The Premier Lacrosse League returned to Philadelphia, the site of the first PLL Championship and Philly native Matt Rambo’s MVP heroics, for the first time since 2019. The weekend featured another upset by Andy Towers’ Chaos squad, this time over Atlas, and the Whipsnakes edging out the Waterdogs for their shot at a third PLL title. The result of the weekend? A rematch of the 2020 PLL Championship. Let’s highlight how we got there.
On this episode of the Pro Lacrosse Talk Podcast, Adam Moore and Hutton Jackson are joined by Matt Rambo, 2017 Tewaaraton winner and national champion with Maryland, 2019 MVP and two-time PLL Champion with Whipsnakes LC and forward with the Philadelphia Wings. He discusses returning from injury earlier this season, playing with his fellow Terps on Whipsnakes LC and playing for his hometown team, the Philadelphia Wings. Rambo also explains what it’s like being an Epoch athlete, recaps his game-winning goal against the Redwoods in the PLL Quarterfinals, previews the Whips’ matchup with the Waterdogs and discusses returning to Philly where he scored the overtime, game-winning goal in the 2019 PLL Championship.
Adam and Hutton also recap the 2021 NLL Entry Draft, discuss the numerous American players selected and preview the PLL Semifinal matchups in Philadelphia.
Pro Lacrosse Talk is the flagship lacrosse podcast of the Lacrosse Playground network covering all three professional lacrosse leagues (NLL, PLL, Athletes Unlimited). Each week throughout the season we’ll recap the games, provide analysis on the teams and feature exclusive postgame and off-the-field interviews with professional lacrosse players, coaches and executives. If you’re a fan of lacrosse podcasts like the Unbuckled Chinstrap, The Inside Feed, Lacrosse Classified or The Crease Dive, then give us a listen.
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Game 1: Chaos continue Cinderella run to second PLL Championship appearance
The Chaos took exception to the fact that only 13% of fans picked them to beat the Archers in the PLL Quarterfinals and once again embraced their underdog status in their matchup with the heavily favored Atlas LC. Troy Reh got the party started with a wide-open two-bomb to start the game and the Chaos climbed to a 4-0 lead. However, Atlas answered with a run of their own and claimed a 8-5 lead heading into halftime.
Yet, it was all Chaos for the next 19 minutes of the game as they went on a 9-0 run and held the Bulls scoreless for a quarter and a half. Chaos defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis made the decision to put longpoles on Jeff Teat and Atlas’ middies, leaving short-stick defensive middies on Jake Carraway and Eric Law, and his gameplan was executed to perfection. Chaos played great off-ball defense and were content letting Atlas take their time on offense, which usually resulted in only one or two low quality shot opportunities for Atlas.
A huge bright spot was the play of CJ Costabile, who recorded a caused turnover, two groundballs and three goals on a two-pointer and goal very reminiscent of his game-winner in the 2010 NCAA National Championship. The 2020 MLL LSM of the Year was just one part of a stout Chaos defense headlined once again by Blaze Riorden, who recorded 17 saves and a 68% save percentage. Chaos now find themselves in the PLL title game in back-to-back seasons, once again facing the defending champion Whipsnakes.
Betting Breakdown: The Chaos helped cash several bets, covering the 1.5-point spread, winning straight up and forcing the 23.5 total over with a late insurance goal by Chris Cloutier with only 48 seconds left in the game. If you rode with Doug Greenberg, you also cashed in on the Josh Byrne over 2.5 goals prop thanks to a four goal performance by the Chaos attackman.
Game 2: Whipsnakes top Waterdogs for a shot at the threepeat
The battle of the Ws had two of the league’s hottest teams looking for a W and a shot to play the Chaos in the PLL Championship. The game was a back and forth battle with no team leading by more than two goals the entire first half until Brad Smith gave the Whips a 7-4 lead with just two minutes before halftime. Ryan Brown quickly answered to pull the Dogs within two heading into intermission.
The second half quickly became the Zed Williams show as he contributed two goals in the Whips’ 3-0 run to start the second half. Yet, Michael Sowers, who returned to the lineup for the first time since Week 1, stopped the bleeding with his second assist to fellow rookie Ethan Walker on the day. The teams would then trade goals wit the Whips securing a 12-8 lead before one of the wildest plays of the weekend.
Brian Phipps, who would finish with 13 saves, appeared to makes an incredible save with seven minutes left, but it was actually his best friend the pipe that saved a potential two-point play from Ryan Brown that would have brought the Dogs within two scores.
