion of the National Champion Virginia Cavaliers’ offense to the team, and it is paying dividends so far. Big-little two-man games behind the goal line to start the offense followed by two-man off-ball games in front of the goal unlock the potential and play to the strengths of everyone on this offense. Here’s an example:
First off, Rehfuss’ change of direction to get two steps on his defender here is ridiculous, he was doing this all weekend long. Second, you see how the pick behind the goal line draws the attention of all the defenders in the middle of the field, and Rabil sees that his guy is cheating towards Rehfuss, so Rabil cuts behind him. Rehfuss delivers an easy pitch-and-catch to Rabil for a goal at a critical time of the game.
Underrated part of Rabil’s game is cutting off-ball, he is going to feast in Kirwan’s offense and this Cannons team is going to be extremely fun to watch all summer.
Who do you pole on the Redwoods offense?
For those who don’t know, defenses are allowed to play with four long-stick defenders on the field at any given time, meaning there will be a minimum of two short-stick defenders on defense every possession. Short sticks are (generally) easier to dodge on and offenses can draw slides more easily.
Teams likely have their best dodgers on attack, so that takes away three long-stick defenders (poles). Your long-stick midfielder (LSM) should take away the best dodging midfielder the other team has, and the two short-stick defensive midfielders (SSDMs) take the other two midfielders.
The problem that arises with the two short-stick defender rule is when you go up against a team like the Redwoods.
The Woods’ midfield consists of a 6’5-250 machine of a man in Myles Jones, former attackmen Jules Heningburg and Ryder Garnsey, and two of the best pure dodgers and shooters in the world in Sergio Perkovic and Kyle Harrison. When you have six players on the field that can dodge and shoot in different ways with the same results, there really is no answer if they’re firing on all cylinders.
Here is an example of how defense’s have trouble defending against this Redwoods offense and how it creates a ton of space for everyone.
Attackman Matt Kavanagh takes his pole up top to set a pick and play a two-man game with Jules Heningburg who has a SSDM on him. Heningburg moves it right across to Ryder Garnsey while Kavanagh is slipping the pick after his defender jumps Heningburg on the other side of the screen. The defender is jumping Heningburg because they are so scared of what he can do if given an inch of space, and the miscommunication on the switch allows Kavanagh to dive towards the cage. Garnsey finds him on the doorstep for an easy goal.
The ‘Woods are getting assists on 60% of their goals so far this year. The dodging and feeding abilities of Heningburg and Myles Jones at midfield is the reason their team is 2-0 right now, and could be the reason they finally win a championship come year’s end.
Waterdogs make me eat my words
Just under a week after I made my prediction that the Waterdogs would be the fourth best team in the PLL, they played one of the worst games I have ever seen a team play in recent memory, losing to Cannons LC 13-7. Sure, Atlas and Chaos got smacked around this weekend too but the Waterdogs performance was just different. There was no rhythm or flow to this team on either side of the ball whatsoever.
They finished the game with more turnovers (22) than shots on goal (17) and the Cannons scored on almost 70% of their shots on goal. LSM Ryland Rees and SSDM Steve DeNapoli were their leading scorers, and they both play on the defensive side of the ball. Ryan Brown, arguably the best shooter in the league, took seven shots and missed all of them. I could go on and on but you get the point.
The poor effort was likely sparked by rookie first-round attackman Michael Sowers being late to camp after finishing up his college season at Duke the week prior, but therein lies the problem. As good as he is, the Waterdogs shouldn’t be relying on a rookie to generate their entire offense. There were times out there where the offense would just throw the ball to Sowers at X and expect him to do it all himself against a stout Cannons defense. That led to Sowers taking some mean hits in front of the cage that ultimately sent him to the hospital after the game.
A high-hit on Sowers led to a two-minute unreleasable penalty for the Cannons, and the Waterdogs got a shot clock violation. Let me say it again, a SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION. That kind of malpractice is inexcusable at any level, especially the professional level.
The Waterdogs just looked completely unprepared out there and if Sowers’ injury is anything serious then watch out, because this team has no identity other than him so far.
Whipsnakes still the team to beat
There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said, the Whipsnakes have no weaknesses. A team with the best faceoff-man (FOGO), LSM, defense, goalie and the past two league MVP’s on attack is going to be tough to beat on a week-to-week basis.
They started their 2021 three-peat campaign with a 13-7 win over Chaos. While I don’t think that Chaos’ brand of lacrosse is very good or sustainable, Whipsnakes could’ve won that game by 25 goals if Chaos didn’t have Blaze Riorden in net.
FOGO Joe Nardella picked up right where he left off last season winning 73% of faceoffs on Saturday, adding a goal and an assist to that clip as well.
The league average for number of possessions per game last weekend was 41.5, the Whips lead the league with 49. As long as Nardella’s winning face-offs and giving the Whipsnakes more possessions than their opponent, they’re going to win the 6-on-6 battle against every other team, every time.
Some other storylines; Archers are the scariest offense in the league, Chaos’ offense seems unsuitable for the PLL, Atlas’ rebuild off to a bad start and What do Chrome do if Jordan Wolf misses the season?
If this weekend’s games end up being a microcosm of the 2021 PLL season, we are all in for a treat.
All games can be found on Peacock TV (Premium Subscription), some aired live on NBC Sports family of networks. Subscribe! You won’t regret it.