Head-to-Head Matchup Preview: Rexrode vs. Lyle
By Sarah Griffin | Jun 10, 2022
Both the Cannons and Atlas had a lot to be happy about following their opening weekend victories. Now as the two teams look ahead to the upcoming weekend in Charlotte, they’ll face off against one another in a rematch of last season’s quarterfinals.
These two teams played one another three times last season including in the first round of the playoffs, when the Atlas defeated the Cannons to move on to the semis in a 13-9 win.
Lyle imposes a threat on any defense. He’s innovative and explosive on and off-ball. However, as someone tasked with covering him three times already, few know Lyle as well as Rexrode.
“His creativity is the hardest part of defending him. He’s capable of doing things other guys can’t,” Rexrode said.
Rexrode is the ideal candidate for the Bulls when it comes to who’s tasked with covering Lyle.
“Rex has a unique blend of size, strength, and switchfeet,” said Atlas defensive coordinator Ken Clausen. “He has a history of covering Lyle not just with the Atlas last year, but also in the MLL with the Outlaws. He has the experience, as well as the patience and tenacity it takes to cover him.”
Clausen mentions covering Lyle certainly is a team effort, and requires the work of all six defenders.
“We play family-style, egoless lacrosse. Everyone has to step up and pick their poison when it comes to limiting a guy like that,” he said.
The Atlas’s entire defensive unit did a solid job in limiting Lyle the best they could last season, especially in settled play. He went 2-for-13 shooting 15.4% with less than 31 seconds on the shot clock versus the Bulls last year. When their defense was able to set themselves up and properly settle in, they were able to limit him.
In the first matchup between Rexrode and Lyle last season, Lyle had five turnovers, zero goals on three shots on net, and two assists. Rexrode recorded four caused turnovers.
On the other hand, when Lyle had 32 seconds or more on the shot clock against the Atlas, he shot 3-for-7 for a 42.9% shooting percentage.
In their second meeting, Lyle recorded a six-point game with four goals on eleven shots on net and a pair of assists. Despite a one-goal loss for the Cannons, the Bulls saw a much more quintessential Lyle Thompson performance. He shot 36% as he found the time and space to make those crazy shots he’s known for, as well as feed the ball to teammates Stephen Rehfuss and Ryan Drenner for the finish.
Clausen spoke on the importance of playing six-on-six when it comes to Lyle and restraining his opportunities in transition.
“When it’s six-on-six in settled play, you’re able to anticipate what the offense is doing more. We want to play as a unit in that organized, structured approach. It goes for everyone but especially with Lyle, you want to limit exposure in transition,” he said.
Of course, the key to Lyle’s game goes far beyond settled versus unsettled play. Rexrode zoned in on Lyle's one-handed play and how he best mitigates the advantages created by that.
“You have to expect it. You have to be able to be physical and contain him to certain areas of the field to make it not as easy for him,” he says.
Physicality is key both on and off-ball when defending Lyle. As explosive as he is with the ball in his stick, he’s just as dangerous off-ball. His teammates may be looking for him to feed to, but Lyle himself has a keen eye as a passer, especially from X.
Rexrode said off-ball, positioning himself to make a play on Lyle’s stick-side is just as important as keeping on-ball pressure. You blink and suddenly he’s cutting to the net.
Though he’s lethal from both the wing and X, with Rexrode on him up against the Atlas defensive unit, playing the two-man game from the wing seems to be Lyle’s best bet. The Atlas allowed a league-low 1.91 goals per game initiated from X last season.
The Cannons’ offense features both old and new faces for Lyle to feed from the wing. Lyle loves to play the two-man game. He shot 44.4% unassisted off picks in 2021, compared to shooting 24.1% unassisted off dodges.
Rexrode mentioned Lyle’s connection with fellow attackman Shayne Jackson when playing on the opposite wing. He says a lot of box players seem to like playing from the wing, and then you put Lyle there, and that’s when you see the straight up silly highlight-reel worthy goals from goal line extended come into play.
With Jackson and Drenner returning to the Cannons’ attack as well as Rehfuss in the midfield, Lyle also has new options in their offseason additions in rookie Asher Nolting, Brendan Bomberry, Ryan Tierney, and Jake Froccaro.
Cannons head coach Sean Quirk noted while Lyle played a strong two-man game Sunday with new faces such as Nolting and Bomberry, the team-first, well-balanced nature of the offense is what pushed them ahead.
“We don’t depend on just one or two people. To be successful against the Atlas defense, we have to continue to play that unselfish offense,” Quirk said.
He said the Atlas’s defensive unit as a whole is tenacious and tough, and makes few mistakes.
“They’ve got Rexrode, van Raaphorst, Durkin, Logan, Adams, and very tough goaltending. They’re a defense rooted in fundamentals and don’t mess up often.”
Quirk said sharing the ball and taking each possession one at a time is the best approach to the Bulls’ backend. Even with a generational talent like Lyle, now fully healthy after battling injury last year, their success last weekend came in no one person trying to be the star.
Lyle and Rexrode matchup for Round IV against one another this Saturday at 6 ET on ESPN2.