Grow the Game®

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Epic Goals and Gritty Wins: The Thrilling First Half of the PLL Season

Pro lacrosse rolled into Boston on July 4th weekend with double-headers on Friday and Saturday at Harvard. The summer of 2024 has been defined by the rookie class that swells with success stories. More than 20 rookies have scored a goal.

Five weekends in the books, that’s 20 games played. The All-Star Game is next. Regular season trips to Connecticut, San Diego, Baltimore, Denver and Salt Lake City remain. At the halfway point, all signs indicate NY Atlas dominance and Jeff Teat mastery. NY (5-1) has scored 100 goals and is +28 in scoring differential. They’ve been fun to watch.

Robust crowds at Harvard Stadium greeted the return of the Cannons – a franchise that dates back to 2001. Major League Lacrosse put a team in Lowell, Massachusetts. Mitch Whiteley served as head coach. Scott Hiller was an assistant. They drew 3,906 fans a game, going (3-12).

Goalies – Bill Daye & Mike Abeles

Defense – Gerry Byrne, Dan Radebaugh, Ryan Curtis, Brian Kuzma, David Winslow.

Midfield – Mike Regan, Greg Traynor, Mike Battista, Scott Doyle, Tucker Radebaugh, Bill Edell, Andy Towers, Mike Busza, Chris Massey, Mike Henehan, Mike Law.

Attack – Dave Evans, Michael Watson, Tim Whitely, Doug Knight, Tim Goldstein

These were the pioneers.

The 2024 Cannons (4-2) despite winning in Philly and Minnesota, have not been as impressive offensively as it would seem.  FOGO Zac Tucci contributed 4 goals three weeks ago at Villanova and in Minnesota the Cannons nailed 5 two-pointers. Those stats aren’t sustainable.

Friday night, California pressed out and challenged the two-point shot while Woods goalie Jack Kelly brushed aside the long-range bombs. Boston could only muster 7 goals in a bad loss.

A night later, buoyed by a large and raucous crowd, the Cannons rallied late to pull away from the Waterdogs 14-10. The fans gave them juice. The energy and home-field advantage was palpable. Boston ended the game on a 6-0 run in the last 15:25 after Philly led 10-7. For the first time in PLL history a home crowd lifted their team and made a difference. That’s a great sign for the league.

Prior to Saturday afternoon in Boston, the Utah Archers (3-2) had struggled shooting in the 4th Quarter (and OT) this season. They were shooting only 6/37 (16%) as a team in the 4th Quarter and OT. They had been outscored 17-6 in the fourth quarter and OT this season (-11).

“It’s June, we’re OK,” said coach Chris Bates before flipping the calendar to July.

The Archers offense found their groove in a 16-11 steamrolling of the Whipsnakes. Matt Moore elevated his game. Tre LeClaire shot it well. Mac O’Keefe got his hands free.  The image of the summer is what you saw on ESPN Sportscenter. Utah’s Connor Fields scored one of the most incredible goals in history. From a stylistic standpoint, his leaping one-handed between the legs shot is a Top Ten goal scored, of all time. It’s fine art, a masterpiece.

The PLL pushes the sport forward. For that alone, it should be embraced. A viral highlight from Connor Fields will blow up the internet for the general sports fans, live for eternity online and in the minds of young lacrosse players. Smurfs will try to copy it. When they miss, their coaches will make them run laps. That’s all progress. Dare to dream, dare to go somewhere that nobody has ever been.

Maryland (2-3) sits mid-pack coach Jim Stagnitta continues to stir the salad with lineup adjustments. “We had the same team for five years,” remarked Stagnitta from the Minnesota press conference. “We needed to get younger, hungrier and more athletic.”

The Whipsnakes rookie class stepped up against the NY Atlas in Minnesota. Rookies accounted for 9 goals and 3 assists in the MD 16-12 upset win.

  • TJ Malone: 3 Goals
  • Adam Poitras (1st career game): 2 Goals
  • Levi Anderson (1st career game): 2 Goals, 1 Assist
  • Jack Koras: 2 Goals
  • Kevin Winkoff: 2 Assists

California (1-3) shocked Boston 9-7 on a muggy Friday night in Cambridge spoiling the return of the Cannons while injecting life into a Redwoods season that was teetering on death row. It was not a pretty game – give the Woods credit for being gritty.

