Philadelphia Waterdogs midfielder Ryan Conrad

Breaking down Waterdogs’ immense midfield depth dilemma

By Wyatt Miller | May 28, 2024

The Philadelphia Waterdogs have a privileged predicament. They have eight starting-caliber midfielders. 

New head coach and general manager Bill Tierney along with his staff will have some difficult decisions to make while cutting the roster to 25 players, and then only dressing 19 on a weekly basis. The legendary coach said he has no idea how he’s going to make those calls with such a talented roster.

“It’s a full house,” Tierney said. “As excited as I am for the guys who are going to be our players, I stay awake at night thinking about telling a couple of these guys they’re not going to be on the team or they’re not going to travel, or whatever it might be. That’s the heartache of the general manager role.”

Tierney didn’t add to the offensive midfield at all this offseason, but with veteran Mikie Schlosser returning from injury, the unit is even more competitive than it was last year. Jake Carraway, Jeff Conner, Ryan Conrad, Zach Currier, Jack Hannah, Connor Kelly and Thomas McConvey all started games for the Waterdogs last season and will have to fight for playing time in 2024. 

Picking starters each week will become even more difficult if they choose to dress a faceoff specialist. Tierney said there are likely three or four lineup locks, withholding names, but added: “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Ryan Conrad is a pretty good player.” 

There are only five or six starting offensive midfield spots in a given week, and eight talented players to choose from. Here’s a breakdown of the Waterdogs’ midfielders and what each player brings to the table: 

Lineup Locks

Zach Currier

“What you get out of Zach Currier is everything,” Tierney said, adding that he’s considered the best overall player in the world by many opposing coaches. His value is incalculable. From the faceoff stripe to defense to offense, Currier is elite at everything he does, and there’s no doubt that he’ll play in every game possible this season.

Jack Hannah

He’s been called the best dodger in the PLL, and Tierney thinks he’s “one of the best midfielders in the world.” If there’s 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Tierney wants the ball in Hannah’s stick. That endorsement combined with their history together at Denver makes it all but certain he’ll be a weekly lineup lock once healthy. He’s currently on the PUP list for training camp, however, and the Dogs will be without him “for a while,” Tierney said.

Connor Kelly

The two-point king is ready to snipe more corners in clutch moments. He’s led the league in two-pointers multiple times, including last season, despite missing multiple games. The 29-year-old sharp-shooter is a staple of the Waterdogs offense, and Tierney knows how important the two-ball is in the PLL. Kelly won’t be sitting.

Ryan Conrad

Conrad’s value is multi-faceted, just like Currier’s. He’s capable of taking faceoffs and is an above-average defender from the midfield. Plus, he’s a proven winner and clutch performer, scoring a hat trick in last year’s Cash App Championship. Conrad’s versatility should make him a consistent starter.

Fighting for Playing Time

Mikie Schlosser

The locker room MVP is back. Despite not playing in a single game last season due to injury, Schlosser was on the sideline, hyping up his teammates every chance he got. A two-handed dodger from the midfield, Schlosser brings a unique skill set and immaculate vibes to the Waterdogs. The only reason he isn’t a lineup lock is because he’s returning from an ACL tear, but Tierney said he looks “really good” early in training camp. He isn’t laboring on the injured knee at all.

Jake Carraway

In his first year with the Waterdogs, Carraway embraced the switch from attack to midfield, developing a solid lefty shot to compliment his powerful right hand. He’s got a triple-digit step-down and can change a game with his two-point prowess. Carraway’s raw talent would make it hard to sit him, but someone has to. He’ll likely start in Week 1 without Hannah but will need to earn his keep moving forward. 

Thomas McConvey

Last year’s first-round pick never broke out, but he showed flashes of forceful playmaking. His physicality at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds is helpful for a Waterdogs offense that loves to run the two-man game, but not at the expense of their proven players. The 23-year-old out of Virginia will have to show he’s grown as a dodger and feeder to solidify a spot in this lineup. 

Jeff Conner

As helpful as it would be to have a second lefty in the midfield, it seems like there’s just no room for Conner on this roster. He’s a two-way player who always goes full speed, but his contributions can be replicated by established veterans. He’ll likely be on the roster bubble but will get some action if injuries pile up.

Roster Predictions

The great thing about this midfield is that everyone brings something distinctive to the table, but that also makes Tierney’s job harder. That said, he loves versatility, and that will certainly play into the decision-making process.

“If you looked at all of our offensive middies, they all have a little bit of a different skill set,” Tierney said. “It’s going to make us have to work really hard to figure out what works really quickly.”

Here are my Week 1 starter predictions against the Utah Archers: Currier, Conrad, Kelly, Schlosser, Carraway, McConvey (with no faceoff specialist against Mike Sisselberger).

This leaves Hannah, who will likely still be hurt for the season opener, and Conner, who’s a cut candidate simply due to a plethora of depth at the position. Four players must be released on Tuesday if Hannah and Kenny Brower remain on the injured list, and Tierney wishes that day didn’t have to come so soon.