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Matt Gaudet, Hero or Heel? PLL Got a New Mouthpiece in #Chromeback
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Matt Gaudet, Hero or Heel? PLL Got New Mouthpiece in #Chromeback

To understand why Chrome rookie Matt Gaudet’s trash talk reached a new level for lacrosse on Saturday, let me paint the picture.

In the middle of the second quarter, Chaos ran the sort of sequence that usually shows that you’re about to bury a team. Seemingly having begun to pull away, that sequence looked to be the ket that opened the floodgates.

Blaze Riorden made a save, then threw a long bounce pass outlet to Kevin Buchanan at the top of the box. Bucky pushed the ball up field to Josh Byrne, who threw a BTB pass to Connor Fields, who BTB’d it to Curtis Dickson for the score. This all-NLL sequence lit up the entire Chaos garrison.

Chrome, last year’s (2-8) bottom dwellers, failed to score for the rest of the second quarter. It looked like Chaos was gonna run away with the game.

In their own style, Chaos were showing off.

Fields had a hat trick and all three goals were flashy, two behind-the-back buries and his trademark backhander. They scored on a flag down, in which Eric Scott trucked through Justin Guterding so hard on a clear that he’d forced Guterding offside. Leading, 8-4, at halftime, the game seemed to be in the bag for Chaos.

Hell, I personally tweeted at Chaos asking how big of a lead they would need to build up to play Riorden at attack.

Then the second half began.

Chrome began heating up. Connor Farrell won 11-of-12 face-offs in a row. Goalie John Galloway, who’d had a weak first half, started seeing the ball again. Stars Justin Guterding and John Ranagan started scoring to pickup the offense. As the game went on Chaos failed to score for the final twenty-two minutes of the game, Chrome pulled off what the PLL is insisting on calling a #Chromeback.

Picking the MVP of the game should’ve been a difficult choice. Jordan Wolf had kept things within striking distance early, putting up an early hat trick. Farrell, as previously mentioned, went off for a 19-24 day at the faceoff X. Ranagan came up huge throughout the game. Even Galloway had a claim to it, as he played a big role in that scoreless streak.

But the MVP seemed clear to me. With a whopping one goal on 33% shooting, rookie Matt Gaudet spurred Chrome to victory by providing Chrome the exact thing they were missing all of last season: an identity.

It took little time for the PLL’s broadcast producers to realize what they had, after Gaudet jumped into range of Jarrod Neumann’s hot mic in the first quarter to insist that Neumann, not his team, should be playing better defense on Jordan Wolf, after Wolf had just scored two on him within the first quarter. Not long after that, on Ranagan’s first goal, I began to notice the new mic through the broadcast.

An unknown voice was screaming at Neumann,

“You should have slid again!”

The very phrase Neumann famously shouted last season, and which became a shirt that Chaos is still selling on the PLL Merch site. With each successful play by Chrome, a loud, high-pitched cackle was coming through in the background, as if someone had snuck the Joker onto the field.

Gaudet was doing this to the Chaos, the most in-your-face team of 2019.

Chaos had been playing with all the confidence in the world in the first half, and Gaudet shattered it. He trashed the reigning Goalie of the Year. Standing near midfield, he chirped the Chaos offense too. Nobody was safe. He chirped Blaze Riorden from feet away on national television, saying he “sucks” and “he’s definitely having a tough day, but this isn’t anything new.”

He chirped Riordan relentlessly. He chirped Connor Fields. He even got a few jabs in at the Chaos coaching staff, thanking them for having traded him before the season.

Under the weight of Chrome’s growing confidence, Chaos fell apart entirely. The second half went 9-1 in favor of Chrome, who came back to throttle Chaos for 23 of the 24 minutes of the second half. By the end of the game, Chaos was visibly defeated, taking stupid shots and forcing skip passes in a desperate attempt to get back in the game. Really, one could argue, they were doing it to shut up Gaudet.

Whole New Chrome

When talking to Romar Dennis about last year’s Chrome team, the number one issue he focused on was the lack of identity. Chrome had no idea what they wanted to be. They weren’t a unit, they were just a collection of individuals.

The storied continued for the first half today, as Jordan Wolf desperately tried to single-handedly keep Chrome in the game. But the second half? In the second half, Chrome had swagger. They were swashbuckling around the field with all the confidence in the world, playfully (and not so playfully) chirping everyone from the opponents to the refs, and even themselves. Like Chaos had in the first half, they were playing like the game was fun again.