Two weeks ago in Minnesota, for the first time since June 7, 2014- California’s Rob Pannell did not record a point in a game. Back in 2014, that game was against the World Lacrosse Defender of the Year, Tucker Durkin, and the Florida Launch of the MLL when Pannell played for the New York Lizards.

Joe Spallina was the head coach and GM of that Lizard organization ten years ago. He joined me this week on my podcast and discussed a wide array of topics including – Stony Brook women’s lacrosse, his son Joey Spallina (Syracuse), his daughter Alexa Spallina (Clemson verbal) and Brennan O’Neill (Duke / Denver Outlaws).

In the game vs Denver, 3,675 days later (over 10 years), Denver’s JT Giles- Harris held Pannell to 0-10 shooting with 3 turnovers.

The Redwoods made two lineup changes in Boston activating Stanford linebacker Ricky Miezan and shifting Chris Gray to attack while running Wesley Berg out of the midfield. While it wasn’t perfect, at least the Woods did not sabotage themselves with turnovers and poor shot selection. A gutsy defensive win shows they still have a pulse.

Brennan O’Neill was relatively quiet in the Denver (2-2) victory over California a week ago in Minneapolis. That was an important win by the Outlaws after a 20-day hiatus. Take a closer look:

#42 By Quarter vs California Redwoods. He led the team with 30 touches:

  • 1st Quarter: 0/2 shooting 13 touches 11 passes
  • 2nd Quarter: 0/1 shooting 7 touches, 5 passes
  • 3rd Quarter: 0/1 shooting 7 touches, 4 passes
  • 4th Quarter: 1/1 shooting 3 touches, 2 passes (1 goal, 1 assist)

On Friday night, O’Neill disappeared in Cambridge. For the entire game as a starting attack-man O’Neil had 8 touches. 5 Passes. 0 points. He Shot 0/3. How does this happen? 8 touches. If this were the NFL, heads would roll. 8 touches. O’Neill was a spectator all night long. Just 8 touches.

Denver’s offensive plan to attack the Atlas defense through the midfield was malpractice. Make no mistake, O’Neill is an incredible talent. He tends to run hot and cold. The next step to becoming a more consistent and impactful player is ramping up his off-ball game. I’d love to see him set more on-ball picks, and periodically cut the middle while drawing his defender into the “hot” position. Understandably he doesn’t like it when teammates set picks for him, he doesn’t need that. It looks as if early game engagement is essential to get him going, like a wide receiver who benefits from early touches.

2022 champion Philadelphia (1-4) would be excluded if the post season started today. All four losses were nail biters. Michael Sowers did not finish the game on Saturday night, a loss that saw the Waterdogs go powerless in the final 16 minutes.

Complacency was responsible for the NY Atlas (5-1) first loss last week in Minnesota. It’s a long summer. They recalibrated and reminded fans that they are the gold standard with a 17-4 shellacking of Denver on Friday night.

Porch pirate Xander Dickson continues to get open in the slot. Atlas ball movement is space age. Duke rookie Tyler Carpenter Leads the PLL in Groundballs (that are not Faceoff Specialists). The pro style is an unforgiving brand of lacrosse where windows close abruptly. Carpenter’s ability to anticipate and snag first-time grounders is elite.

Their star Jeff Teat was -2000 to capture the league MVP. Line-mate Connor Shellenberger was -185 to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Those prices will both plummet after Friday nights destruction of Denver that saw Teat bring his total to 44 points after 6 games. His current total ties the league record – and Teat has four more regular season games to play. Rob Pannell’s MLL season points record is 78. That included 13 regular season games at 60 minutes in duration compared to Teats 10 contests of just 48 minutes. Teat is playing the game like he’s in the Matrix, slow motion.

Carolina spent the bye weekend eating hot dogs and trying to find some offensive fireworks after being held to 7 and 6 goals in their last two outings. The rookies aren’t meshing well in settled sets. Who can pass? The assist stats aren’t kind to Ross Scott, Brian Minicus, Sergio Perkovic, Shane Knobloch and Eric Dobson. Multiple pass goals and ball reversal are lacking. Defense to offense transition can be ramped up. The Chaos are fighting for a spot in the playoff hunt.

The PLL All-Star game is up next and will be played on Saturday, July 13 in Louisville, Kentucky at 3pm on ESPN. Drew Carter, Ryan Boyle and Jake Marsh will be live with the East vs West game action and the skills competition (ESPN+).

(Stat man Russ Dlin, the best in the business, helped with this article.)