California Redwoods attackman Chris Gray

Drought in the Redwoods: Analyzing California’s offensive struggles

By Jerome Taylor | Jul 3, 2024

Twenty-four minutes and 56 seconds. 

That was the time between California Redwoods goals in their 13-8 loss against the Denver Outlaws in Minneapolis. 

It was the latest drought in a winless season that’s been defined by them through three games. 

First, there were two 12-plus-minute stretches in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Chaos. Then, a third-quarter lull led to a 20-15 loss to the New York Atlas in Philadelphia. 

Before fully exploring the on-the-field contributions to Redwoods' offense struggles, it should be noted that scheduling has challenged the Woods. 

Not playing on Opening Weekend slowed down any momentum the offense picked up in training camp. They're also tied for the fewest games played (three) in the league, so there’s been less time for their components to gel. However, a similar case could be made for the Outlaws, and their offense looks fine.

Caveats aside, a team with Rob Pannell, Ryder Garnsey and Chris Gray shouldn’t be near the bottom of the league in scoring, especially considering the team’s biggest question coming into this season was the defense. 

The offensive struggles have been surprising – and arguably the most significant contributor to the team’s 0-3 start.

Redwoods offense by the numbers 

Compared to the rest of the league, the Woods are struggling in several statistical areas. Notably, their 11.3 scores per game are only higher than the Chaos’ 10.6 SPG. 

The team currently ranks last in shot percentage (22.9%) and second-to-last in shot-on-goal percentage (60.3%). 

Both stats indicate the quality of shots the Redwoods are generating, and those struggles can be partially attributed to the lack of ball movement on offense, as the Woods currently have the fewest passes per game in the league (192.3). 

Though it’s not a 1-for-1 correlation, more passes typically lead to more assists.

More assists tend to lead to a higher shooting percentage, which could mean more goals for the Woods.

Offensive answers according to the data

So, who’s going to be responsible for sparking this offense? 

We can figure out who might need to shoulder more or less of the load by looking at individual players’ usage rate — a statistic that aims to account for multiple aspects of a player's contribution, including assists, shots, turnovers and scoring points. 

Here’s how we calculate the usage rate: Usage Rate = (Indiv. Assists + Shots + Turnovers + Scoring Points) / (Team Assists + Shots + Turnovers + Scoring Points) * 100 

One thing that might benefit the Woods offense is Pannell and Garnsey being more aggressive in searching for their own shot. The bulk of both players' rates are coming from their assists, turnovers and shots, but not necessarily their goals. 

Last year, the asymmetric scoring between the Woods’ attack and midfield may have made them one-dimensional, but the output was strong enough to produce some wins. 

Right now, getting a singular dub is the top priority, not how they get one, because California is currently at risk of essentially being eliminated from playoff contention early in the season. 

Being more intentional about getting looks for Charlie Bertrand and Garrett Degnon at the midfield would be beneficial. Considering the two-man game was so successful in their first game, getting back to variations of that action when droughts occur could help mitigate the length of time the Woods go without a goal. 

Another decision Nat St. Laurent and offensive coordinator John Grant Jr. must make is how they will use Gray moving forward. 

The Redwoods acquired Gray in the offseason essentially as a substitution for the fifth pick in the 2024 draft, but his low usage rate suggests he hasn’t fully been incorporated into the offense yet. 

There is a caveat to Gray’s usage, considering he missed the Woods’ first game of the season. That said, his per-game touches (19) are comparable to Degnon’s (18) and Bertrand’s (20), while his scoring prowess suggests he should be handling the ball more than both players. 

This may mean bumping him to attack in relief of Wes Berg, who could theoretically still be the king of the crease even if he’s coming out of the box. 

Lastly, Nakeie Montgomery and Brian Tevlin have accounted for just one scoring point combined, meaning the most significant contributors to their usage rates are their turnovers and non-scoring shots. When St. Laurent talks about “execution,” as he did after the game against the Chaos, these two are the microcosm of that issue. 

Again, both players have a caveat: Tevlin is more of a versatile defender who can provide the occasional boost on offense, while Montgomery’s greatest offensive skill is his ability to attract defensive attention off the dodge, where he can rack up hockey assists. But those slides will be less willing to come if he’s not putting the ball in the back of the net. 

The data and the 0-3 start make it clear that something has to change on offense for this squad. Hopefully, we will get a first look at some of those changes come Friday against the Cannons in Boston.