FOGO No More: Evolving Faceoff Strategies Shifting in the PLL

FOGO: Face off. Get off.

FOGOs have one job: get their team the ball.

Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan are two of the best in the game. They won possessions at a near 80% clip a couple of weeks ago in San Diego at the World Lacrosse games. International rules don’t have a shot clock (as you probably heard or tweeted) giving Team USA a key advantage over the competition. Baptiste and Ierlan enabled Team USA to play make-it-take-it (or to stall it if the lead was big enough) on their way to the gold medal.

Before the 2023 season, the Premier Lacrosse League changed their shot clock from 52 to 32 seconds following a face off win. Unlike International rules, the face off advantage has been neutralized this season, leading teams to concede or come up with a new face off strategy.

Baptiste is the reigning MVP and arguably the best faceoff man in the world. He is winning faceoffs at an 80% clip for the PLL Atlas this season, but the Bulls are far from reaching gold. The Atlas are 1-3 and have a -8 scoring differential. Contrast that with the PLL Waterdogs, who made headlines last week by not dressing a faceoff man in their Friday night game against the PLL Chrome. On the season, the Waterdogs have won only 24.5% of their faceoffs but are 3-1 with a +4 scoring differential.

An injury to Connor Kelly during the World Games brought about the change in strategy for the Waterdogs last week. Waterdogs Head Coach Andy Copeland was pleased with the results last Friday but is still deciding whether to get rid of his FOGOs full-time. “By no stretch of the imagination am I married to this whole thing. It’s a learning experience for all involved and having this as an option moving forward is good for us, but it will probably change on a week-to-week basis.”

The strategy has proved effective in the last two games. The Waterdogs scored 19 goals in its two wins against two top face off men, Baptiste and Connor Farrell. Farrell spoke after the game about the challenges of the new Waterdog strategy and the adjustments he was forced to make.

“I returned a little too much in the first and second quarters. I was winning possessions but not making the smartest plays in the first half. I needed to take my time, slow down, and look for a better opportunity to pass the ball.”

The Waterdog’s rope unit and core of four short-stick defensive midfielders gave Copeland the confidence to try his new strategy. “They’re groundball guys, great athletes, and have really good instincts in the middle of the field. So, we trust them in those situations.”

Despite the win, and on the surface the strategy is a success, Copeland shared how the strategy was a bit of an emotional roller coaster throughout the game. “At times I loved it, and at times it made me cringe. But that’s just part of what we’re working through in the early stages of the year.”

While not dressing FOGO provided Copeland with the opportunity to go deeper on his bench and dress four short-stick defensive midfielders in the game.

Copeland shared how the strategy kept the unit fresh and how Jake Higgins took full advantage of his new opportunity. “That unit was probably the freshest of any positional group we had. Higgins is the one who was outside of the lineup for the last couple of weeks. And honestly, I thought he was awesome today. He’s a guy that was allowed to reemerge himself into the active roster, and he took full advantage.”

Teams will undoubtedly see this strategy deployed again this week when the PLL travels to Fairfield. I will be on the Atlas and Chrome to see how Baptiste and Farrell can turn their faceoff wins into an advantage again. Btw, the Waterdogs will be going with their new strategy again.

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Craig McMichael

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