My Five Toughest Opponents
By Tucker Durkin | May 1, 2020
The most challenging part of this exercise was to keep my analysis within a reasonable length and limit it to just a few guys. I’ve always prided myself on being an over-preparer of sorts when it comes to who my matchup is against and who we are playing. I am entering my eighth year of professional lacrosse and have matched up with some of the best players to play the game. I consider myself extremely lucky to have competed against so many great players because they have pushed me to become a better player, and have certainly kept me hungry and humble. Below are five guys that I’ve come up against in my first year in the PLL. These are guys that I have played against for a few years at this point, and have tremendous respect for as players, competitors, and teammates. As I mentioned, there are so many amazing players in the league, so this is just my opinion. Here are my five toughest opponents.
There is a reason Matt Rambo was voted as the top player in the PLL and named MVP last season. The reason, from my perspective, might surprise you though. If you’ve ever watched Matt play, you’ve seen his unparalleled physicality/strength, underrated quick burst, and powerful shot. His ability to maneuver and manipulate his body at the point of attack is incredible as well. He is at his best when defenders lock up with him and get over-aggressive with their stick (I’ve learned first hand). What I respect most though is how he plays the game. Like a true Alpha #1 quarterback attackman, Matt could care less whether he scores 0 points or 10. It’s the way he plays and approaches the game that makes him so special. He takes what the game/defense gives him and makes strategic decisions on the field in a way that is best for his team. His IQ on the field is off the charts. If he needs to dodge a lot one game, he will. If he needs to be a transfer guy through X and make the RIGHT pass, he will. Watching film, you can see it. There are times where he could push the issue and get a shot, but he makes the through pass that leads to a second assist. These things don’t show up on the stat sheet, but it’s a goal for his team. He’s a fearless competitor and shines brightest when the moments are the largest.
I’ve had the “pleasure” to compete against Jordan Wolf since I was in 6th grade. I say pleasure strictly because I know after every time I cover Jordan I am becoming a better defenseman and will not see another guy quite like him the rest of the season. I’ve never matched up with an attackman that has the tangible physical attributes that he does. He’s been the fastest attackman in the world since his sophomore year at Duke, in my opinion. In a 0-20 yard space you’re simply not going to find someone in the world of lacrosse that can run at his defender, stick his foot in the ground, and drive relentless to the area of the field he’s attacking. What’s more impressive about Jordan is his strength at the point of attack. If I am able to match his initial speed/burst, that’s when the real work starts. Jordan is incredibly strong once you lock up with him and has the ability to drive you to an area of the field where he can get a high percentage shot. Jordan’s an incredible talent, great teammate, and could care less about individual accolades and hype. I respect him so much.
Connor is one of the bright young stars of our game. The lacrosse world will have the luxury of watching this kid play for the next decade and I’m positive he will continue to be wowing the public on a weekly basis with his creativity and precision. What is especially unique about Connor is he is able to use your individual defensive approach/strategy to both his advantage and your disadvantage. If you try to take away one side of the field, he’s very good at using that cushion to attack the other side and be just as dangerous. He’s a natural lefty that is just as dangerous attacking righty without even without putting the stick in his right hand! Traditionally, as a defender, you want to dictate and force an attackman to one area of the field that they are less comfortable - this is not the case with Connor. Connor possesses the ability to take what he is getting and beat you from wherever on the field. When we played the Chaos in Albany, my approach was to pay him more straight-up, react, and use my feet to the best of my ability; this was new to me. I thought it worked out OK due to my teammates helping when needed. I walked away from the game feeling good after the W however when I looked at the film on Monday I noticed he could have had about 5 or 6 assists that day. He is a guy you can play great defense against yet he will walk away with 2,5.
I absolutely love the way Matt plays the game. He is undoubtedly one of the most complete attackman I’ve ever had the chance to guard. As a dodger, he’s both strategic and surgical in his approach. Off picks, from the corners, off the end line, from any area of the left-wing, there is truly no spot where he can’t operate with the ball in his stick. He’s incredibly quick, a tremendous feeder, and plays off the ball as well as any quarterback attackman I’ve ever played against. When I cover Matt, I know that it is much more than a 1v1 battle. He is going to test me as an off-ball player as well. What is really special about Matt is you have to cover/react to him multiple times on most of his dodges. First, you are reacting to his initial move, second, you are playing his speed to the cage, and third, you have to be extremely disciplined at the point of attack around goal-line. When Matt approaches GLE he has an arsenal of different moves he likes to do. He can roll quickly inside, beat you top side, step away and feed, or step away and re-attack topside or underneath. Matt is a blast to play against, yet very hard to scout because he changes up his strategy on the fly as good anyone.
I’ve been lucky to be professional teammates with Kieran for the last six years. We’ve pushed each other in practice and I like to think that we have made each other better lacrosse players. I know I can say it with certainty that he has for me. Kieran is as good of an athlete that I’ve seen play. In fact, he reminds me more of a basketball player in the way he attacks the cage and controls his body after contact. He is a perfect combination of fluidity and explosion. He’s explosive in the way that he attacks the cage, yet has unbelievable body control and hands once his defender initiates contact. When he attacks the cage there is no one better at maintaining body control and sliding off contact as Kieran McArdle. His first step off the left-wing is as good as it gets, but he’s even more dangerous as a rollback feeder and shooter once his defender initiates contact. It really does remind me of a low post basketball player the way he rolls and creates space to shoot. Kieran’s an unbelievable teammate, and his will to win is as tough as they come. Talk about a guy that won’t back down to anyone.