TRADE: Atlas LC and Redwoods LC agree to deal Romar Dennis for Myles Jones
In five games for the Redwoods this season, Jones has only registered three points, all of which were one-point goals. Dennis suited up for every Atlas game through Week 7, recording eight points (3G, 2T, 1A).
Is this surprising?
Lauren Merola, Atlas Beat Writer: Yes, and no. To see Dennis traded didn’t cause for a double-take as much as who he was traded for. Dennis and Jones are similar in physicality and strengths, which tells me it’s crunch time for an Atlas team – who wanted to retain a strong, forceful player – that has failed to find continuity and chemistry within the midfield this season .
The thin midfield was cause for concern for coach Mike Pressler before the 2023 College Draft and clearly still remains one now. Last season, Bryan Costabile was the only Atlas midfielder to dress for all 10 games and Pressler said in May that Dennis earned himself a weekly spot in the lineup coming off an imposing performance at the 2023 Championship Series, where he scored a tournament-high 38-points.
Dennis was expected to carry that momentum into this season, especially when it came to the 2-ball after walking away from the Championship Series with the Golden Stick Award – given to the player with the most points – in hand after netting 15 2-pointers from the tournament-altered 13-yard arc.
While Dennis wasn’t expected to post the same numbers from the traditional 15-yard arc during the regular season, there was some expectation he’d weaponize the mid-to-long-range shot and be a considerable point producer. That wasn’t the case through his seven games on Atlas this season, sinking two 2-pointers. While an improvement from his 10 points posted in eight games last season – he was a healthy scratch for a few matchups – it’s not enough for an Atlas team in dire standing, scrambling to find chemistry on all ends of the field and who is potentially one loss away from being left out of the postseason.
Jerome Taylor, Redwoods Beat Writer: The answer is no. Once Jones was sidelined and Cole Kirst performed the way he had, it was hard to see a world where Jones would return to the lineup. Considering Redwoods Head Coach and General Manager Nat St. Laurent’s reputation as a dealmaker and the fact that Jones still has ability, it wouldn’t have made sense for him to just sit on the reserve roster.
What is surprising is the fact that no draft capital was required by either party. With players like Brennan O'Neill making the jump to the pros, it’s no secret that the 2024 draft is projected to be one of the best offensive drafts ever, yet surprisingly, after tonight, all picks remain intact.
LM: Atlas had the chance to put a two-game divide between itself and the last-place Chrome on Saturday, but the Bulls lost 14-13 to the Archers in overtime. Now, Atlas (2-5) sits in seventh and Chrome (1-6) in eighth, leaving them two to battle it out for what will likely be the remaining playoff spot.
There’s no more time to find a groove. It had to be found weeks ago, meaning it’s near-panic mode and Pressler is willing to make any changes that may pump new life into a team that boasts no threat in transition.
JT: Why at 10 p.m. ET? Probably because everyone knows beat writers don't like sleep. Kidding aside, the lack of production from the Redwoods midfield is well-documented. At some point, once St. Laurent found someone to parlé with, you’d figure he’d make something happen to bolster this unit.
Also, Kirst’s emergence as of late proved the ‘Woods have the pieces at midfield to be successful if they can get everything to gel. Kirst notched a hat trick when he was reintroduced to the lineup against the Cannons and followed that up with a four-goal performance this past weekend. The Syracuse product has shown nice chemistry with Rob Pannell, the offense's captain and quarterback. And in Sunday’s matchup, other midfielders also started to come along, as Jules Henningburg (2G) and Charlie Bertrand (2G) looked as good as they have all season.
Bringing in Dennis while the midfield is still building its synergy is strategically more beneficial than integrating him after they’ve become fully solidified in their roles.
What does this mean for Atlas?
LM: Dennis is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. Jones is 6-foot-5 and 260. Physically, the trade is a one-for-one swap, and it’s not far from the same stylistically, with both Dennis and Jones being strong, powerful downhill dodgers that can shoot the two when they get their hands free.
But Atlas’ midfield, like its defense, was out of sorts in the first half of the season, falling to 1-4 before the All-Star break. Its transition and substitution game – which reeled in a handful of offsides penalties after faceoff wins against Chrome – was just as arrhythmic. Atlas is third-worst in the league with 49.3 percent of its offensive possessions ending in turnovers. If the Bulls can scheme to create more quality shots off the faceoff win and within the 32-second shot clock, that percentage could decrease dramatically and the Bulls could finally validate Trevor Baptiste’s dominance (and league-leading 76.6 faceoff win percentage) at the stripe. Acquiring Jones – who’s fighting to prove his place in a lineup and, hopefully, has a fire lit under him – who can get a quick, quality shot off might be what Atlas needs to help rewrite the team’s narrative within the short clock.
Both Dennis and Jones will benefit from a change of scenery and though this trade might seem like a plug-and-play move (which it very well could be), the Bulls are looking for goals within the 32 and speed in transition, both which Jones is capable of, even if he hasn’t shown it so far this season.
What does this mean for the Redwoods?
JT: The Redwoods are officially in the second phase of overhauling their midfield. Something had to change after the three-goal performance against Archers a couple of weeks ago. St. Laurent even said as much. First, he shook things up by taking Jones out of the lineup. Now, this trade will make that shakeup permanent.
As for Dennis, he’s reuniting with John Grant Jr., Dennis won a championship in 2018 with Junior as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Outlaws. Hopefully, that familiarity makes the transition easier for Dennis.
On the field, as Lauren mentioned, Dennis brings another element of dodging from up top. And he provides shooting from distance, which the Redwoods have lacked all season. Dennis’ two 2-pointers this year are two more than any other player on the ‘Woods. Until this past weekend, that hasn’t hurt them, but against Chaos, both teams scored 12 times, unfortunately, two of Chaos’ goals counted for two.
Dennis’ reputation as a threat from the perimeter will be welcomed, but he, like the rest of the ‘Woods’ midfielders, has to do a better job of finishing his opportunities. Dennis is not bashful, his 42 shots this season are the 15th most in the league. However, he’s only shooting at a 12 percent clip. Dennis will have to rein in those shots to help the Redwoods in their playoff push. But, as I mentioned, Dennis is a champion. Despite a rocky start to the year, a change of scenery to a situation he’s comfortable in may be just what he needs to find the juice he had during the Championship Series.
LM: Win or go home.
Atlas needs three wins in the next three weeks to be absolutely sure of a playoff spot even if Chrome wins its remaining contests.
How can Atlas do it? Atlas proved Saturday – despite the loss to Archers – that it's still a threat. The Bulls’ defense played their most put-together game, where defensive stops led to some smooth transitions upfield in which the Bulls let the ball travel and do the work for them. That led to numbers on offense and balls in net.
Atlas needs more of that in the last three games. It also needs to figure out a successful 32-second scheme that follows after teams concede the faceoff, like how the Waterdogs did against Atlas in Week 3, and will on Saturday again.
JT: Despite their offense looking better at points over the last two games, the Redwoods are on a two-game skid. They’ve gone from a team in competition for one of the top two seeds in the league to the verge of being left out of the 2024 Championship Series.
With only three games remaining in the regular season, time is running out for this team to start peaking. This Dennis acquisition may raise the Redwoods’ ceiling, but was the deal made in time?