Philadelphia Waterdogs midfielder Zach Currier

Why Waterdogs need to add faceoff specialist after up-and-down opener

By Wyatt Miller | Jun 10, 2024

Only three faceoffs went the Philadelphia Waterdogs’ way in the first half of their season opener. 

Zach Currier launched the first one into the corner after a failed exit by Mike Sisselberger, pinning the Utah Archers back for a clear on the short clock. The next was a turnover forced by Eli Gobrecht on the wing, and third was a violation that led to a power play, one the Waterdogs didn’t capitalize on. 

It was a rocky start, but Sisselberger isn’t any old specialist. He’s one of the most dominant faceoff men in the world and had a ton of success against the prevent strategy as a rookie last year. That’s why the second half of action seems more relevant here. When Sisselberger got tired, checks started landing and the tide turned completely.

This game displayed the duality of the Waterdogs’ faceoff strategy. The Dogs fought back in the second half using a 7-0 run that was made possible by turnovers off the faceoff. But without a specialist, it limited their options down late when they needed the ball as much as possible. They cut the Archers’ lead to one goal but couldn’t complete the comeback, losing 12-11. 

That’s the sacrifice they’ve had to make — one more skill player in exchange for controlling possession on the short clock. And this season, long poles are not allowed at the stripe, which further limits their options. Gobrecht's ability to throw checks from further out was a big factor in his success last season, but Currier burns out quicker with the short stick. For that reason, the Waterdogs need a faceoff specialist on the 25-man roster.

Let Currier be himself – a two-way star who’s a menace on the wing and occasionally the stripe – and results will follow. He can be an effective primary faceoff man every once in a while against a specialist who’s susceptible like Connor Farrell was last season, but doing it on a weekly basis isn’t sustainable.

Faceoff checks: The good outweighed the bad

Currier’s checks just weren’t landing in the first half. Midway through the second quarter, Sisselberger sprinted straight to goal after a failed over-the-head check and went soaring through the air for a score. The Waterdogs had practiced preventing that type of play all week, so head coach and general manager Bill Tierney wasn’t happy.

Currier adjusted his approach in the second half, though. He ditched the high checks, patiently waiting for the right moment to swing up on a trail check instead. It worked multiple times and helped the Waterdogs close the gap from eight points down. 

The third faceoff of the second half was executed perfectly. Currier waited for Sisselberger to raise his stick and then whacked the head to force a turnover, leading straight into a transition goal for Matt Whitcher. That was the genesis of the Waterdogs’ comeback attempt, and without Currier, it wouldn’t have happened. 

A few minutes later, Currier went full extension with his off hand for another successful trail check that put the ball on the ground. But it wasn’t just Currier that showed out in the second half. The wings adjusted, as well.

Down three in the final period, Whitcher slapped the ball out of Jack DiBenedetto’s pocket and the Waterdogs took control for a crucial possession with a full 52 seconds to work with. A Jake Carraway step-down followed, and the Dogs pulled within two. 

These types of plays are why the Waterdogs don’t feel a need to dress a specialist every game. They have a special talent in Currier who’s also one of the smartest players in the sport, able to adjust his plan on the fly to alter the course of games at the stripe. But that impact can be felt on the wings, as well, and he’ll save significant energy in that role.

Currier can’t give 100% to all three aspects of the game if he’s asked to do everything. It’s not worth running one of the best players in the world into the ground as a faceoff man because it restrains his invaluable contributions elsewhere. 

Zach Currier isn’t Superman, and that’s OK

Before taking the Waterdogs' head-coaching job, Tierney talked to people around the league. Many shared the sentiment that Currier’s versatility makes him one of the most valuable players in lacrosse.

“What you get out of Zach Currier is everything,” Tierney said. “But if he faces off 30 times in a game, I don’t care if he’s Superman, that’s going to have an effect on all the other things he does that he does so well.”

Currier isn’t Superman. He’s more like the Justice League’s shapeshifter, Martian Manhunter. Both can become whatever their team needs at any given moment. But there’s one obvious pitfall they both share: burnout. In Manhunter’s case, that’s literal, because his one weakness is fire. For Currier, doing too much limits his uniquely diverse impact. 

In the opener, Currier took 24 faceoffs, winning two, and caused two turnovers. But that took away from his offensive footprint. Currier touched the ball just nine times, taking one shot, and two of his passes resulted in fast break goals for Whitcher. 

Nine touches for Currier is not a winning formula. He never had fewer than 16 in a game last season, and his overuse at the faceoff stripe clearly contributed to that lack of involvement. 

His gift for commanding an offense with an indoor style has been somewhat muted when he’s taken a lot of faceoffs. In fact, he didn’t register a single shot on goal or point in last year’s loss to the Cannons when he took 23 faceoffs and only shot the ball once, similar to last game. 

All the DC fans out there know Superman is the most boring character because he has few worthy foes. But in an eight-team league full of Darkseid-level threats, every player has someone to fear. Currier is anything but boring. He’s a master of multiple crafts and can go toe-to-toe with anyone in all three aspects of the game. 

But that doesn’t mean he should have to do them all consistently. Because unlike Superman, Currier is only human (or Martian?), and he gets tired. That’s why the Waterdogs need a faceoff specialist — so Currier doesn’t have to transform into Superman every weekend. 

Tierney said rookie specialist Alec Stathakis, who was cut after training camp, will be back with the team at some point this season. But there are a plethora of other options on the market, from other rookies like Jake Naso to veterans like Justin Inacio. The Waterdogs would do well to add one of them.