Chris Sabia’s versatile role and potential matchup versus the Whipsnakes

By Wyatt Miller | Aug 31, 2023

Last time the Waterdogs played the Whipsnakes, Chris Sabia was unavailable. Although the Dogs won 16-13, Zed Williams torched Liam Byrnes and the short sticks for seven points, including five goals in a 22-minute span. 

Sabia held X-attackman Chris Cloutier to two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the 2022 championship game by playing close behind the cage. Yet, he’s played all over the field this season, guarding the likes of Connor Fields, Matt Campbell, Dhane Smith, Brian Minicus and Chris Gray. With the speedy Jackson Morrill spending time at X for the Whipsnakes, Williams has been playing more bully ball from the wings, making Sabia an ideal combatant. 

The 2x-champion Whipsnakes have a slew of offensive weapons, including three all-star attackmen surrounding an emerging Morrill. With Williams’ size and the Whips’ newfound depth at attack, Sabia’s presence will add a physical factor that the Dogs missed earlier this season. 

Matt Rambo turned the ball over four times against the Waterdogs while being marked by Ben Randall, so that matchup is unlikely to change. So whether Sabia marks Tucker Dordevic, Williams or Morrill, it’ll be a battle that the Whips didn’t have to fight last time. 

Here’s how Sabia can give the Dogs defense a boost on Monday in their first-round showdown with the Whipsnakes:

Physicality Versus Size

Last time out, Williams brutalized the Waterdogs defense near the crease. On his fifth and final goal of the game, Byrnes tried to smother Williams’ hands with a wrap check. Williams spun out, putting his shoulder into Byrnes to throw his momentum into a crease dive.

Earlier in the game, Williams beat a short stick to hit a jump shot off the turf and used a shoulder nudge to create space. If the Waterdogs were to go away from Byrnes in this matchup, Sabia’s physicality would match up well with Williams. 

Yet, he could also cover Dordevic from the top in a more traditional LSM role. Head coach Andy Copelan emphasized that he likes how this defense is built because multiple guys can play multiple places. Byrnes and Sabia are two of the best at that and both top 6-foot-2, 200 lbs, making it hard to predict who they’ll mark on Monday. 

Check Connoisseur

Size has pigeonholed Sabia in certain matchups, but the 26-year-old’s athleticism also makes him proficient against smaller opponents. Sabia’s stickwork has some serious finesse in those contexts, as he uses his physical advantage without fouling some. 

Against Atlas, Gray attempted an invert from X against Sabia. When he spun back toward the crease, Sabia’s perfectly executed wrap check put the ball and Gray on the ground as his stick flew out of his hands.

Sabia’s advanced dexterity makes him a threat anywhere on the field, against any opponent. That means Mike Chanenchuk, Will Manny, Dordevic and Morrill are all in play for the versatile defender on Monday.

My Matchup Prediction

Given Randall’s success against Rambo and Byrnes' struggles versus Williams, I think the best way to utilize Sabia will be on the big Haudenosaunee. Byrnes has much more experience guarding X attackmen, and Williams has gotten less time there since Morrill joined the squad. Sabia’s combination of size and agility gives him the best chance to lock down Williams from various spots.

That said, Copelan is unpredictable. There’s a rhyme and reason for everything he does, so if Sabia lines up on Dordevic or someone smaller, it’ll be for a specific reason.