Five Things to Watch For Redwoods vs Waterdogs
After a strong season opener and a sock trick from Ryder Garnsey, Redwoods LC have the opportunity to start an early-season winning streak when they take on the defending champions, Waterdogs LC, on Friday night in Charlotte.
Here are five things to keep an eye on in this match-up between the two 1-0 teams.
Goalies: Matt DeLuca v Jack Kelly
The Waterdogs are coming off an overtime win in a defensive battle against Chaos LC, where their goalie Matt DeLuca recorded a 58.8% save percentage.
On the Redwoods side, Jack Kelly had a solid performance against Atlas. Although he didn't reach the 50% save mark, his 11 saved shots came at important moments in the game.
“I know not all saves are created equal, and he made some big saves early when we were not as organized as we needed to be defensively,” Redwoods LC Head Coach Nat St. Laurent said after game 1.
Equally significant, if not more, was Kelly's contribution to the Redwoods transition, which was a major factor in their week 1 win.
Tonight, Kelly will have to provide another stellar performance considering that, whether it's DeLuca or Dillon Ward starting, the Waterdogs goalie will make it challenging for the 'Woods shooters on the other end.
Redwoods in Transition
One of Kelly’s outlet passes was to Nakeie Montgomery, who swiftly carried the ball into the offensive zone leading to a Garnsey goal on the doorstep (shown above).
With his speed and experience playing as an SSDM last year and an offensive middie at Duke in college, he’s looked like one of the most comfortable players in the 32-second shot clock era.
“My role is to control the chaos of the middle of the field,” Montgomery said before the season. “Between the restraining lines, getting back on defense if I need to. And if I can make something happen on offense, then obviously, look to do that as well.”
Last week against Atlas, he definitely was making things happen, finishing with three assists and zero turnovers. Not only that, Montgomery had 15 touches, good for third on the team only to Rob Pannell and Garnsey, showing just how active he was.
When St. Laurent mentioned that Montgomery would be one of his transition specialists, he had to hope for a performance like this.And given that Montgomery will remain on faceoff wings and TD Ierlan is expected to fare better in his upcoming matchups, Montgomery's role as a midfield chaos controller is likely just getting started.
Faceoff: TD Ierlan vs. James Reilly
Last week, Ierlan had the toughest individual matchup on the field, facing Trevor Baptiste at the stripe. Ierlan went 10-26 against the best business, but this week should be a more favorable matchup.
He’ll be facing off against James Reilly, a rookie from Georgetown, who’ll be making his professional debut.
Reilly will be starting in place of Zac Tucci after Tucci went 4-10 against Chaos. Of note, despite the PLL allowing faceoff athletes to start knees down, Reilly is expected to take faceoffs upright (at least to start the game) as he was required to do in college.
If Ierlan can get in a groove against Reilly, he’ll be able to get the ball up to his wings. Specifically, Montgomery, who as mentioned above, was a menace in transition last week.
More Offense Incoming
If Ierlan and company can win possession more at the stripe, the ‘Woods’ offense will have more opportunities to convert. Against Atlas, the offense was uber-efficient, with the highest shooting percentage in the league after week 1 (34.2%).
Despite being the first game of the John Grant Jr-led offense, the 'Woods' showcased impressive synergy, tallying nine assists on 13 goals.
Garnsey’s six goals may have been the primary driver in the win. But Wes Berg’s glove-like fit into the offense and his week 1 stat line — three goals and one assist on nine touches — underscores this group's potential.
If that type of efficiency carries over for Berg and extends to other players in the Redwoods' offense, which will get more opportunities against the Waterdogs, it could be a long day for Delucca and the ‘Dogs’ defense.
Will the Off-Ball Defense Improve?
For the most part, last week, the Redwoods defense did a good job of keeping the Atlas threats on the perimeter and forcing them into tough shots. However, there were several moments, specifically off-ball, when the ‘Woods’ defense didn’t look as sharp.
The Waterdogs only had five assists last week, but this is a team with Kieran McArdle, who led the league in assists last year. Furthermore, as a group, the Waterdogs ranked second in the league in assists in the previous season.
If the Redwoods' off-ball communication falls short, or if they get caught out by ball or man-watching enough, the 'Dogs will capitalize on those lapses and add to that assist total.
The Redwoods will have a chance to move to 2-0 under the lights on tonight at 8:30 pm on ESPN+.