Without having a city or state attached to Premier Lacrosse League clubs, it’s hard for a lot of fans to immediately relate to the teams. For the average Joe, there’s only so many names that they hear in the media and picking a team based on the players you have heard of can be a good, or bad, thing. If that’s your style across the board for finding a bandwagon to jump on, then the Atlas LC may be for you.
Saturday afternoon marks the beginning of the PLL Championship Series, a World Cup style tournament replacing the regular season with a mini event spanning 11 days.
If you know one pro lacrosse player, money is on Paul Rabil. Having made a name for himself as one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the game, Rabil solidified himself as a pillar of the spot when he launched the PLL.
If it’s easy to justify pulling for a team of marketable stars, start looking at Atlas LC, aka the Fightin’ Paul Rabils.
Who are the Atlas?
Atlas LC is one of the founding six teams of the PLL, and the one that just so happens to have league co-founder and CMO Paul Rabil on the roster. They have a pretty sick cattle skull for a logo and couple a light shade of electric blue and white for one of the best color schemes in professional lacrosse.
The Atlas are rotating coaching staffs this season, cutting ties with Michigan Lacrosse pioneer John Paul for Ben Rubeor, a former pro lacrosse all-star that has raised hardware at all levels of the game.
Should I root for Atlas?
If any of the following statements speak to you, then yes, you should become an Atlas fan.
You might be an Atlas fan if:
- You only ever root for whichever team LeBron moves to in the NBA.
- Your training regimen begins and ends with weights.
- Your preferred version of lacrosse is just a split dodge mixtape.
- You want the team that provides the most thirst-trap Instagram posts per capita.
- You believe firmly in power over everything.
What happened with Atlas last season?
In the words of newly-acquired midfielder from Chrome LC Romar Dennis,
“Atlas sorta bombed.”
He’s not wrong.
After a bunch of Twitter jokes about Rabil stacking his own team to try and win the first-ever PLL Crown, Atlas proved their record that the league is far from rigged. Although every team in the PLL played in some type of postseason, the Atlas were left scrapping with the Chrome in the consolation game. With three teams finishing 5-5, it came down to a series of tie-breakers and Atlas didn’t have the head-to-head advantage and goal count to leap the Archers or Redwoods for a spot.
Losing on opening day, it took until Week 3 for the Atlas to sneak by the Chrome with a one goal win. At the PLL All-Star break, they were 2-4 and pretty uninspiring. They caught fire in the latter half, but their 3-1 turnaround after the break couldn’t keep championshio dreams alive.
To continue the LeBron comparison, Rabil and company looked a bit like LeBron’s first year as a Laker. The team wasn’t quite good enough to compete yet and LeBron (or, in this case, Rabil) spent a good portion of the season looking, at least in the eyes of our younger fans, a bit washed up.
Atlas finished the regular season 5-5, but allowed more goals than anybody not named Chrome, and thus slipped out of the bracket. They own the losers’ game but then failed to win the #1 pick, dropping that matchup to Archers. The loss then cost them Penn State stud Grant Ament in the 2020 Collegiate Draft, costing them again.
All in all, not the debut Atlas wanted for 2019.
What changed this offseason?
Hoo buddy, let’s talk about it.
Atlas had arguably the best offseason in the whole dang league.
First of all, in what some lacrosse fans probably still consider tampering, Atlas managed to sit pretty at No. 3 in the PLL Entry Draft and managed to snag Rabil’s favorite teammate in newly-arrived attackman Rob Pannell. The all-world attackman left the MLL this offseason to come play with his Team USA compadre.
Pannell alone, at least in terms of name-brand star power, would have been plenty, but let us not forget that Atlas also had the No. 2 pick in the PLL Collegiate Draft. With a first midfield line already featuring Rabil, Connor Buczek, and Joel Tinney, Atlas doubled-down and selected Notre Dame’s All-American midfielder Bryan Costabile with the second pick, then flipped selections with Chrome to acquire the rights to Romar Dennis.
Dennis, the former Loyola midfielder who, during his college career received comparisons to, you guessed it, Paul Rabil. So, Atlas go into the 2020 season having built arguably the best midfield in the PLL. Oh, and the brow-raising coaching change, bringing in Ben Rubeor.
Who is the face of the franchise?
Well, this one really depends on your age.
If, like the author, you’re twenty-five or older, then this remains Paul Rabil’s team.
He’s the founder of the whole dang league, and one of the most important and impactful pro lacrosse players of all-time. Full stop.
If, however, you’re in the #WashedKing camp entering 2020, then this team probably belongs, in your mind, to Trevor Baptiste, the face-off specialist extraordinaire.
In fact, when asked about the biggest issue when facing Atlas as an opponent last season, Romar Dennis was quick to point out Baptiste.
“You gotta prepare for very limited runs when you face a team with Trevor.” Dennis explained. “If you don’t value the ball and you try to rush it against Atlas, they can easily rack up the goals against you because they’ve got all the shooters they need. Baptiste is gonna find his groove and not let you have the ball back.”
