Waterdogs SSDMs: Blindsiding dodges and blocking shots

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Jul 11, 2022

Halfway through 2021, the Waterdogs defense was getting torched. Opponents were shooting 38.6% in settled sets. They made a few changes: Moving Liam Byrnes from LSM to close, dressing Ben Randall regularly, and maybe most importantly: Inserting short-stick defensive midfieler Matt Whitcher into the lineup.

Whitcher was intriguing prospect following the MLL merger. An offensive midfielder at York, Whitcher was viewed as a SSDM who didn’t have much experience at SSDM. Teams opted for true defensive midfielders – selecting Zach Goodrich (6th overall), Charlie Hayes (15th overall), and Isaiah Davis-Allen (21st overall). Whitcher went undrafted.

Waterdogs LC head coach Andy Copelan scooped him up and gave him a chance. Whitcher hasn’t left the lineup since. With Whitcher in the lineup, opposing offenses have shot 23.8% in settled sets. He’s strong on-ball – and smart off-ball. Not many players can sneak up on Zed Williams like this. To do it with a short-stick, when you need to take one more step, giving Zed’s teammates one more second to shout (“two on you!”), is even more impressive.

The Waterdogs – who ran two-way midfielders in their first couple seasons with Zach Currier and Ryan Conrad – added another gritty SSDM this spring: Jake Higgins.

Higgins was selected 22nd overall out of Maryland. He’s an armpads-on-biceps, glass-eating d-mid. Higgins doesn’t just happen to soak this shot; he wants it to hit him.

Using two-way midfielders to trap opponents was the Waterdogs best form of offense in 2020 – before they added dodge-to-shoot threats like Michael Sowers and Mikie Schlosser. Now, they don’t need their defense to stay and play. They just need stops. Whitcher and Higgins are creating plenty of them.

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