When the Archers and Chrome took the field in Gillette Stadium on Saturday, it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Before this moment, it was nothing but hype for the Premier Lacrosse League. There were announcements, hires, videos, planning, and deals galore. It was nothing but ‘what we’re going to do’ to build buzz for the new league. But the second the players took the field, it was the end of planning and hype.
It was time for the actual games. Of course there is still going to be hype, it is professional sports after all, but now we can actually start talking about what happened out on the field. When the weekend ended, the Archers beat the Chrome, the Whipsnakes topped the Chaos, and the Atlas fell to the Redwoods.
In terms of the actual players on the field, when the rosters first came out, there were definitely common themes with many of them based on players’ experience from previous MLL or college. Since each team will only be bringing 20 players to the game each week, decisions had to be made. The PLL released their game day rosters on Friday, giving a glimpse of who we’ll actually see.
For the Archers, I felt like they were bringing one of their best possible combinations on day one. Their defense had 4 solid pieces with Waldeck, Alexander, McMahon, and Place who all played together for years. Their offense had some overlap, but it doesn’t even matter. They have one of the best starting six in the league. Early on, this showed. While Stephen Kelly will forever be the trivia answer for “Who scored the first PLL goal” after a mere 11 seconds on a solo faceoff win to shot and score, the Archers offense took over after that. Six first half goals made their presence felt en route to an eventual overtime win. Despite Kevin Rice being a focal point, he was blanked in terms of points and only took four shots on the day. The main point producer was Marcus Holman with three goals, two assists, and just five shots (all were on goal). And yet, it was the other primary attackman Will Manny that led with four goals, including the overtime game winner.
Despite all this scoring up front, the was still the team with Tom Schreiber at midfield, finishing 1-for1 on the day. This team has so many weapons (pun not intended) that I would not be surprised to see the leading point producers rotate week to week. They have scoring potential all over the field and a defense that blends well between playing a physical lockdown style paired with one that can generate early offense at any moment with Adam Ghitelman and Scott Ratliff at the ready. This team still need more time together, but they are incredibly dangerous.
For the Chrome, their offense seems to have the right pieces, but I was not sold on the defensive picks. For the close defense, they brought Rookie Chris Sabia (the Archers did not bring any rookies), BJ Grill, and Brendan Mullins. The backup long-pole for Joel White was Ryan Flanagan, who was a post-training camp add after the Atlas released him. As with just about any player combination in this league, this is not a knock against the players who were there. They are all great in the their own right. But by not bringing at least John Lade, and possibly Mike Manley, you break up one of the best defensive units in the game over the last decade. Not having the combination of Galloway, White, & Lade when it was available is something that was at the very least worth keeping an eye on as the Chrome took the field. When witnessing the incredibly hot start of the Archers, it did not seem that their defense on the same page at all.
The Chrome offense was much more of a sure thing. A blend of mostly Duke alums and Rattlers, there were explosive players at every spot on the field when they had the ball. But early on, things were just not going well for the Chrome at all, and what really changed things for them was more involvement of Jordan Wolf. Guterding was getting more looks behind the cage, and he had the ten shots to prove how often his had the ball in his stick. In fact, both of his two goals resulted from dodges from behind. But what was amazing to me in watching the Chrome was how Jordan Wolf felt underutilized despite his four assists. Wolf is the best player in the world off of the end line with the ball. When he was able to work from behind, he generated offense nearly every single time. It was also what opened up Jordan MacIntosh, who had some of the best off ball cuts down the middle of anyone all weekend. The Chrome have the right pieces to generate a win next time around, but they need to shift some roles around slightly.
As Ryan Boyle liked to say on the broadcast, the “Maryland” Whipsnakes were loaded with former Terp alums, which meant a high degree of familiarity was expected since most had played together as well. And the result was impressive. In terms of style of play, the Whipsnakes played like this league is meant to be played. They were looking for quick shots in transition, whether it be from at or near two point range, or working it down to their attack. But despite all the of the Terps on the roster, it was the graduates of other schools that took over.
