Matt Rambo and the Whipsnakes have won both PLL championships.

The Biggest Storylines and Questions Facing Each PLL Team

The landscape of professional lacrosse drastically changed over the winter when the Premier Lacrosse League and Major Lacrosse League merged. Now, all the best field lacrosse players are playing in one league once again, deepening the talent pool.

For individual players, roster spots are at a premium. For teams, the greatest collection of talent means plenty of opportunities to improve and become contenders overnight. It also meant the PLL would expand again, welcoming Cannons LC to bring the total number of teams to eight.

With the expansion drafts and entry drafts completed, training camp is here. With the season on the horizon, we examine the biggest storylines and questions facing each club.

Archers LC
How successful will “The Most Dangerous Offense in Lacrosse” be?

After the Archers acquired Connor Fields in a trade with the Chrome, the club’s social media team posted a picture of Fields, Tom Schreiber, Grant Ament, Will Manny and Marcus Holman that dubbed the group “The Most Dangerous Offense in Lacrosse” with the caption “You’ve been warned.”

Ament, Schreiber and Manny each finished in the top 15 in the league in scoring, and while Fields wasn’t featured much for the Chaos in 2020, he finished fourth in the league in points in 2019 with 33 in 10 games (four points behind new teammate Schreiber).

On paper, the group is exciting to think about, but head coach Chris Bates said it will take work to make sure everyone is on the same page and gels together.

“The proof ultimately will be in the results,” he said. “It will take some time to iron out. It’s my job to offer a little bit of shape and structure, but at the end of the day, it’s a multi-dimensional group that likes to share the ball. We’ll have to find ways to get everybody touches. Connor is as good an off-ball player and feeder as there is in the game. I’m excited to see him in the framework of our existing guys.”

While much of the hype surrounds those five players, the team has other pieces on offense that Bates is excited about as well, including Joey Sankey, Ryan McNamara and Christian Mazzone.

“Somebody like Christian Mazzone is intriguing,” Bates said. “He had a great PLL Island and had eight goals and played tough. He’s a guy who, can he come back and do it again over a full season?”

“We’ll have to find ways to get everybody touches. Connor is as good an off-ball player and feeder as there is in the game. I’m excited to see him in the framework of our existing guys.”

Atlas LC
Can Dan Bucaro pick up where he left off from the 2020 MLL Bubble?

The Denver Outlaws selected Dan Bucaro with the final pick in the first round of the 2019 MLL Collegiate Draft but had to wait a year for him to suit up due to a torn meniscus in his right knee. When he played in 2020, he was as good — if not better — than advertised. He finished seventh in the league in goals scored (13) and ninth in total points (15), and he won the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He also scored three goals in the team’s championship-game loss to the Cannons.

While he was the talk of the league last summer, his professional career is still only a small sample size of six games, including the championship game. As the Atlas rebuilt its roster this past summer, Bucaro will be a key building block to the offense, joining fellow second-year player in Bryan Costabile (who had nine points in five games at PLL Island, including a five-point effort against the Archers).

There might be some pressure on Bucaro to continue to stay hot, but he is excited to get going.

“When I talked to Coach [Ben Rubeor], it was wherever they need me,” he said in an interview with PLL host Lisa Redmond. “It was awesome to get drafted by them. They seem like a really great team. Great teammates, they all reached out to me, which was really awesome, all the draft picks. Really, wherever they need me to play, it’s how I am. I would like to play and help the team any way I can.”

Helping ease his transition not only to a new team but a new league is the fact the Atlas added several of his Outlaws teammates, including Michael Rexrode and Andrew Newbold in the Entry Draft and Kyle Pless through the waiver process.

“It will be awesome. I really enjoy playing with those guys,” Bucaro told Redmond. “They’re great teammates. I was really lucky to play with them. Again, all the guys on the team already have reached out to us. Knowing a couple guys already and being able to play with them, I feel like will make it a little easier, but it will be exciting. I’m excited to meet new people, and hopefully, we can do some big things.”

Cannons LC
How quickly can the Cannons find chemistry and success?

Typically, expansion teams struggle in their inaugural seasons. Existing teams can protect their top players, leaving the new team usually without the elite talent in the league. Additionally, existing teams have been playing for multiple years and have a core group that has played together, whereas the expansion side is assembling pieces from a variety of sources that it hopes will develop together and fit the vision for the team.

Head coach Sean Quirk doesn’t feel like his team is at too much of a disadvantage, however.