Look, it has to be said: Matt Gaudet delivered the best trash-talking performance in PLL history today.

Anyone watching could see how deflated Chaos got as the #Chromeback rolled onwards. Now, whether that’s a good thing for the game or league is up for some debate. Lax Twitter hasn’t been this fired up, both positively and negatively, since that Utah Valley kid waved goodbye to his defender with over 10 million views across all channels.

Some were declaring Gaudet the new king of the PLL. Others were calling him plenty of names themselves. Depending on whose tweets you were reading, he was either a hero, or had lived long enough to see himself become the villain.

Is This Good?

Let’s talk about it. The PLL, as a newer, fringier professional sports league, needs to find ways to attract fans. Obviously the quality of play is a big issue to those of us who already understand and love the game of lacrosse. But think about how much attention that waving clip got on national media, regardless of the lacrosse community’s opinions on the matter. ESPN shared it. Bleacher Report did too. Pro athletes who had never seen lacrosse were tweeting about it, and talking about it.

For the PLL, finding ways to garner that level of attention is huge, and what better way to do that than to unleash a rookie with Joel Embiid levels of trash talking talent? Mic’d up segments in other sports are so heavily edited and monitored that nobody cares. The typical NFL version is just some grunting, and maybe a guy yelling “let’s go!” This was different, not just for lacrosse, but for professional sports in general.

It worked. Not just for attention, though we’ll see how that plays out. It worked for Chrome, too. They roared back, won the game, and became the sort of team people who wrote them off before today are going to have to pay attention too. It will be fascinating as to what happens next.

It Actually Piques Interest

Like, this is a bubble. Gaudet may have to spend the next two weeks traveling with bodyguards. Players from around the league, including Chaos athletes Curtis Dickson, Troy Reh and Sergio Salcido have already tweeted about it, and I assume they’ll now be giving Gaudet and gang their best shots.

It’s going to make for better, more interesting games.

Last year, the PLL tried to sell little scuffles and boring trash talk in order to build rivalries and excitement for matchups. They had to with a brand new league. Nothing about that did anything for me. This does. Chrome just won a game on the backs of becoming villains, and they’ve made the next two weeks much more interesting because of it.

Is this the right way to be? It’s a personal opinion sort of thing.

When I watch the old heads of the game talk about respecting the game, and the opponent, I nod along every time. I believe that. But I had so much more fun watching Chrome storm back day because I knew that, with every Chaos misstep, that evil cackle would be back. I waited in anticipation for the next chirp. I tweeted them. Full transparency, I called friends just to repeat Gaudet’s burns to them, cackling myself at the audacity of a rookie on 2019’s worst team to tear into anyone and everyone.

Sports loves its heroes, but we love villains too. Plenty of people would’ve tuned into “The Last Dance” on ESPN to watch old Michael Jordan highlights. What really kept people coming back was Jordan the lunatic. Watching him continue to hold those grudges and talk about how he set out to embarrass his foes was fascinating stuff. Twitter declared it GOAT stuff.

Kobe Bryant embraced being a heel when he was a player, reveling in tearing out the hearts of the Western Conference. Each NBA season, a certain segment of fans is just waiting to see how Joel Embiid will troll his rivals this go-round, and it’s an Embiid quote that describes Gaudet’s actions to me.

“I own a lot of real estate in Andre Drummond’s head,” Embiid said to reporters after a loss in 2018.

Like his actions or not, Gaudet spent the day living rent-free in Blaze Riorden’s head. The more he talked, the more Chrome scored. He was above 60% on save rate in the first half, but finished the game at 43%. It worked. Chrome won.

Either Way, Matt Gaudet is Back on Tuesday

There will be opinions and everyone will have one. Matt Gaudet just gained a ton of fans. He also just made a ton of enemies. You can say that he’s the Rookie of the Year now or you can make him your least favorite player.

The thing you can’t deny is this: the 2020 Chrome just became infinitely more interesting than the 2019 Chrome. Whatever happens next, however you decide to react to this, Matt Gaudet just took the PLL’s least relevant team and thrust them not only into the lacrosse spotlight, but possibly even into the national sports conversation.

I, for one, cannot wait for the next Chrome game on Tuesday against the Redwoods. I would never have imagined typing that before yesterday afternoon. Just whatever you do, PLL, keep that mic on Matt Gaudet.