Ben Reeves led the team with three goals, while Jules Heninburg also had a pair and an assist. Matt Rambo did lead the team in point due to his three assists, but it was Ryan Drenner who made the most of his time, notching a pair of goals despite spending just about a quarter’s worth of clock time on the field. The member of the Whipsnakes that really stood out was Joe Nardella. He led the league with 66% on faceoff wins for the weekend, and of his twenty wins, grabbed 12 ground balls, also a league high. Even though he did not score himself, his importance was underscored when he was on the sideline due to a faceoff violation (PLL rules require you to sit after a pre-whistle violation). In his absence, Jake Bernhardt took one faceoff and Tommy Kelly took it the other way for a goal.
Speaking of Tommy Kelly, he was on the other side of Nardella’s battle at the X for the Chaos. The Chaos, like the Chrome, did not show up with the team I was expecting. On paper, this was team NLL. Their total roster is loaded with box players, which has some risks of its own. That many players coming off a full season means you may have several needing some rest or nursing injuries. Two of them (Tyson Bell and Curtis Dickson) are just a week removed from winning the NLL Championship. Overall, their main box players were left at home, leaving their offense to take the shape of a more traditional field lacrosse offense with Connor Fields at X and Myles Jones up top. In the beginning, it wasn’t looking good. Down 10-5 at halftime, they needed a serious spark from someone.
The obvious players to provide that impact were Fields or Jones, and they did try. The two combined for 11 shots as the top two shooters on the team. Where the Chaos do deserve a ton of credit is in their distribution. Nearly everyone was involved in trying to generate offense. The player that really stood out the was Josh Byrne. Even though he was playing for an NLL Championship a week ago and was dealing with injuries this season, he was electric in this game. He showed true takeover potential, which is the only reason why the Chaos were able to push this game into overtime. Unfortunately for them, the Whipsnakes were just too much.
On Sunday, the team that everyone had their eyes on was of course the Atlas. This was the team featuring none other than Paul Rabil, and it was the first game of the weekend to be featured on NBC Sports rather than the streamed NBC Gold. The place to start with the Atlas was where the game actually started: Trevor Baptiste. He was facing off against one of his mentors in Greg Gurenlian and despite the rules designed to reduce tie-ups, he not only had several faceoffs turn into drawn out battles, he also won nearly every one that followed this pattern. It was a great battle in the middle of the field.
For the rest of the team, the defense for the Atlas actually were performing quite well. The close defense of Callum Robinson, Austin Pifani, and Tucker Durkin were a force on paper and proved to be just that in person as well. Even though they lost the game, this is a physical group that will be a challenge week in a week out. It’s also a big part of why Jack Concannon had a strong showing in goal.
The only team to win in regulation during the PLL’s opening weekend was the Redwoods. This was a team that I did not really know what to expect to see. But as they took the field, they proved how difficult they will be to match up with. Up front, they ran with Joey Sankey, Clarke Petterson, and Matt Kavanaugh. Combining them with Sergio Salcido creates a lineup of smaller, super quick dodgers that are deadly on and off ball. Compared to the size of the Atlas defense, this was a great combination. When you had players like Sergio Perkovic, Kyle Harrison, and Joe Walters being the dodgers from the midfield, this team becomes an offensive nightmare for matchups.
The real surprise for the Redwoods was the emergence of Tim Troutner. He had one of the best pro debuts I’ve seen, leading the league in save percentage and radiating confidence between the pipes. He was vocal and active and was immediately the hub of the defense. If this weekend’s performance is something we’ll see regularly through the season, the Redwoods are going to be an extremely difficult team to beat.
As we now look forward to the second week of games at Red Bull Arena, we’ll see what teams to shake up the lineups. It looks like they will only be bringing 20 players per team each week despite having about 32 at their disposal. Seeing this week-to-week will be a story line to watch as it may change based on the opponent, or just to get the best full team out there. Now with Week 1 over, though, each team can just purely focus on the lacrosse, which is a welcome sight.