“There’s going to be new rules we have to play under, that will be an adjustment, but lacrosse is lacrosse,” he said. “We’re going to rely on those veteran guys like Brodie [Merrill] and [Paul] Rabil to help lead this team because they have been playing in the league. I don’t see it being a disadvantage.”

The Cannons are in a unique position due to the merger of the MLL and PLL. Quirk is the same person that took the same position with the Boston Cannons in the MLL in 2016 and shaped the roster to what eventually became the 2020 MLL champions. He brought his assistant coaches, John Klepacki and Sean Kirwan, with him from the MLL. The team was also able to add through the Entry Draft or waivers process six players from the championship-winning squad: Nick Marrocco, Zach Goodrich, Bryce Wasserman, Justin Uppgren, Justin Pugal and Scott Hooper.

As for elite talent, thanks to the top pick in the Entry Draft, the Cannons were able to bring in Lyle Thompson, one of the top players in the world.

With a core group that has been together the past few seasons, a star player in Thompson, and All-Star veterans like Rabil, Merrill, Connor Buczek and Drew Simoneau, Quirk is feeling pretty good about how his team will fare in 2021.

“Having Lyle legitimizes things,” he said, “but you look at the guys around him, and on paper, it’s a pretty impressive group so far.”

Chaos LC
​Does adding Max Adler push them over the edge?

In both PLL seasons, Chaos LC has been one of the top competitors for the championship. In 2019, the team finished at the top of the standings in the regular season before losing both playoff matchups. In 2020, the team struggled through the group stage, losing all four games, before turning it on in the knockout rounds and advancing to the championship game, where they had a 6-3 lead on the Whipsnakes before allowing nine goals in the final quarter.

While the team needs to work on being consistent, the Achilles heel of the team has been the faceoff position. In 2019, the team finished fourth out of six teams in faceoff winning percentage (47 percent) and followed that up in 2020 by finishing last in the same category (35 percent). In the championship game, Joe Nardella won 63 percent of the faceoffs he took for the Whipsnakes.

Adler has won 58.4 percent of his faceoffs during his professional career, including winning 62.5 percent during the 2020 MLL season — when he was named Faceoff Specialist of the Year. He has prior experience and success going up against some of the top faceoff athletes in the PLL, including Nardella, Trevor Baptiste and Drew Simoneau.

With Tommy Kelly going to the Cannons in the expansion draft (coincidentally enough, Adler’s emergence with the Denver Outlaws made them comfortable in trading Kelly during the 2018 season), the need for a top faceoff guy was glaring. Is he the missing piece for the Chaos? He certainly hopes so.

“The only thing I want is to win a championship,” he said in an interview with Redmond. “It seems like the only thing the Chaos wants is to win a championship, so it really seemed like a perfect match. I talked to a couple of my teammates, and they couldn’t have been more accepting. I’m super fired up to get after it and [am] really motivated to do whatever I possibly can to be the best teammate possible, so we can bring home the championship.”

Chrome LC
Will there be a goalie controversy?

John Galloway has had an incredible professional career. In Major League Lacrosse, he was a multiple-time All-Star and three-time Goaltender of the Year. He’s been the starter for the Chrome both seasons, and he helped lead the team to an improved 3-2 record in 2020. The 2021 season will be his 11th professional season, however, and he is the head coach at Jacksonville University. There have been questions about how much longer he will play professionally. The team already saw attackman Matt Danowski, who is an assistant coach at Duke, retire. How much time does Galloway have left?

“He’s got a lot in the tank,” Chrome head coach Tim Soudan said of Galloway. “He can still be one of the best guys in the league.”

Soudan thinks highly of Galloway, who also works on defensive game plans with assistant coach Jacques Monte, but he added that he discussed with Galloway the importance of adding another elite goaltender to have in place for the near future. In the Entry Draft, the Chrome added Sean Sconone, who in two seasons in the MLL won two Goaltender of the Year awards.

Soudan said having options in goal is a good thing, but as of right now, everybody understands their role.

“John knew it was coming,” he said. “I was like, ‘John, you’re still our starter unless we realize, as a group, you included, the other guy is better. Hopefully, it drives you.’ Sconone knows he’s in the same situation. He’s going to push John to be the best John can be, and Sean can learn from John.”

The Chrome also picked up Tate Boyce through waivers upon the recommendation of Galloway, who helped recruit Boyce when he was a coach at Providence College.

Redwoods LC
How does Rob Pannell fit and improve the team?

