A New Philosophy Fueling the “Chromeback”
By Jerome Taylor | Jul 17, 2020
After the Whipsnakes lifted the trophy, the rest of the league returned to the drawing board to take their crown. For the Waterdogs, it was creating a whole new roster, the Archers had the number one draft pick, while Chaos and the Redwoods shook #laxtwitter with a big trade. However, for the team at the bottom of the standings, a complete roster revamp was in order.
Chrome will be going into the Championship Series with a new head coach. Due to an entirely new lacrosse tournament format caused by a global pandemic, the team will have more additions than returning players.
"COVID and the Championship Series really created a lot more changes than we probably would've had," new Chrome head coach Tim Soudan said, "Just based on people's ability to quarantine for two weeks and then be gone for three weeks."
It is safe to say the team isn't just looking to shake up their roster but their place on the PLL totem pole. With a new coach and new players comes a new attitude and unique philosophies. All of that will be on display Saturday, July 25, when Chrome begins their "Chromeback" run against Chaos at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Tightening Up The Defense
Last year, Chrome's biggest weakness was its defense. There’s no doubting that.
Their 13.2 defensive rating was the second-worst in the league (defensive rating takes pace of play into account by calculating the amount of points a team gives up per 40 possessions [the average amount of possessions per game per team]). With that in mind and multiple replays of game film, Coach Soudan knew where his work had to start.
"It was pretty apparent that defensively it wasn't a strong effort." Coach Soudan said, "as you watched the games I think a lot of it had to do with losing a lot of one-goal games early… it kind of broke their spirit for a little while."
Soudan knew the defense is where his roster reconstruction had to begin. So when he started to pinpoint personnel for this year's defensive unit, he ensured all of his new defenders would have specific attributes.
"Can they play off-ball defense, can they communicate?" Soudan asked when scouting his future defenders, "Are they big and physical? And that's basically what we put together."
The new-look defense will consist of Jesse Bernhardt and Jake Pulver teaming up with the lone-returning pole Mike Manley. Will Haus won a gold medal with Bernhardt in 2018 and is looking forward to their reunion.
"I think Jesse is one of the best players in the world… his addition to the team is going to be great… and he brings people along with him," Haus said.
Soudan hopes Bernhardt and Pulver can take some pressure off Manley, and this reorganization of roles on the defensive end will lead to positive results.
"Mike Manley was a #1 for years and years, he's not going to have to play that role this year, we have Jesse Bernhardt who plays the 1,2,3 role." Soudan said, "And then Jake Pulver and they're all super smart and super good communicators, aren't super flashy they just get it done."
This trio will be in charge of tightening up Chrome's settled defense, which ranked second to last with an 11.54 settled defense rating.
Soudan hopes that his close D develops chemistry quickly, so he can focus on fixing the team's transition defense, which was another glaring hole in Chrome's defensive scheme last year.
"It was pretty evident that it was a lot of guys just running to the box instead of getting in the hole and then matching feet and then getting off from the defensive end," Soudan said, "That will not be an issue this year because we will make sure it's not"
Like many of Chrome's defense statistics, they found themselves right above last; their 15.21 fastbreak defensive rating was second-worst. They also allowed opponents to shoot 40% on the fast break (the league average is 32%). Soudan is going to make improving those numbers the top priority for his revamped defense.
"There's going to be a focus especially early in training camp on our offensive guys understanding their roles as defenders, there will be a very well scripted 'This is what you do in these situations,'" Soudan said.
Chrome will need this script and a strengthened backline to improve its defensive standings. A better defense will take the pressure off an offense that will look to recreate their success but also instill some new wrinkles of their own.
Taking the Offense to New Heights
Despite last year's overall shortcomings, Chrome's bright spot was their offense. They had the best offensive rating (12.98) and terrorized defenses from X (52 points when initiating from behind the goal).
But Soudan thinks the offense is capable of more this year and plans for his team's offense to be more free-flowing, fast-paced, and unpredictable.
Soudan wants to emphasize more backside cuts and off-ball movement to take advantage of an essential addition: Matt Gaudet. After originally being drafted by Chaos, Gaudet was traded to Chrome for the 17th pick in the 2021 PLL collegiate draft.
"A lot of times they are standing around and there's no movement and there was no philosophy about moving the ball to the backside... having a guy like Gaudet in the lineup is going to be unbelievable for Wolfy [Jordan Wolf] and [Justin] Guterding," Soudan said. "[Gaudet's] stick is always going to be open, and if they're shutting him off then they're going to have to come adjacently and that's just going to get the ball spinning that much faster and create backside looks for us."
To fully take advantage of his team's offensive capability, Soudan wants his team to attack faster and further away from the goal.
"We're going to focus a little bit more on earlier offense and taking more twos and trying to play the percentages," Soudan said.
Haus is excited about the philosophy about attacking earlier because of the potential for an increase in his role but also to take on guys who will find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
"You have a lot of offensive middies who don't see that side of the field as much," Haus said. "It's another part of the game that I get to be a part of."
Chrome scored seven times from behind the arc, good for middle of the pack last year. But faster and further shots aren't the only thing that Soudan envisions for a new look Chrome team. He wants to be more effective in using his two-man game by hiding it behind other plays.
"We can't come out and do the Wolf/Mac two-man game every play," Soudan said. "We have to be able to come back… 3,4,5,6 possessions down the road where we throw the two-man game at them again."
Soudan hopes this unpredictability and faster, more explosive style of play will make this unit more dangerous. And with an overall philosophy that emphasizes accountability and collaboration, this year's group will likely be better than last year's.
The Soudan Philosophy
The Championship Series presents a unique opportunity for all of the league's clubs. But Soudan believes because his team had to go through the most thorough roster reconstruction. Soudan added that he thinks Chrome has a distinct advantage because he could find players to complement the culture he wants around the team.
"I think we're at advantage just based on the format of the Championship Series… we built a culture around putting the right people on teams," Soudan said. "All the guys that are new to the roster were vetted out pretty well as far as what type of locker room guys are they?"
Soudan will also employ a democratic process for new ideas for the team's success that might be different from what some players are used to. "There's a lot of collaboration between the staff and the players and I don't know if they get that all the time," Soudan said.
After hours of game film, Soudan knows that constant mistakes killed Chrome last year, and he could point to those mistakes as reasons for all of Chrome's close losses (six of Chrome's losses came within one possession, a league-high).
"I've watched [the games] over and over again and there's pivotal parts of the game where there's team-wide let downs, where there's continuously the same mistakes out of the same guys," Soudan said. "That's another one of my philosophies… if you make the same mistakes over and over again that's when we start having conversations."
Chrome's potential wasn't truly unlocked last year. Haus believes goalie play is going to change that during the Series.
John Galloway regaining the form that led him to three professional goalie of the year awards would undoubtedly do wonders for a defense and Haus knows it would fuel a revenge tour and gas up a full "Chromeback."
"It will spark a lot of energy, I think [John Galloway] is one of the best goalies in the world," Haus said. "Any saves that a goalie makes gets the defense going and gets them excited and a lot of people gain confidence off of that."
The "Chromeback" starts on July 25 on NBCSN against the Chaos at 7:30 p.m. ET, and Coach Soudan knows what he wants from his guys early in the Championship Series.
"I want to see them battle for each other," Soudan said. "I want to see them come out excited and be ready to execute, control that anxiety of playing right away… and be ready to play for 48 minutes".