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Two-way Strategy Pays Off In Waterdogs First-Ever Win

By Josh Schafer | Aug 1, 2020

Zach Currier trailed up the field. As the Waterdogs went from a caused turnover, to transition offense, the Chaos midfielders scrambled to stop the ball. Ryland Rees had already scored from beyond the two-point line. Steve DeNapoli ran a few yards away from Rees. The Chaos guarded the two immediate threats and left Currier, the most dangerous transition player on the field, unguarded In the scramble of it all, the Chaos never picked up Currier. 

The first pick in the Expansion Draft caught the feed from Rees, stepped into a side-arm shot, and picked a corner in the Waterdogs first-ever PLL win, a 10-9 overtime victory over Chaos. 

Andy Copelan built his team for that play. He watched each PLL game four of five times before he built his team and knew he needed to build a club designed to dominate the game “in between the arcs.” The PLL style of play is abnormally quick with the shortened field, Copelan has said, and if his players can play solid defense while also being legitimate offensive threats, they’d create matchup nightmares in transition. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium.

It wasn’t just the game-winning goal. Every piece of the club's first win was emblematic of the gritty team Copelan built. The Waterdogs won the groundball battle 47-24, they dominated the faceoff stripe with wins on 82 percent of the draws, and when it came time to close the game out, the man who Copelan anointed to lead his squad drilled a shot stick-side high on a goalie that had already stopped 21 shots. It was Waterdogs lacrosse through and through and provided a small sample of why the expansion team could make a run in the elimination round. 

With the club’s first win, the Waterdogs (1-3) secured the fifth seed and will play the Redwoods (2-2) in the first round of the elimination games. The Chaos, the only team not to pick up a win in group play, secured the seventh seed and will play the loser of Sunday’s Archers- Whipsnakes matchup. 

Through three games, the Chaos offense hasn't consistently produced goals. Some of the issues stemmed from individual play on offense rather than utilizing the two-man game or ball movement. The trend continued through the first half on Saturday, though this time it led to a halftime lead. 

Austin Staats barreled at a defender then drove to his left for his first PLL goal while Connor Fields and Curtis Dickinson dodged and scored around the crease. The offense scored goals when it needed to through those means, including a Dhane Smith goal with less than 10 seconds to force overtime, but it just wasn’t enough. With a goalie tallying 21 saves on the other end of the field, Chaos didn’t match his play. 

Riorden saved close-in shots that traveled from a high release point to a high portion of the net. He saved bounce shots from beyond the two-point line, something many goalies have struggled with. He saved shots from the left and shots from the right. At times, it seemed like there was nothing he wouldn’t save. 

So the Waterdogs had to attack when they had numbers. In the first half, the Waterdogs opportunities came often in early offense, including a two-point shot from Rees. While winning 80% of the faceoffs in the first half, the Waterdogs created scoring opportunities from the stripe. Jake Withers (8-of-11) stayed on offense following several faceoffs, one of those possessions led to Zach Currier’s first goal in the PLL. To set up Currier, Withers utilized another scheme Copelan had planned on since day one of the franchise. With a plethora of Canadian players, including Withers and Currier who’ve been playing together since they were eight-years-old, the Waterdogs wanted to play some two-man games. On this play, Withers picked Currier’s defender up near the two-point line, freeing Currier’s hands for a drive down the alley and a sweeping low to high shot.

The few times the Waterdogs beat Riorden, it came right on the doorstep. Both Ben McIntosh and Zach Currier scored in the fourth quarter within yards. Currier dipped around his defender, tiptoed along the crease, and dove toward the net for a dunk-in goal. Later in the quarter, a feed to Cuccinello provided the Waterdogs a lead. 

But when that diminished, and a push was called on the faceoff, the Waterdogs relied on what was always meant to be their strong suit. They beat up on the Chaos, scooped a groundball, and made their opponent pay in transition. It’s exactly the way the Waterdogs want to play and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.