Photo courtesy of Nick Ieradi

What’s Changed Since the Redwoods’ Loss Against Archers?

By Jerome Taylor | Sep 9, 2023

The regular season matchup between the Redwoods and Archers has proven to be a watershed moment for the Redwoods’ season, and on Sunday, in a full circle moment, the two teams will meet again with seasons on the line. 

In the first matchup, the Redwoods only scored three goals, which prompted Nat St. Laurent to say, “Changes certainly needed to be made,” after the game. 

In the weeks following, those changes consisted of shuffling the lineup and eventually trading Myles Jones for Romar Dennis

Since that trade, the Redwoods' offensive producers and identity have changed, leading to the team’s current four-game winning streak. 

“We got beat that day, we took an eight count and got back in the middle of the ring and went to work to get better every game,” St. Laurent said this week. “Every week we talk about going 1 and 0, and that's what the talk's been in our group chats, in our locker room… It's 1 and 0, and it's all about us.”

The ‘Woods have to accomplish their weekly goal once more to get the Cash App Championship for the first time since 2019. 

In the rematch against the first-seeded Archers, who were the most significant outside catalyst for the season’s biggest personnel move, the ‘Woods’ changes will be tested.

A New Balanced Lineup

The most obvious change from the first matchup will be the lineup itself. As mentioned, Dennis has joined the team, Cole Kirst spent the latter half of the year emerging as one of the best rookies in the league, and Owen Grant has impressed since returning from a nagging injury. 

All three players weren’t in the lineup during the mid-July loss. 

Not only that, but the ‘Woods’ scoring is a lot more diverse than the last time these teams met. Heading into Fairfield, Ryder Garnsey and Rob Pannell accounted for 76% of the Redwoods’ goals. 

Over the current win streak, Garnsey and Pannell are only responsible for 8 of the 54 points scored (14.8%). On top of improved play from players like Jules Heningburg, Charlie Bertrand, and Nakeie Montgomery (before the injury), the democratic scoring has resulted from an uptick in passes. 

In Fairfield, the ‘Woods only had 181 passes; in their quarterfinal matchup against Chaos, they had 236, a part of a broader trend, as the team has averaged 245 passes over the past four games. 

“At that point in the season [against Archers], it was basically Rob and Ryder trying to carry us, and they figured it out and did a great job just packing it in against those guys,” St. Laurent said. “We've got a little bit of a different vibe on offense as opposed to relying on those two players the whole time… Our shared success and willingness to pass the ball at the rate that we're doing really kind of helped our team turn the corner.”

As St. Laurent mentioned and Archers’ beat writer Zach Carey explored after the Archers’ win, their defense was incredibly successful at keying in and winning their individual matchups, leading to the disappointing showing. 

“Defenses are too good, they're too big, they're too strong, and they're too fast just to run around and beat guys one-on-one,” Redwoods’ Offensive Coordinator John Grant Jr. said. “The ball needs to move. The more the ball moves, the more steps the defense takes, the more the ball moves, the better opportunities we get to get shots in the middle of the field.”

The lineup changes have also extended to the defensive side of the ball too. In the quarterfinals, St. Laurent unveiled another tweak to the lineup, with Ryan Kennedy, John Sexton, and Grant all dressing. 

St. Laurent has used a six-pole lineup frequently as a professional coach. In his press conference after the game, he mentioned that he wanted to break it out again this year, but he needed the offense to gel first. 

“It allows us to do some extra things. We did it the last time I won the championship in the MLL,” St. Laurent said about the strategy. “I just think it goes a long way mentally, psychologically on the field. Last game, we had to take some guys out because of fatigue and the heat. In New York, Long Island, this time of year, who the hell knows.”

Just as the offense peaked, St. Laurent’s newest tweak will give his defensive unit added reinforcements as they prepare for the second-best settled offense (by efficiency) in the league (29.3%). 

New Players Stepping Up in the Huddle

The team’s performance over these past four games can also be attributed to the increase in ownership from players inside their huddles. 

"There was a huddle last game where I walked up, and [the players] were all talking about how much the ball needs to spin. I just turned around and went and got a drink of water, like [the offense] is theirs now,” Grant Jr. said.  

As expected, players like Pannell have always carried weight in huddles, but new voices are emerging. Garnsey, who spent the earlier part of the summer helping lead Notre Dame to a National Championship as an assistant coach, has become a more vocal leader during games. 

“Guys are comfortable now voicing their opinions before we had some new guys that weren’t used to this. They kind of always deferred to Rob and guys like that,” St. Laurent said. “Once we started making some changes in the lineup, the younger voices started stepping up. Ryder Garnsey started emerging more in the huddle.”

Wes Berg’s winning pedigree across all levels has also earned him respect in huddles, and his play lately has attracted the attention of opposing defenses and his teammates. St Laurent says he’s been “more vocal than ever,” and “when a guy like that's talking, you listen.”

New Off-Field Chemistry 

Outside of lineups and huddle communication, the team has a new vibe off the field, which has trickled into their recent play. 

“Jules had a word saying they feel ‘comfortable,’” Grant Jr said. “They're comfortable in the offense, and that takes a huge amount of stress off.” 

St. Laurent noted that the word “comfortable” makes him nervous, but the type of comfortability the ‘Woods have shown late in the season has fueled their performance. 

“You don't want complacency to set in… I think chemistry is probably a better word than comfortable,” St Laurent said. “But the guys are definitely comfortable with one another, and nobody's safe in that locker room. We have a lot of fun with each other. I think that has allowed us to build a really high level of chemistry, and I think that's why we're on a winning streak right now.”

The ‘Woods will have their chance to keep their streak and season alive this Sunday in Long Island, and if they win, they’ll be awaiting either the Cannons or Waterdogs in the Cash App Championship. 

“We really don't want this thing to end. It's been pretty special seeing this group come together,” St Laurent said.