Generally speaking, this team is dictated by its midfield. Which middie you want to label the face of the franchise is up to you.
Did anyone get hurt or sick?
Tucker Durkin, the top defenseman for Atlas, is currently being quarantined at #PLLIsland after testing positive for COVID-19 during the initial round of testing. Should he test negative and finish his quarantine period, he would then be eligible to rejoin the team. For now, however, Atlas finds themselves without their best defender.
Are their jerseys cool?
Yes. According to many, very cool. Atlas has been blessed with two jerseys that don’t suck. They’re not the most exciting jerseys in the world, but that’s a real nice blue, and they didn’t make any drastic changes to ruin what they had.
Are their helmets cool?
Ditto their jerseys. Nothing to take your breath away, but nothing to hate on either. The horn is a cool idea, in theory. In practice, they’re just sort of…there.
When @BenRubeorPLL speaks, we listen. This is our time 🐂 pic.twitter.com/eCLj9S7Az6
— Atlas Lacrosse Club (@PLLAtlas) July 21, 2020
Atlas 2020 Storylines
Sweet mother of God, this midfield.
Start with the PLL’s main man, Paul Rabil.
“For a long time, he was, hell, he might still be, the LeBron of lacrosse,” said Dennis. “But he’s got a lot of doubters this season. Feels like all the kids think he’s washed. That’s definitely fueling him.”
That’s a terrifying idea for the league. After missing the playoffs and being labeled washed up by the NBA’s younger fans, LeBron came back with a vengeance this season, landing himself amongst the MVP finalists and bringing the Lakers to the top seed out West. If Rabil can have a bounce-back season like that, he instantly becomes not only a top-five midfielder in the PLL, but draws attention away from the rest of the Atlas stable, and what a stable it is.
Connor Buczek, one of the scarier 1v1 midfielders and a legit threat from 2-point range, is also back, as is former Hopkins star Joel Tinney. That’s just the returners.
In possibly the most exciting trade of the offseason, Atlas managed to secure Romar Dennis, the 6’5” monster out of Loyola. Dennis owns one of the sickest split dodges anyone has ever witnessed, and has drawn comparisons to both Rabil himself, and another Hopkins great in Kyle Harrison.
We STILL aren’t done, because Atlas went ahead and drafted Bryan Costabile just for fun. I pity any defense that has to choose which of those guys to throw the LSM at, knowing that the other two will have shorties. Atlas has depth, size, speed, shooting, literally anything they need at midfield, and that’s before getting into do-it-all backups like Jeremy Thompson or John Crawley.
Oh, and did anyone mention their man at the X is Trevor Baptiste?
“We have the best midfield in the PLL, if I’m being honest,” Dennis bragged. “We’re very athletic, we’ve got the size, we’ve got everything. Sure, Redwoods has the size too, but we’re much faster.”
Atlas has shoo-tahs
And that applies literally everywhere.
You want to talk attack? Okay, let’s start with Rob Pannell, owner of possibly the prettiest question-mark dodge in lacrosse. If you prefer a spot-up shooter, Atlas can trot out Ryan Brown, who is possibly the Klay Thompson of the lacrosse world. He should have a similar role for Atlas this year as he did for the USA in Netanya, just floating around and finishing countless looks as his teammates draw slides. On the crease, Atlas brings back literally the best crease scorer in the entire PLL from 2019 in Eric Law, who could have an even more fun season in 2020 as he’s reunited with former Outlaws teammate Romar Dennis.
“Eric can be anything from the X guy to the best off-ball player in the league,” Romar explains. “He’s an excellent crease guy, and just has a crazy understanding of the offense.”
And then, from there, we inevitably start talking about all their midfielders again, which doesn’t need to be rehashed except to add that Baptiste is arguably the best shooter amongst the face-off specialists. Atlas finished fourth in the league in goals last season. I could easily see them finishing first this time around.
If I had to put money on a team to go from bottom-two in scoring to top-two in scoring… well, okay, it might be Archers, but Atlas is definitely going to improve their goals-per-game in 2020.
Better have some bandages healthy
I mean, something has to stop the bleeding.
Atlas gave up the second-highest goals last season, just managing to squeak out of the bottom spot by five goals. You can’t really blame those woes on starting goalie Jack Concannon, who finished as an All-Star, the All-Star Game MVP, and a finalist for the Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year Award. His 53% save rate isn’t eye-popping, but his 13 saves per game last season is. Of goalies to play in all ten regular season games in 2019, only John Galloway (Chrome) was forced to try and make more saves per game, and he finished with a sub-50% save rate.
See, the problem was that Atlas just gave up a stupidly high number of shots, and they addressed this in the offseason by…umm…well, so, funny story there: they didn’t really address this all that much.
