Josh Byrne, Dhane Smith, and the Egoless Lacrosse Player
By Doug Greenberg | Aug 6, 2020
For the first four games of the PLL Championship Series, something didn’t feel right about Chaos: the team that finished with the best record in the 2019 regular season had not won a game and had not broken double-digit points during the entire tournament. The offense looked disorganized and was seemingly holding something back during Group Play.
That all changed Tuesday when the team erupted for 19 points against Chrome, the highest point total for any team so far in 2020. At the center of the resurgence was attackman Josh Byrne and midfielder Dhane Smith.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Byrne and Smith: the two have been teammates for several years between indoor and outdoor teams, but through all the time they’ve spent together, they’ve developed a deeper connection. They are now effectively one lacrosse mind in two bodies and their breakout on the playoff stage has helped Chaos revitalize its offense at the most crucial time.
The Byrne-Smith Connection
There is one play from Chaos’ clash with Chrome that stands out as both a remarkable team play and the catalyst for what was to come from the offense as the game progressed. Just over four minutes into the first quarter, Smith cradled the ball down the left side and waited patiently for an opening. The opportunity presented when Byrne came streaking in from the right side, catching a dart from Smith for the back door slam.
What might have appeared as a spontaneous display of pristine passing was actually something that Byrne and Smith had worked on in their backyard.
“We practiced that before we got here,” Smith says. “I just kind of know where he’s going to be. I’m a pass-first guy and he’s definitely one of the best goal-scorers in this league, so it’s nice to just give him the ball and let him do his thing.”
This type of telepathic link doesn’t form overnight; Byrne and Smith’s destinies, both on the lacrosse field and off of it, were intertwined when Byrne was drafted first overall by the Buffalo Bandits in the 2017 NLL Entry Draft. Smith, the 2016 NLL MVP, shared a hotel room with Byrne that night and the two immediately became almost inseparable. The pair have picked up on each other’s habits and even bought a house together in Buffalo recently.
“We’ve basically been roommates ever since,” says Byrne. “We kind of dress the same too. We give each other s*** about that, trying to copy each other’s swag.”
“We haven’t gotten sick of each other. We’ve only been in one kind of argument, but it’s been good,” Smith says. “We’re always together. A lot of people make fun of us for that, but I feel like it shows up on the floor [and field] as well.”
Though some may consider their off-the-field situation unorthodox, it translates to a synergy on the field that’s undeniable. It’s also allowed them to learn new skills from each other.
“We play different positions, but at the same, we both kind of play the same style,” says Byrne. "We both like to dodge, sweep over the top, find guys. And on top of that, whenever he’s sweeping, I like to try and find my way off-ball and get ready for a shot because I know he’s going to find me. It’s kind of crazy because Dhane’s been known in the box game to have the stutter-step where he goes hard right-handed, and it’s wild because, in the last two years, I’ve picked up on it and figured out how to do it left-handed.”
Contributing to the Chaos
Byrne and Smith’s mindsets provided something that Chaos had been missing all throughout Group Play: egoless lacrosse. Granted, the team was obviously holding back in its schemes in the first phase of the tournament, but head coach Andy Towers also believes his star duo’s philosophy had something to do with it.
“You’ve got guys that are passers, you’ve got guys that are scorers, and then you’ve got playmakers, which are guys that do both. And these guys do both as well as anybody on the planet,” Towers says. “They make everybody better because they can break down their defender, whether it’s a short stick or a long stick off the dodge, so you have to slide to them. But if you slide to them, they’re unbelievable passers, so if the secondary slide is late, they're going to feed people for goals.”
Tuesday’s thrashing of Chrome represented the type of lacrosse Chaos has been striving for all season, whether they showed it in their 0-4 start or not.
“The coaches gave us free rein to do what we wanted to do and play lacrosse,” says Smith. “We were finally having fun and it helped that the ball was going in the back of the net.”
“I think [Tuesday] was the first day where you saw six guys out there at a time that genuinely didn’t care who scored,” Towers says. "When everyone’s on the same page schematically and they don’t care who scores, that’s when you become very, very dangerous.”
The team has placed a heavy emphasis on checking individual egos at the door. Throughout Tuesday’s contest, it became readily apparent that Chaos wasn’t looking for individual glory, but rather goals that came regardless of the scorer.
“It’s kind of tough when you’re so used to playing with the ball, when you’re so used to always being the guy to take that final shot, to kind of figure out how you fit into a scheme with so many other awesome talents,” says Byrne. “So I think the big thing for us was hey, let’s just enjoy it, have fun. Let’s definitely have zero egos out there, and just move the ball and make the right play. We’re all great lacrosse players, we all know what’s best for the team.”
This change of mentality, from individual accolades to team achievement, speaks for itself. Chaos dominated in its first elimination game, and the whole squad is hoping that Byrne and Smith’s example can propel them all the way to the Championship Game.
“They’re not playing for points, they’re playing to win,” Towers says. “And there is not an intangible that is more valuable to a team than guys that don’t care about point production and just want to win.”
“I think last year you saw our team having the best record at the beginning of the year and then fall apart at the end. This year, I think we’re going to be doing the opposite,” says Smith. “I think we’re coming together as a group at the right time.”
Chaos continues its quest for team glory against Archers tonight at 8 PM ET on NBC Sports Gold.