How Michael Sowers and Kieran McArdle matched the Whipsnakes’ point total in quarterfinal victory
Michael Sowers started the Waterdogs’ playoff run in exactly the way you’d expect.
After a few failed dodges, Jack Hannah leapt up to secure a pass from Connor Kelly. On the left side, Hannah saw Sowers sprinting from X, unmarked, with a head full of steam. Everyone could see the crease dive coming from a mile away. He took off from well behind the goal line and finished over Kyle Bernlohr’s head to make it 1-0 in just over a minute of play.
This score set the precedent for the rest of the game. Sowers and Kieran McArdle got open looks repeatedly, using their respective offensive aptitudes to convert on most scoring opportunities (literally). Each shot over 50% and secured season-highs in points and goals in the 15-12 win over the Whipsnakes. Their 15 points were equal to the entire Whipsnakes team.
“They weren’t really sliding me and Kieran… and we just took advantage of it,” Sowers said postgame.
Sowers and McArdle have had a ton of success playing off each other this season because it forces the defense to pick one to slide on down low. Waterdogs Head Coach Andy Copelan forced that choice early and often in this game, and it paid dividends in the form of consistent scoring throughout the first-round matchup.
Kieran McArdle’s Placement
McArdle was quintessentially clutch. On Monday, his physical placement on the field was arguably more impressive than his pin-point accuracy. McArdle’s knowledge of defensive concepts and constant anticipation put him in the right spot most of the time, capitalizing at 54.5% as a result.
In the first quarter, Sowers assisted McArdle to tie it up at two. When Sowers dodged laterally from the left side, Matt Dunn switched off McArdle to slide onto Sowers. McArdle immediately stepped into the open pocket on the left wing, collected Sowers’ high pass and whipped it into the close corner.
It’s a deadly decision that teams are forced to make. Will the defense slide off McArdle and onto Sowers? Will they double both and leave the midfield defense on their own? Neither option is ideal, especially with guys like Jack Hannah and Ryan Conrad, who can create shots routinely off the dodge.
McArdle hit the Waterdogs’ final three goals of the game in the final 12 minutes and one second. At the end of the third, McArdle and Sowers connected on a carbon-copy of their first goal. Sowers drew the slide down low before swinging to a wide-open McArdle on the wing, who buried it to give the Waterdogs a 13-10 lead with one second remaining in the third.
Then, he repeated a different goal for his final two scores to put the game away. Both of McArdle’s doorstep finishes in transition were assisted by Ethan Walker on the right side. He scored the first one in a mid-air spider-man pose, and the second was a low-to-high stinger into the far corner.
McArdle didn’t do anything different than he usually does – he played his game and hit the shots he should have, and it ended in a six-goal performance. Sowers did the same, but showed noticeable improvement in a specific area.
Michael Sowers’ two-handed dominance
Marking Sowers 1-on-1 is nearly impossible. When he realized his advantage, it was all gas and no breaks, with some wrinkles sprinkled in.
In the 2023 regular season, Sowers shot 3-for-36 (8.3%) with his left hand and 12-for-42 (28.6%) with his right. That’s a massive deficiency that teams have attacked all season, forcing Sowers to his left at every opportunity. But on Monday, two of Sowers’ five goals were left-handed.
He finished with seven points and went 5-for-7 on the day (71.4%), including three-straight crease rolls in the second quarter – two were with his off-hand.
After winning the opening faceoff inside their own arc, Jake Higgins collected and cleared the ball through contact. It made its way to Sowers on the left side, and he motioned toward X. Rather than settling behind the cage, the speedster recognized the mismatch on Dunn and blew past him. Starting outside the left arc, he sprinted all the way around the crease and stuffed his left-handed shot into the low corner from straight ahead.
That score sparked the first 4-0 run for either team, and Sowers hit two of them. Just two minutes later, Sowers scored on another crease roll, this time with his right hand. After that, Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnitta had seen enough. He switched Bryce Young onto Sowers, to no avail.
It took Sowers just two possessions to score on Young, going back to his left to do it. After finishing low on the last two, Sowers’ stutter-step at X got his hands free as he crossed the goal line, wrapping an over-the-shoulder shot above Kyle Bernlohr’s head.
A lefty emergence from Sowers in these playoffs would throw a wrench into opposing defenses, and he showed the potential to do so on Monday.
Stagnitta would pull Bernlohr at the half after going 2-for-12 on save opportunities (16.7%). Sowers and McArdle had his number, and Brian Phipps didn’t fare much better, giving up four of his five goals to the duo.
The Waterdogs will face the Cannon on Sunday in the Cash App Playoff Semifinals at 5:30 p.m. on Long Island, NY. The Boom Squad’s defense will surely slide more onto Sowers and McArdle, leaving the midfield open to dodge more freely.
Sowers and McArdle live down low, so they’ll have a tough task against a Cannons defense that allowed the least amount of goals on X initiations this season.