The best Atlas managed to do was throw a pair of second-round picks at the problem, first using their second-rounder in the Entry Draft to select D/LSM Craig Chick, and then selecting Yale defenseman Aidan Hynes in the second round of the Collegiate Draft. Hynes isn’t actually on the roster, which means the responsibility for fixing the defense comes down to a combination of a coaching change (their coach is a former attackman, FWIW), better chemistry, and Chick. And now, just to make matters worse, the availability of All-Star defenseman Tucker Durkin remains in question after his positive COVID-19 test. It’s a good thing that Atlas has a zillion options for goal scorers. They’re gonna need them.
The best defense might be at midfield
Specifically, Atlas’ best chance to not allow other teams to score a bunch of goals on them is probably going to be the aforementioned Baptiste. After all, TB9 (hi, Tom Brady’s lawyers!) led the league in face-off percentage last season by a whopping 8% over the closest competition, Whipsnakes’ Joe Nardella.
Iit’s fair to proclaim Baptiste as the unquestioned best FOS in the PLL, at least until he’s reintroduced to Yale’s TD Ierlan in the future (which, please let this happen. Their college battle was legendary). Baptiste was also the PLL leader in ground balls. Atlas may not have its defense solved, but the extra possessions that Baptiste provides could, if actually converted properly this season, make all the difference. We can assume this was the thinking that drove Atlas to invest heavily in its offense for 2020, and the logic makes sense, if all goes well. They’ll almost always have more possessions than the other team thanks to Baptiste’s wizardry at the X, and having the offensive firepower to convert those into goals could swing their goal differential back into the green.
Unlike most PLL teams, Atlas also has something of an insurance policy for face-offs. While most teams elected to only bring one true face-off guy, Atlas can take some comfort in knowing that, should Baptiste get gassed or banged up, Jeremy Thompson is available to provide relief.
Worst case scenario for Atlas in 2020
The defense is quickly revealed to be the same as last year, except this time without a top-five defender in Tucker Durkin, who can’t manage to get a positive test. The gym rat nature of the Atlas roster comes back to haunt them in the World Cup format of the Championship Series, as carrying all of those pretty Instagram muscles starts to get real tiring under the beating Salt Lake sun. Rob Pannell, rather than returning to his terrifying 2018 form, continues to look like 2019 Pannell, and fails to make the expected impact.
To compound this problem, Gen Z was right all along, and Paul Rabil is, indeed, getting washed up, as he takes minutes from young guys like Dennis and Costabile but fails to do much with said minutes. Atlas begin to show their age, and they once again miss out on the Championship Series bracket, as their offense fails to improve enough to counterbalance their woeful defense for the second straight year. As they face off against Waterdogs for the rights to the No. 1 pick in the 2021 Collegiate Draft, former Atlas No. 2 overall pick, Ryan Conrad, returns to his Cavaliers form, exploding for a six-goal performance as the Wet Puppies secure the rights to Michael Sowers. Poor Atlas could be stuck in the awkward situation of having the two best players in the 2021 class (TD Ierlan, Jeff Teat) be either unavailable or not at a position of need.
Sound terrifying? You might be an Atlas fan.
Best case scenario for Atlas in 2020
The offense goes gangbusters all over PLL Island, showcasing the depth and scope of their midfield.
Romar Dennis explodes onto the scene, reaching his full potential as a Rabil clone under the mentorship of the man himself, and Bryan Costabile looks the part of a #2 overall pick. Rabil, meanwhile, has his LeBron season, roaring back into spectacular form as he showcases the skill set that made him arguably pro lacrosse’s GOAT before he used that power to create the PLL in the first place.
Durkin tests negative before missing major time, and the defense manages to gel better this season, providing relief for Mr. Concannon, whose play now makes him the Goalie of the Year.
Meanwhile, down on the offensive end, Rob Pannell once again cements himself as the game’s premier X attackman, and the combination of close-finisher Eric Law and All-World sniper Ryan Brown around him means that, no matter what slide he draws, Atlas has someone ready for a goal.
Atlas spends two weeks split dodging their opponents into oblivion, making lacrosse’s sickest And-1 mixtape since the Bratton brothers ruled Virginia. In a pro version of a classic college rivalry, it’s Atlas versus Whipsnakes for the Crown this year, and Atlas rides the hot hand of Trevor Baptiste to a PLL Championship. With their pick in the 2021 College Draft, Atlas then selects JT Giles-Harris, who, after a successful one-year stint in college football, reunites with Cade Van Raaphorst and gives Atlas a strong enough defense to dominate for years to come.
Sound like a dream come true? You’re an Atlas fan.
Atlas LC 2020 Schedule
All Times Eastern
- Game 1: Monday 7/27 vs Atlas 9:30 p.m. NBC Sports Network
- Game 2: Monday 7/27 vs Atlas 9:30 p.m. NBC Sports Network
- Game 3: Thursday 7/30 vs Whipsnakes 7:00 p.m. NBC Sports Network
- Game 4: Saturday 8/1 vs Redwoods 1:00 p.m. NBC
- Elimination Round: Tuesday 8/4