10 Man Ride: #PLLTop50 Thoughts
CLEAR! The ride is on.
Huge news in the lacrosse world yesterday: The PLL announced a merger with MLL.
PLL will expand to include the Boston Cannons as the league’s eighth team, under the rebranded name Cannons LC. The roster will be entirely selected through an Expansion Draft in 2021.
We have an exciting offseason ahead of us – an expansion draft, a loaded collegiate draft, some new players from the MLL, and a trade window.
We’ll dive in-depth on Cannons LC and the expansion later.
Now, let’s put a bow on the 2020 Player’s Top 50.
1. Captain America finishes first
Archers LC midfielder Tom Schreiber was voted #1 by his peers. Right-handed, left-handed, shooting, passing, dodging, cutting. Schreiber can do it all at an elite level. His role in the Archers’ twins offense shifts from possession to possession. He can play the two-man game with anyone from Ryan Ambler to Josh Currier.
Defenses tried to lock off Schreiber’s go-to targets, Will Manny and Marcus Holman. The Bunk Bed Bros attempted a combined seven shots in six games off passes from Schreiber (1.17 per game, down from 3.09 in 2019).
Schreiber answered by asserting himself, owning his individual matchups, and taking LSMs to the cup. Dude shot 8-for-20 (40.0%) off the dodge. That’s outrageous. Egregious. Preposterous. Unassisted shooting percentage across the league is 22.2% in settled sets. Shooting over 28.0%-ish should make defenses start to slide. But teams refused to leave Manny and Holman’s side, so Schreiber made them pay on his own.
2. Josh Byrne jumps up 25 spots
Speaking of players who can create their own shots, Chaos LC attackman Josh Byrne (#9 in the Top 50) has shot 35.5% unassisted in his pro career. The beauty of Chaos’ offense in the postseason was that it didn’t run through any one player. The ball hummed from the lefty side to the righty side and back. Byrne dodged, Kevin Buchanan showed off some shake, Dhane Smith slashed his way inside the hash marks, and Curtis Dickson (a.k.a. Superman) went airborne. But late in the shot clock, when they needed someone to create a shot, Chaos turned to Byrne.
3. Rambo’s best skill: Selflessness
When I say Matt Rambo (#2 on the Top 50) is selfless, I don’t mean that he passes the ball. (He does that, too.) I mean that Rambo does not worry about his point totals. Over and over he has shown that he’ll put the team first. When Chaos LC shut him off in the 2019 playoffs, he pulled Jarrod Neumann aside and let his teammates play five-on-five.
“If we’re gonna have a 5-on-5 above the cage, I’ll sit behind the cage if he’s gonna follow me behind. That’s gonna give us more opportunities,” said Rambo. “Everyone knows the lower the numbers, the easier it is to score. 1-on-1 is easier to score than 6-on-6. If we can have a 5-on-5, it’s going to mess up their slide packages. It’s going to mess up hot guys and double guys. It gives our guys a lot more room to run. Everyone’s so good in this league that if you lock off a guy, it’s a lot harder to stop than a 6-on-6.”
Again this summer, Rambo took on a role to help the team. As John Haus and Brad Smith inverted opposing short-sticks at X, Rambo camped on the wing, ready to receive a pass and carve up the defense. He dished a ton of assists out of this set – especially against the Archers in that Sunday showdown for first place – but his willingness to let other teammates dodge is what stood out to me.
That selflessness shouldn’t be taken for granted. Points drive sponsorships and bonuses. In a league where every team has talent, it takes more than talent alone to win. Rambo gives the Whipsnakes that extra something.
4. The Factory
Four St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) alumni made the list: Schreiber, Mike Chanenchuk (#19), Manny (#33), and Jack Concannon (#45).
That’s more than any school after Maryland, Notre Dame, and Duke. (Hat tip to Calder Alfano for that find.)
5. Blaze’s butterfly stance
Blaze Riorden (#6 on the Top 50) was the top-ranked goalie on the list for the second straight season. He has an incredibly unique perspective on the sport as a goalie for Chaos LC in the PLL and a forward for the Philadelphia Wings in the NLL. His soft hands, revolutionary stance, and offensive-minded outlets are one of a kind.
Jake Watts wrote an in-depth breakdown of Blaze for PLL Island: Untold Stories from the Championship Series. You won’t watch the goalie position the same way after you read this.
Zed Williams (#3 on the Top 50) also wrote a story for the PLL Island book. His story, how he has admired Rambo from afar since competing against each other in the 2013 Under Armour All-American game, and how the relationships he formed with new teammates motivated him to train harder than ever.
Remember the narrative surrounding the Whipsnakes in the wake of the expansion draft?
How will they replace 71 points?
Connor Kelly, Drew Snider, Ben Reeves, and Ryan Drenner were all selected by the Waterdogs. Four players – the max – all on the offensive end. You know who that put the pressure on to repeat? Zed.
Zed swore he wouldn’t let his new teammates down. He refused to be the reason why the Whipsnakes lost – and became a big reason why they won.
(Sidenote: Two more guys who helped replace those 71 points – Brad Smith and Jay Carlson – must have finished in the top 55 in the voting. You could make a strong case for them to be on this list.)
7. Crease Collapse (and Closeout) of the Week
Michael Ehrhardt (#4 on the Top 50) finished as the top defensive player, again. He’s an absolute game wrecker. He eats up adjacent passing lanes around the arc. Nobody ever dodges him. His rotations are always on time and under control. And he’s a weapon in the Whipsnakes’ five-on-five and four-on-four unsettled offense.
This collapse and closeout sequence is terrifying. Ehrhardt sinks, swivels, and protects the paint. Then he hunts down the shooter like a monster from A Quiet Place. He’s in Joe Walters’ gloves almost instantly.
8. Joe Nardella on Unbuckled
Joe Nardella (#5 on the Top 50) joined Jules Heningburg on Unbuckled Chinstrap today. They reminisced on their Rutgers days, talked about Joe’s childhood in a wrestling household, and Joe gave a bourre lesson. Listen and subscribe on Spotify.
9. Gutty’s range
Justin Guterding (#20 on the Top 50) has always had for-an-attackman range. But he showed off plain old, regular range in 2020. His average shot distance was a full two yards deeper than 2019. He camped and sniped from top center in Chrome’s invert offense. Overhand hammers. Sidearm, knee-buckling bouncers. Guterding’s release points are endless, and equally nasty.
10. Defensemen disrespected?
Lists like this will always favor offensive players. One thing I thought the players made a point of was voting based on 2020 performance. Well, defenses dominated in 2020.
Settled, six-on-six shooting percentage dipped across the league from 26.0% in 2019 to 24.1% in 2020.
A few who should’ve been higher: Bryce Young (#22), Eddy Glazener (#31), and Matt McMahon (#34). These are three of the best off-ball defenders in the league. They can also cover (see: Glazener on Zed in the semifinals, McMahon against Wolf in the latest game of all-time, and Young when the Whips play two poles out or stick him on a shifty attackman).
Thanks for reading!
Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you next week!