California Redwoods attackman Chris Gray

How Redwoods can maximize their new offensive options

By Jerome Taylor | Jun 6, 2024

After an intense training camp and then sitting on their hands on Opening Weekend, the California Redwoods will play their first game of the 2024 regular season this Friday against the Carolina Chaos, and they’ll do it with some new faces. 

The Redwoods offseason was punctuated by key departures, specifically on the defensive side. Offensively, they made their biggest splash when they traded their first-round pick in this year’s draft to the New York Atlas for Chris Gray

Later, they spent their two third-round picks on Garrett Degnon and Levi Anderson during the 2024 College Draft. 

With these new additions and a midfield that’ll see players taking on new roles, it’s worth exploring how an offensive unit marred by inconsistent play in 2023 can be more steady in 2024. 

Using Chris Gray at Midfield 

One of the biggest takeaways from Week 1 was that when a team had a potential mismatch due to substitutions, they spammed it until the opposition adjusted (see Grant Ament’s first half against the Philadelphia Waterdogs). 

The Woods have an opportunity to do the same thing but with their own twist. 

Gray won’t routinely drive from X – Rob Pannell’s got that job on lock – but if he’s coming out of the box and gets matched up on an SSDM, good luck to that shorty. 

When the Woods traded for Gray, who was fourth in the league in points last year (37), the immediate question was: Between Gray, Wes Berg and Ryder Garnsey, who would move to the midfield?

Considering the synergy that Garnsey, Berg and Pannell demonstrated last year, there’s a solid argument to continue to let that group evolve in Year 2 of a John Grant Jr.-led offense. 

Not to mention that with Gray coming out of the box, California can further unlock his ability to shoot from distance, which might be his most special trait – a trait that the Woods sorely missed last season, finishing second-to-last in two-pointers (four).

“He's an attackman with stretch shooting capabilities, and there's not a lot of those guys in the league. I mean, you can name them and they wouldn't fill one hand,” Grant Jr., the Redwoods’ assistant coach, said after the trade.  

“He's one of the best shooters in the league. But that's not all he does. I think his dodging is underrated. … He's already one of the top five scorers in the league, and I think he hasn't even scratched the surface of what he can bring to an offense.”

Though he’ll be inactive in Week 2, the Redwoods can unlock some of Gray’s stretch shooting in various ways throughout the season to add dynamism to their midfield unit.

Gray doesn’t need much time or space to make the scoreboard move. 

In the play below, a slight miscommunication by the defense in the two-man action allowed Gray to get to the middle of the field, and by the time the pole recovered, the ball was already zipping to the cage.

Off-ball, he’s dangerous, too.

Later in the same game, Gray found the back of the net from behind the two-point line. After a simple relocation, Gray stepped into a shot off a feed from X. 

Now, he’ll be paired with one of the best passers of his generation in Pannell to get similar opportunities.

Bertrand and Degnon's two-man game

The Woods added another stretch shooter this offseason when they drafted John Hopkins’ Degnon. 

Degnon scored 47 goals during his last season at Hopkins, and his 162 career goals rank second in the storied program’s history. He carried that scoring prowess right into Redwoods training camp. 

“He scored in our scrimmage and every single practice,” Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent said. “Every time he shoots the ball, I hold my breath because it's like it has eyes. The ball has eyes, man. It finds the net.”

Like Gray, Degnon’s stretch shooting will be a welcomed addition to the Woods. 

Possibly more importantly, Degnon has the opportunity to pair with Charlie Bertrand on the left side of the field to create a potent two-man pair. Hopefully, this can reinvigorate Bertrand, whose scoring dipped from 18 goals in 2022 to seven in 2023.  

“Those two lefties on that side of the field with the two-man game that we play was special [in training camp],” St. Laurent said. “I think Bertrand would admit he was frustrated last year with his performance overall. … But he's a new man this year. He's right back to where he was the year before last. He battled through a lot of injuries that nobody knew about.”

Bertrand has been at his best in the PLL as a one-on-one dodger who can put pressure on the defense due to his finishing ability, as he did during his game-winner in Denver last year. 

Pairing Bertrand and Degnon together can create even more opportunities for Bertrand salutes this season season.

Creating more space for Ryder on the left-hand side 

A residual effect of having more scoring threats on the left-hand side is that it can deter slides to Garnsey, one of the most electrifying goal-scorers in the world. 

Giving him more room to do things like this: 

If the promise of additional stretch shooting from Degnon and Gray comes to fruition, players who do most of their damage near the goal, like Berg and Garnsey, should have a less congested field to play on. 

In the first game of the Redwoods season in 2023, St. Laurent told the world that Garnsey was “Him” after he scored six goals against the Atlas. 

Now, with potentially more room to operate, he could prove he’s really like that in the Woods’ 2024 season opener against the Chaos on Friday.