With the PLL season less than a month away, Lacrosse Playground will be going through each team in the league to get ready for the upcoming season. With the merger with the MLL and an influx of talent from the college game, the PLL will be more competitive than ever. We’re here to help you sort through it all and get ready for what looks to be an exciting summer of lacrosse. After the preview, I’ll also be predicting each team’s initial 19-man active roster.
Waterdogs LC is ready to make its mark in the PLL. After being thrown off the plane with no parachute by entering a 16-day tournament as an entirely new team, there are a lot of things that are now starting to work in this team’s favor.
They played the trade market like a fiddle, identifying players that weren’t in the right situation and putting them in a spot to thrive. They used the drafts to acquire game-changing talent. They will finally have a full season to establish themselves. It is fair to say that no team improved on paper more than the Waterdogs this offseason.
On DraftKings Sportsbook, the Waterdogs currently sit at +700 odds to win the 2021 PLL Championship. Let’s take a look at their offseason additions, get Coach Andy Copelan’s thoughts heading into training camp and see what we can expect from the revamped Waterdogs this season.
2020 PLL Championship Series Results:
Pool Play Record: (1-3)
Playoff Round: Lost to Redwoods 11-8
Given the circumstances, the Waterdogs had an admirable showing in the PLL Championship Series. The odds were stacked against an expansion team in general, but the condensed format of the 2020 season did not give a new Waterdogs team time to gel and find an identity.
“COVID struck,” Copelan said, “and a lot of things got flipped upside down.”
Though the Waterdogs did not have much to show for it in the win column, they stuck in games, battled hard and snuck out their lone win of the season against the eventual PLL Championship Series runner-up, Chaos LC. Coach Copelan, however, did not make excuses, but was happy with the what the Waterdogs’ performance portended for the future.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Copelan said. “Obviously we weren’t thrilled about our record… [but] we left feeling like we had a pretty good foundation in place.”
PLL Entry Draft: Liam Byrnes (D), Mikie Schlosser (M), Ben Randall (D)
PLL College Draft: Michael Sowers (A), Ethan Walker (A/M)
Player Pool: Brian Karalunas (LSM), Cosey Dowd (FO), Matt Whitcher (SSDM) Christian Scarpello (M)
Trade: Eli Gobrecht (D), Ryan Brown (A), Dillon Ward (G)
“We probably had the most moves to make this offseason,” Coach Copelan said. “I’m proud of how we made those moves, and I’m proud of how we handled the general manager part of this job.”
The Waterdogs went into the offseason with a plan, and to say they executed it is to say Ryan Brown is good at shooting lacrosse balls. It’s just obvious. No team brought in more win-now talent via the trade market than the Waterdogs, and they look ready to contend this season as a result.
Their first big move, coincidentally, was to bring in the aforementioned shooter Ryan Brown. Copelan capitalized on the Atlas’ fire sale to pick up Brown, and he noted the shooter was a perfect match for a team that struggled to finish quality possessions with a goal.
“I love that he doesn’t need the ball, I love that he gives us a real right-handed presence at attack, which then allows us to commit to Connor Kelly at midfield,” Copelan said. “And you certainly understand the value of the two-ball in lacrosse, and who shoots it better than Brownie?”
Then there was the draft night Eli Gobrecht trade. Copelan loves Gobrecht’s chemistry and relationship with former teammate and Waterdogs captain Drew Snider as well as defensive coordinator Matt Bocklet. This was not the first time he’s thought about Gobrecht as a member of the team either.
“Had we not gotten Currier, to be honest, we would have probably given Gobrecht some consideration at the one spot [in the 2020 PLL Entry Draft],” Copelan said. “We have thought that he’s been a legitimate number one defensemen for quite some time.”
Oh, that’s no big deal, just Gobrecht sending the 2020 PLL Championship Series MVP’s stick into orbit.
As for the Dillon Ward trade, Copelan didn’t overthink it. “The ability to grab arguably one of the best in the world, it just made too much sense.”
Each player fills such an obvious hole for the Waterdogs. These guys also have more value on the ‘Dogs than they would have on their previous teams for various reasons, and Copelan was able to capitalize as a result.
