Matchup Preview: Josh Byrne vs. JT Giles-Harris

By Austin Owens | Sep 1, 2022

Among the three Quarterfinal matchups on tap for this coming weekend, we’ll get to see the second showdown of 2022 between the Chrome and Chaos. 

The two teams each play a physical brand of lacrosse, and both have influences from the indoor game. Fans last saw this matchup in Denver on Aug. 6, when Chrome bested Chaos by a 13-9 scoreline at Peter Barton Stadium. 

Both of these teams are no stranger to going head to head in elimination scenarios. They met up in the Quarterfinals of the 2020 Championship Series.

The pair of Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith came alive in those playoffs, helping their squad with massive performances in all three games. Chrome had no answers defensively for Byrne in the Quarterfinal, as he finished the game with four goals and seven points in a 19-14 victory. 

He was matched up against Jesse Bernhardt for the majority of that outing, and when the teams faced off last year, it was James Barclay who drew the matchup. 

This year, the defense of the Chrome has been changed with the addition of 2021 third overall pick JT Giles-Harris.

The Duke product missed the entirety of the 2021 campaign after suffering an injury during the NCAA tournament. He was a slam-dunk pick as the top close defender in the class due to his athleticism and lockdown ability. 

He’s lived up to the potential this year, making the 2022 All-Star Game in his first year while also being up as a finalist for the Dave Pietramala Defensive Player of the Year.

“He was one of those pieces that we invested in last year and it didn’t pay dividends last year. But it’s going to moving forward. He proved today that he could guard anybody, he has a great stick and picks off passes,” Chrome head coach Tim Soudan said following Giles-Harris’ PLL debut back in June.

For Giles-Harris personally, he admitted following his debut that after a year-long recovery, he was looking to prove to himself that he could still play at a high level.

Opposing attackmen discovered exactly what the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder is about this summer. He’s a physical force who doesn’t get pushed around and uses his footwork to stay in front of players. Add in his ability to strip the ball and lacrosse IQ to and you have one of the scariest one-on-one defenders in the PLL. 

Byrne is Chaos’ top attack option, but he’s not your prototypical X attackman that commands the ball. The offense he plays in as a whole rarely operates from behind the cage – apart from inverts for their midfielders on occasion. 

That has to do with the twins and trips sets that the defending champions have now become known for. The majority of the time, you’ll see their offense operate with all six players above the goal line. They also stress being a “positionless” offense. There isn’t a focus on attackmen and midfielders. It’s just righties and lefties, and each player is trusted to produce regardless of where they line up during an offensive set. 

It’s a strategy that has worked wonders for Chaos at times, and Byrne has made opposing defenses pay, most of the time off the right wing. 

When Chaos is firing on all cylinders, Byrne is initiating from the right while Dhane Smith operates off the left wing, opening up looks for the likes of Chase Fraser, Chris Cloutier, Mac O’Keefe, Wes Berg, Ryan Smith, and many others. 

In this year’s matchup, Giles-Harris and Byrne locked horns. Byrne was able to find some success, finishing the game with a pair of goals. On both occasions, he was able to get free of Giles-Harris for finishes. 

In the first quarter, Byrne got the switch onto short-stick defensive middie Mike Messenger. A quick shimmy and Byrne pinged the crossbar for one of the nicest goals of the summer.

In this game, Chrome gave Chaos trouble by lining up three poles on the lefty side for the majority of the game, trying to limit Byrne along with Cloutier, O’Keefe and the other offensive threats. Getting the switch onto a short-stick was a good break for Byrne, as those opportunities were few and far between with the strategy Chrome was employing. 

Byrne was able to get his second goal of the game off a simple pick play at the top of the arc. Wes Berg is able to disrupt Giles-Harris enough to give his teammate a shot with his hands free. 

That goal is a glimpse of what Chaos will be looking to do in the Quarterfinal. In order for Byrne to have success, they’ll need to pick Giles-Harris to get a switch or allow Byrne some time and space to get his shots off. If it’s a straight one-on-one, the Chrome pole should have the advantage. 

Chrome is also very good at defending picks. Their opponents have shot just 28 percent off two-man games this season. That’s the second-best pick defense behind only the Whipsnakes. 

But Giles-Harris also had his share of strong plays in this game. He was directly responsible for one Chrome marker, causing a turnover with the help of Jesse Bernhardt.

With Giles-Harris taking on Chaos’ top attackman, we saw Mike Manley on Cloutier while Bernhardt’s assignment was Fraser in that game. 

The strong play of both Manley and Giles-Harris has allowed Bernhardt to take on that crucial slide help and on-field defensive general role for Chrome. The likes of Matt McMahon, Eddy Glazener, and Brodie Merrill have also taken on that job for their respective teams, and Bernhardt’s IQ on the defensive end makes this unit one of the best in the league, with all three Chrome defenders possessing the ability to lock down their matchups. 

But it will take a lot of composure and patience from this unit to deal with the Chaos offense. They aren’t a team that likes to waste shots during their possessions. Their Canadian roots cater to looks in tight rather than bombing shots from distance. Though you can’t forget about Mac O’Keefe and his scoring pedigree from beyond the 2-point arc. 

Byrne and Giles-Harris will be the matchup to watch, but the winner of this quarterfinal matchup won’t be determined by just one player on either side. 

Sean Sconone will have to come up huge again, as we know Blaze Riorden is going to have a game. If you hold Byrne to a quiet performance, you still have to worry about the likes of Dhane, Cloutier, and Fraser, among others. Challen Rogers has come alive at times and Kyle Jackson also had some solid outings in the playoffs last year. 

But Chrome’s scrappy defensive unit have come up with some massive performances in 2022. To make a run at the championship this year, they’ll have to solve the defending champs at a time that they’ve gotten hot each of the past two summers.