Another offseason, another big trade pulled off by the Redwoods. After acquiring Myles Jones prior to the 2020 season, the Redwoods sent the third pick in the Entry Draft and a second round pick in the 2022 College Draft to Atlas LC in exchange for Rob Pannell.

In his first season in the PLL, Pannell finished tenth in the league in points with six goals and nine assists in five games for Atlas, who tied for the worst record in the league. Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent said he thought Pannell could use a change of scenery, and, more importantly for him, could fill several needs.

“I know we wanted to have more depth at attack. We needed a dominant ball carrier that could change fields and throw skips,” he said. “We’ve come close to winning championships, so it was important to have a guy that’s won championships. We feel he’ll help us score two or three more goals with him on the field.”

St. Laurent said he believed that Pannell would benefit from having playmakers like Jones, Sergio Perkovic, Matt Kavanagh, Kyle Harrison, Joe Walters and Ryder Garnsey around him, noting that Pannell wouldn’t need to always put the team on his back.

While he said the supporting cast should help take pressure of Pannell, he also expects Pannell to provide a calming presence to the offense and help raise the level of another highly regarded Redwoods attackman.

“Another big piece of the Pannell trade was to bring him in to maximize what Jules [Heningburg] brings to the PLL,” he said, adding that Heningburg — who was not cleared to play in the PLL Bubble — was healthy and ready for the 2021 season. “He’s been given the keys here to grow and excel. We can use him as a middie and attackman. Having Rob on our team, you’ll see a huge emergence for Jules.”


Can Max Adler help solve Chaos' faceoff woes?

Waterdogs LC
Why didn’t the team add one of the goalies from the MLL?

In the first season in Waterdogs history, the team went 1-4. While the team finished third in the league in scores against average (10.6), it finished last in save percentage (53 percent). When previewing the Entry Draft, PLL analyst Joe Keegan wrote that one of the team’s needs was a goalie, which was a considerably deep pool that included All-Stars Nick Marrocco, Brian Phipps, Chris Madalon and Austin Kaut, as well as two-time MLL Goalie of the Year Sean Sconone. Rather than drafting one of those players in the Entry Draft or picking one of them up through waivers, Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan stuck with 10-year veteran Charlie Cipriano and Matt DeLuca, the first pick in the second round of the 2020 College Draft.

Copelan shared his thoughts about his strategy.

“I know we had the lowest save percentage in the league. That isn’t lost on me,” he said. “I think it’s skewed. Charlie against the Chrome [when Cipriano allowed 12 goals on 18 shots] wasn’t 100 percent, and Matt DeLuca played two games and a quarter. He sat at 59 percent. We have two really solid goalkeepers. There’s still a lot of time for moving parts to take place.”

One of those moving parts came to the forefront when Copelan swung a trade with Chaos LC for Dillon Ward in exchange for Wes Berg and a 2022 first-round College Draft pick. An All-World goalie in 2018, Ward presumably steps in to fill the starting role.

Copelan added that adding Entry Draft selections Liam Byrnes and Ben Randall to the defense should help by allowing fewer high-percentage shots.

Whipsnakes LC
How do the defending champions avoid becoming complacent?

The only champion the PLL has ever crowned has been Whipsnakes LC. The back-to-back champions also have the most wins in league history and finished the 2020 Championship Series undefeated. While the club has seemingly made winning look easy, head coach Jim Stagnitta said there is plenty of motivation to keep the team from getting too comfortable.

With the merger of the PLL and MLL, as well as a talented incoming collegiate draft class, the teams coming after the Whipsnakes are getting better and better, which means the Whipsnakes need to do the same.

“There’s very little that separates teams,” he said. “For us, it’s about how we’re able to play together. It’s the best team that wins, not necessarily the best players. The challenge of playing at this level inspires these guys.”

It’s not like the Whipsnakes didn’t also benefit from the MLL Entry Draft. The team added Chris Aslanian, Charlie Hayes and Bryan Cole, getting bigger, stronger and more athletic both on offense and defense.

Additionally, while the team has finished each of the past two seasons as champion, winning the championship is not what the team focuses on, which Stagnitta said keeps the team focused on the task at hand.

“We don’t focus on winning a championship,” he said. “We don’t talk about it all that much. We talk about preparing ourselves for the game that week. Teams struggle to sustain success because after they win, the focus turns to winning again. They focus on the championship and the outcome, and they forget everything that got them there, the work and time and effort and process. I do my best to not allow us to talk about championships, but winning the first season, which is every weekend, focusing one game at a time. You have to take care of business every week before you can win a championship.”