Chris Gray vs Cannons

How should the Cannons guard Chris Gray?

By Grant DelVecchio

Sep 1, 2023

The Cannons and Atlas will meet for the third time this summer on Monday in the quarterfinals of the Cash App Playoffs. At this point, both teams are familiar with what the other is capable of on both ends of the field and running out of cards to play. 

But, considering Chris Gray scored a career-high five goals against the Boom Squad three weeks ago - including two in the fourth quarter that nearly propelled the Bulls to a comeback victory, one thing the Cannons do have the opportunity to do is put a different defender on the dynamic second-year pro. Max Wayne has had a solid season playing in defensive coordinator Mikey Thompson’s defense, but was overmatched as the primary defender against the smaller and slippery Gray. 

Cade van Raaphorst

Cade van Raaphorst drew the matchup against Gray when the two teams first played against each other back in week four in what also happened to be CVR’s season debut. Gray scored a goal and added two assists, but shot just 1-for-6 when defended by the veteran lefty pole. 

Here’s a clip from that game where van Raaphorst expertly handles Gray starting from behind the cage. CVR anticipates a screen coming, smoothly works under the pick and then cuts off Gray’s angle to the short side. He’s able to stay balanced, doesn’t fall for the slight hesitation move, and in the end, Gray is forced to take a tough jump shot on the run that Colin Kirst is able to get a good look at and save.

14 of Gray’s 20 goals this season have been assisted, and van Raaphorst is known as a strong off-ball defender. Four of his seven caused turnovers this season came against Atlas, all of which were deflected or intercepted passes intended for his man. All of this makes CVR the most likely option to cover Gray. 

Zach Goodrich

When I spoke with Jack Kielty earlier this week, this is what he had to say about Zach Goodrich:

“Frankly, Goody strikes fear in the offensive players that try to dodge him…when you have a short-stick defensive middie who can not only guard the ball like a pole, but also make plays off ball as well, it can change the entire way you play defense. Goody is probably the best in the world at what he does.”

Goodrich does change the way the Cannons are able to play defense because he’s able to shut down midfielders and attackmen alike. Teams avoid attacking him in big-little situations, and those that don’t learn the hard way. 

Atlas learned the hard way in Seattle. With the Bulls trailing by one with 18 seconds to play, Chris Gray started with the ball at midfield coming out of a timeout. The ensuing play was a simple screen at the top of the arc for Gray set by Myles Jones, who was defended by Goodrich. Gray elected to use a swim move and dodge away from the screen, but Goodrich snuffed it out and sealed the win for the Cannons without letting Gray even get a shot off.

The nature of the SSDM position is such that Goodrich will be defending several different Atlas offensive weapons on Monday, but we’ve seen the Cannons utilize a “double-pole” method with Goodrich serving as the primary defender on an attackman throughout this season. There’s a good chance come Monday that Goodrich will be matched up against Gray more often than was the case in the previous two meetings.

Jack Kielty

Jack Kielty will be guarding Jeff Teat in this game. That being said, let’s say the Cannons take another lead into the second half or fourth quarter and Chris Gray is once again dominating his matchup, head coach Brian Holman and Thompson would at least have to consider switching Kielty on to Gray. Kielty has made life miserable for every player that’s had to try to score on him this season. Teat is one of the best playmakers in the world, but Gray isn’t too far behind. It’ll come down to who the Cannons are more content to let beat them.

There’s an outside chance the Cannons elect to let Wayne have another shot at Gray, but that seems unlikely. Gray was one of the most productive offensive players in the PLL in the regular season, finishing with 37 points, fourth-most in the league, and 20 goals, eighth-most. If the Cannons are to complete a three-game season sweep of the Bulls, they’re going to need to find a way to slow down #4 in white and solar blue. 

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