Jack Rowlett USA Defense
Photo courtesy of Nick Ieradi.

Analyzing the Dhane Smith vs Jack Rowlett Matchup in USA vs Canada

By Daniel May

Jun 26, 2023

In the first matchup between Team USA and Team Canada in the World Championships, Jack Rowlett came out of the box as an LSM to cover Dhane Smith. Smith is the most threatening midfield dodger for Canada, which makes it clear why Rowlett was moved from his natural position as a close defender to cover him from up top.

Let’s dive into this matchup and break down what makes it unique.

How does Jack Rowlett Stand Out? 

As many have seen so far this season, the Chaos defense hangs their hat on the ability to cover players all over the field. Poles can cover up top, SSDMs can cover at X, and they’ve double-poled midfield units before. This strength has allowed them to boast the league’s best Scores Against Average – 10.3 – through the first three weeks.

Clearly the Team USA staff noticed Rowlett’s valuable ability to cover all over the field and wanted to use it to limit Canada’s most threatening midfield dodger – Smith. The fact that this talent has been honed and preached amongst the Chaos defense since the dawning of their existence – in 2019 - made him the perfect fit to cover a player like Dhane. 

“He’s a quarterback, whether he’s covering a big righty like Zed or a quick lefty like Kavvy [Matt Kavanagh], he can cover them all. You can bump him up and put him on the best players,” said Andy Towers.

Combined with the fact that the USA are loaded with talent down low and Canada’s limited threatening initiators, it makes the most sense to put him on Dhane. 

“Jack is an eliminator,” said Coach Towers, who raved about how deadly he is as a one-on-one defender. It really doesn’t matter who you put him on, Rowlett neutralizes his opponents. By taking away Canada’s most threatening initiator at the midfielder will suffocate the offense. Wednesday night, the USA held Canada scoreless for nearly the whole second half (34:40 minutes). 

Most importantly, going against a Team Canada unit that has plenty of slick off-ball finishers, it’s important to take away the known dodgers. Force players who aren’t used to being dodgers to dodge and that should typically lead to success. But these two teams are filled with great offensive talent, so one simple move doesn’t solve all your problems.

Rowlett is a great player and did his job on Wednesday, but as Matt Rambo said eloquently in a post-game interview, “we have to keep growing or we’re in trouble.”

It will be interesting to see what changes are made for this group as the tournament evolves and into their inevitable rematch with Canada in the final or playoffs. 

Dhane Smith is a Weapon 

Dhane Smith is a party starter who thrives because of his lacrosse IQ, speed, quickness, and ability to be both a facilitator and a scorer. 

Putting this all into one makes a deadly threat at the midfield that adds so many layers to this Canadian offense. 

“The thing about Dhane is he makes everyone around him better. He makes them better off ball, he makes them better as a playmaker, he finishes everything, and obviously the USA coaches have to worry about a guy like that,” said Towers.

Although the stat sheet didn’t accurately reflect Smith’s impact, a great example of his stellar vision is seen in the assist he had to Josh Byrne at the end of the first quarter.  

With under 10 seconds left on the clock, Curtis Dickson dodged to the cage, a slide came, and he threw it to Smith. Dhane was able to find Chaos teammate Josh Byrne open on the backside crease with a skip pass through two USA defenders. 

That’s what Smith gives you. He can beat you with his feet, but where he’s most deadly is with his vision and passing. Savvy passing and deceptive off ball movement that was seen on this play will allow Canada to find success against this stellar USA defense. 

“Dhane Smith is such as unselfish and smart player that he’s going to make sure that his style of play is going to, hopefully, limit Jack’s pressure on him,” said Towers.

As we all know, no matchup is final. Sliding and recovering defenses cause matchups to change multiple times in a possession, especially when SSDMs get re-attacked constantly. Smith is an exceptional player who thrives in big moments. He never backs down from a matchup, but if he can get switched against a short stick, he’ll be even deadlier. 

What Makes this Matchup Special?

When speaking to Coach Towers about what makes each player special, he hammered home that each of them brings together the perfect blend of humble pie and killer instinct. 

“Both of these guys are about, off the field, as nice of guys as you are going to find and, on the field, they’re both licensed killers that are also completely unselfish. And that is something that I think is really unique. Guys that are killers – in terms of their competitive spirit - but also completely unselfish.”  

Rowlett and Smith do whatever’s asked of him. Rowlett isn’t married to covering one position on the field, he’s open and willing to go play LSM even if it’s not his primary role. Smith came out of the box week three against the Archers and thrived in a new spot. He refuses to back down from a fight and will take a beating to see the team win. Both players bring that killer instinct Coach Towers referenced, which is why this is such a coveted matchup at the highest level of the sport. 

“The best thing you can say about these guys is that they are role models for authentically prioritizing the team’s success at the expense of their own. That is really unique when you are talking about the best players in their respective sport,” said Towers. 

Will we see this look in the Gold Medal game? These teams never show their hands in the first matchup. Will Dhane get moved back to midfield after the Canadian offense failed to generate much success when dodging against the USA’s close defenders? Will Rowlett carry his momentum from the first game into the rest of the tournament making it a no-brainer for the USA staff to keep him there? Time will tell. If this is the matchup we’ll see later on, we’ll be in for another great battle.

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