Beyond the trades, the Waterdogs had a nice pull in the PLL Entry Draft, bringing in defenders Liam Byrnes and Ben Randall, as well as Mikie Schlosser, “a guy that can consistently draw a slide.” Byrnes and Randall figure to slide right into starting roles and Schlosser brings some dodging to the midfield.
The PLL College Draft was all about Michael Sowers. A generational talent at attack, Sowers is an offense unto himself, a guy who is always a threat to score or make a play. “From a talent perspective, I think he could be one of the best in the world over the next seven to 10 years,” Copelan said of Sowers.
The offseason was a success, but as Copelan told me, “now we got to go ahead and convert some of those moves into wins.”
Trade: Wes Berg (A/M)
Released: Patrick Foley (D), Tate Boyce (G)
Expansion: Ryan Drenner (A), Brodie Merrill (D), Drew Simoneau (FO)
Although their numbers were relatively pedestrian, the Waterdogs do lose two talented players in Drenner and Berg, guys that their new teams are excited to have. Brodie Merrill’s intangibles and guile are valued at every stop he makes as well, and that will be missed for the Waterdogs. That said, the team acquired younger, more athletic defenders and while Copelan liked the Simoneau-Jake Withers “two-headed monster” at the stripe, he’s excited to turn the keys over to Withers full-time with Simoneau’s departure.
Biggest Question Heading into the Season: Putting it all together
The Waterdogs methodically filled every notable hole they had on their roster. It’s hard to look at a position group or facet of the team and not think that they’ll be competitive this summer. That said, there are a lot of new faces that will be playing key roles for the Waterdogs.
Their offense will change entirely, as Sowers is the type of player that single-handedly shifts a team’s identity on that end. Defensively, they lost their captain and organizer in Brodie Merrill, which should not be underrated, and arguably their best two close defenders will be new players in Gobrecht and Byrnes.
This team has the talent, but they do not have the continuity of some of the more established threats in the PLL. How it gels, and how quickly, will determine the 2021 season.
Biggest Strength Heading into the Season: The Faceoff Unit
Although Copelan calls Jake Withers “one of the best faceoff guys in the world,” make no mistake, it isn’t a one-man-show. The Waterdogs draw team as a whole is relentless.
“With Currier and Ryland Rees on the wings, you literally have the Team Canada starting faceoff unit.”
Withers is the best “lose the clamp, win the ball” guy in the game, and even if he doesn’t get it, as long as he can stop his opponent from doing so, the tenacious and athletic Rees and Currier give the Waterdogs a great chance at possession. He also mentioned teaming Ryan Conrad with Currier on the wings for an aggressive look.
Their ground ball acumen as a unit is ridiculous. What takes them up a level is their ability at both ends. Currier is the best two-way middie in the league. Rees is a transition threat at the LSM spot, and Withers brings a sneaky offensive savvy that is rare for draw guys. Copelan wants him to “stay and play a little bit. I think he’s going to be much better in the picking game than most of his faceoff opponents will be able to defend it, so we might have to get a little creative there.”
Check it out in action. That’s Withers picking for Currier with former Chaos faceoff man Tommy Kelly stuck on D.
Safe to say it, uh, works.
With the continuity with the draw team, and big additions all over the field, Andy Copelan is excited:
“I think the ‘Dogs are poised to make a pretty nice jump from year one to year two.”
Projected Initial 19-man Roster
Attack: Michael Sowers, Ryan Brown, Kieran McArdle, Christian Cuccinello
Midfield: Zach Currier, Connor Kelly, Drew Snider, Mikie Schlosser, Ryan Conrad, Ben McIntosh, Steve DeNapoli
Defense/LSM: Liam Byrnes, Eli Gobrecht, Ben Randall, Chris Sabia, Ryland Rees
Faceoff: Jake Withers
Goalie: Dillon Ward, Matt DeLuca
Reserves: Casey Dowd, Dan Eipp, Kyle McClancy, Michael Kraus, Ben Reeves, BJ Grill