By Kyle Bennett
As the regular season closes, a new season begins for the Premier Lacrosse League as six teams will battle in the Quarterfinals for three open spots in the PLL Semifinals on September 5 in Philadelphia. Let's dive into the games, key matchups, and everything in between that's going down in Salt Lake City this weekend.
Chaos vs Archers
Rather than debating who “won” the Connor Fields/Ian MacKay trade, can we all just take a collective deep breath and appreciate how well both of these players have been on their new squads this year?
Chaos is coming into this postseason with yet another iteration of their roster from what we saw during their playoff run in the bubble and it has honestly been some of the most entertaining lacrosse we’ve seen from Andy Towers and company. Chaos have been a late-surging team the last two season and seem to be playing their best lacrosse right now. The emergence of Chase Fraser in this chaotic, Canadian offense is just what this team needed as they will play without Chris Cloutier against the Archers due to injury. Fraser has burst on the scene and like we’ve told you on the podcast and what Josh Byrne said under the helmet in Colorado Springs, we’ve been waiting to introduce the pro field game fans to #95.
Chaos’ defense has been exceptionally better since the All-Star break and historically, Jack Rowlett has shut down MVP candidate Grant Ament. Ament in his career has only shot 20% against Chaos and averages 4.3 turnovers per game against them, while only turning the ball over 1.5 times per game against every other team in the league. If Chaos want to keep their season rolling, the Rowlett vs Ament matchup is going to be key.
The Archers have come a long way since battling for the #1 pick that netted them Ament back in 2019. This team upgraded its defense and having a brick wall in front of Adam Ghitelman has paid off in such a big way. Ghitelman led PLL starting goalies this season with a 62% save percentage and a 10.3 scores against average. It’s tough tough to get to Ghits when the defense in front of him is anything less than stellar.
The Archers offense is what everyone talks about, and rightfully so. Led by the Bunkbed Boys, Ament, Ryan Ambler, and Tom Schreiber, this team has the ability to score at will. They feed off confidence and perform far less tense when they play with a lead. If the Archers offense can crack the code of Blaze Riorden early, they might be able to start thinking about flights to Philadelphia.
Cannons vs Atlas
It’s the expansion team taking on the Young Bulls. The surprise of the season was Atlas making a massive amount of reconstructing its roster and every move just working out… perfectly? We’ve said it multiple times on the Outside The Box Podcast that Atlas fans just had the simply “Trust The Process” and the results would show themselves in a multitude of ways. Did anyone think it would be in one offseason? Absolutely not. Led by Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Jeff Teat, this Atlas team finds itself in prime position to go on a run straight for Audi Field and competing for a title on September 19. But they have to face a Cannons team that were the victim of three one-goal losses that plunged them in to a win-or-go home scenario last weekend in Albany.
Atlas finished the regular season with SEVEN players in the Top-50 point scorers this season and can hit opposing defenses from angles that don’t even look humanly possible at times. The offensive production doesn’t even include the potential for Trevor Baptiste to get in on the action as he mops up at the stripe. Getting a matchup against Cannons at the stripe is a heavy advantage for Baptiste, especially if he can keep Kevin Reisman under 38%, as anything above has been the magic formula for Cannons in their three wins this year.
The Cannons offense is lethal, to say the least. Led by Lyle Thompson, this Cannons offense can score at will and that was put on display all season long, especially in the team’s 18-17 loss to this Atlas team at Homewood Field. The Cannons had six players in the Top-50 of 1-point goal scorers this season and Paul Rabil finished in an 11-way tie for third in the 2-point goal category with two 2-bombs this season. But as you can see, the offense hasn’t been the problem for the Cannons this season. Goalie Nick Marrocco has looked like a Hitmontop at times this season with how much he’s stood on his head to make saves for his squad this season. Marrocco has been a gift from above on the backend this year for Cannons and a big reason they were able to clinch a postseason berth.
With an Atlas offense that brings speed and precision each and every week, the Cannons defense has to bring its A+ game and not be a revolving door that leaves Marrocco on an island in the cage.
Whipsnakes vs Redwoods
The premier rivalry in the Premier Lacrosse League gets another chapter in the postseason on Saturday night. These two teams have a knack of meeting one another when the playoffs come around, having battled in the 2019 Championship Game and in the 2020 PLL Bubble Semifinals. Whipsnakes have found a way to come away victorious in both matchups with clutch overtime goals from Matt Rambo in 2019 and Jeremy Sieverts in 2020.
Rambo returned to the field in Albany this past weekend following a lengthy stay on injured reserve with a hand injury and didn’t skip a beat. Whipsnakes also added Justin Guterding to their attack room before the trade deadline and he scored his first goal in red against the Archers on Sunday. The Whipsnakes can hit opposing defenses from all angles with their versatility up top from Rambo to Guterding, to reigning MVP Zed Williams and the “Trash Man” Jay Carlson.
While the Whips are on the up and up in terms of health, the ‘Woods will be without two major contributors who helped them lock in the #4 seed. TD Ierlan will be out this week after suffering a knee injury last Friday in the team’s loss to this same Whipsnakes team. And as of Thursday night, Midfielder Sergio Perkovic will not be traveling with the team and has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List due to medical reasons. Perkovic leads the entire PLL in two-point goals this season and is so pivotal to what the Redwoods are able to do from beyond the arc.
Even with these injuries, the Redwoods head into this game with little to no pressure as the Whipsnakes are favored in the matchup and are on a quest to capture a third straight title. The matchup I’m keeping an eye on is how well Redwoods wing play can assist Charlie Leonard or newly acquired Drew Simoneau at the stripe. Taking control of ground balls will be a major key for the Redwoods if they want this game to bounce in their favor. There’s not much better than another installation of “The Rivalry” to help close out the first round of the PLL playoffs.
This weekend is going to be one for the history books for the PLL and it kicks off with Friday Night Lacrosse, Paul Rabil vs his former team, and another chapter of "The Rivalry". Get your popcorn ready for an electric weekend of lacrosse action.