Zed Willams would score his fifth goal shortly after and despite a late rally led by Connor Kelly and Michael Sowers, the Dogs would fall to the Whipsnakes, 14-10.
Both teams played each other tight, but the Whips were extremely opportunistic on broken and shorthanded plays. While the Dogs’ defense didn’t play too poorly, Dillon Ward let in a couple goals that he probably wishes he had back and Zed Williams dominated his matchup with Eli Gobrecht.
Some bright spots for the Dogs were the return of Michael Sowers (1 G, 2 A) and play of Kieran McArdle (3 G, 1 A) and Ryan Brown (2 G). While the Waterdogs will have to make very few adjustments this offseason and should be proud of their much-improved second season, this loss is sure to sting.
Betting Breakdown: Bettors had plenty of options with the Waterdogs-Whipsnakes matchup that saw the Whipsnakes as 1.5-point favorites on most books, such as DraftKings and BetMGM, but 1.5-point underdogs on Caesars Sportsbook. They covered as both favorites and underdogs, but the most value to be had was taking the Whipsnakes on the moneyline. The game also saw the total fall half a goal shy of the 24.5 total, breaking the hearts of over bettors.
The win by the Whips also set up the scenario that Bet On Lacrosse host Dan Neubert predicted when he suggested placing a futures bet on the Whipsnakes to win the title at +175 odds. With the Whips favored in the championship, much of their value from a betting standpoint has already passed.
Epoch Moments of the Week
Josh Byrne made the most of Chaos’ forced failed clear, scooping up the groundball and taking it to the rack for Chaos’ fourth straight goal to open up the game.
Eric Law scored his 31st postseason point in typical E-Law fashion and moved into second all-time in playoff scoring in pro field lacrosse history.
Bryan Costabile reminded everyone of his range on this two-point rocket.
DIII product Chase Fraser refused to be denied and put home a filthy BTB goal that essentially put the final nail in the coffin of Atlas LC’s season.
It may have had little impact on the outcome of the game, but Jeff Teat’s slick swim and score reminded everyone that the Chaos weren’t the only team with flashy Canadians.
Matt Rambo buried this jumper with perfect placement right over the shoulder of Dillon Ward.
Michael Sowers made his return from injury after three months and displayed his signature shake on this shifty split dodge.
Jay Carlson did Jay Carlson things as the Garbageman put home a between-the-legs goal that proved to be the final nail in the Waterdogs’ coffin.
Looking Ahead to the 2021 PLL Championship
The rematch has been set. The 2021 PLL Championship will feature the same two teams from the 2020 PLL Championship with the Chaos (and likely the rest of the league) hoping for a different result this time around. As for the Whipsnakes, well they’ll be looking to capture their third straight PLL title and the “Tripsnakes” moniker.
While the Whipsnakes and Chaos’ meeting will feature many familiar faces from 2020, these rosters feature a handful of new stars. The Chaos offense, which went the entire season without Curtis Dickson due to restricted travel, now features Chris Cloutier, Wes Berg, Chase Fraser, Ryan Smith and Kyle Jackson. At the midfield, two-way middie Ian MacKay, faceoff specialist Max Adler and LSM CJ Costabile have made their presence known and the defense has gained an added boost from Johnny Surdick, who has to miss the 2020 PLL Championship Series due to military commitments.
While the Whipsnakes roster features less fresh faces, the additions of Justin Guterding, Connor Kirst and Chris Aslanian have provided some offensive depth. Likewise, former Chesapeake Bayhawks Nick Manis, Matt Abbott and Brian Phipps have also played pivotal roles on defense for the Whips, with the latter taking over as the starter in cage from a struggling Kyle Bernlohr.
Both teams have gotten improved play from their defenses in the playoffs and offenses have thrived on unsettled opportunities. The Chaos in particular will continue to try and capitalize off of transition opportunities often generated by their star goaltender Blaze Riorden, while the Whipsnakes will aim to play more settled offense powered a planned plethora of possessions created by Joe Nardella. The battle between Nards and Adler, both Faceoff Factory instructors, will be particularly be an area of interest throughout the game.
The biggest storyline will be whether the Whipsnakes can repeat as champions and win their third title in a row. No pro field team has ever won three straight championships and only the Rochester Knighthawks (now Halifax Thunderbirds) of the National Lacrosse League have won three pro lacrosse championships in a row (2001, 2002, 2003). History will also be against the Whipsnakes when it comes to their rematch with the Chaos. In the other three pro field championship rematches, the team that lost the first meeting went on to win the following game.
Let us know who’s your pick to win the 2021 PLL Championship in the comments or on social media.