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PLL Championship Preview – #5 Waterdogs vs #7 Chaos

via PLL press release

The Weekend Preview: Championship Edition

Happy Friday!

The Premier Lacrosse League makes its 14th and final stop of the 2022 season on Sunday. 

The No. 5 seed Waterdogs are set for a 3 p.m. ET faceoff with No. 7 seed Chaos on Sunday at Subaru Park just south of Philadelphia. The game will air on ABC and will be streamed on ESPN+. 

Chaos enters this game looking to repeat as champions. Their narrative from last year remains largely unchanged. Another slow regular season left Chaos nearly out of the playoffs. Just 3.1% of fans picked them to win the Cash App Bracket Challenge. 

But yet here they are, yet again. Another string of strong defensive performances and some celebratory yelling in the camera later, Chaos is a win away from another PLL Championship. 

The Waterdogs started the season 0-3. A five-game winning streak in the middle of the summer earned them a spot in the postseason, and a team that at times lacked offensive identity through its first few seasons is humming. When head coach Andy Copelan built the PLL’s first expansion team three years ago, he wanted a fast team. He wanted a team that could turn defense to offense, a team that out-hustled others for groundballs and scrapped at the faceoff stripe.

In year three, it appears the Waterdogs are finally healthy enough to bring Copelan’s vision of the ideal PLL roster full circle. 

Of course, only one of the championship arcs can be completed on Sunday. So what’s the most likely scenario based on some advanced PLL Stats metrics? We examine it below.

Josh Schafer

Chaos LC vs. Waterdogs LC

Sunday, September 18th at 3:00 p.m. ET | ABC

All-time series: Waterdogs lead, 3-0

Stat to know: 26.4%

Chaos scores on 26.4% of offensive possessions, the worst mark in the league. Waterdogs finished second in the league scoring four percent more often. While not a wide margin it’s worth pointing out that Chaos made the final game of the year while still finishing at the bottom of the league offensively. 

Some of the negativity likely stems from Chaos’s slow start to the year. But still, Chaos scored nine goals last week and 11 goals in the first quarterfinals. High-volume scoring hasn’t been part of Chaos’ winning formula. It’s all about defense.

Matchup to watch: Blaze Riorden vs. Dillon Ward 

It’s not often a lacrosse game could merely be decided by a goalie battle, but this one feels like it could lean that way. Both Ward and Riorden have stood on their heads at times this postseason, including an astounding 83% save percentage from Riorden in the quarterfinals. 

Still, Ward (30) has more saves than Riorden (28) in the month of September.

Why Chaos wins: Chaos completed this same run last year. They started the playoffs from relative obscurity with less than 4% of fans picking them to win the entire tournament and then ran the table, winning the PLL Championship game rather convincingly.

From a technical standpoint, Chaos will rely on a physically imposing defense to outmuscle the Waterdogs. Chaos defenders Jack Rowlett and Jarrod Neumann will need to dominate Michael Sowers and Kieran McArdle. Riorden can be special in cage, particularly when the other team is taking bad shots. There’s a case for Chaos that likely leans on Waterdogs scoring 11 goals or less. Chaos has scored more than 10 goals in just five games this season.

Why the Waterdogs win: Looking at the season-long trajectories, and even considering last year’s regular season records, the Waterdogs have been the more consistent team over the last two years. That might not matter in a one-game championship, though. The ‘Dogs have been a scrappy team since their inception and head coach Andy Copelan likes to describe the team as “gritty.” 

With 13 more shots per game than the Chaos and 29 more goals, the Waterdogs will want to play a faster game. If they can speed the game up and make Chaos’ offense win the game, the Waterdogs will have the advantage. Jake Withers has a career winning percentage of 62.5% against Chaos faceoff specialist Max Adler. If this becomes a game about possession and slowing the game down, the Waterdogs may still have the advantage if they’re able to keep the ball. At the end of the day, it feels like much of this one will be decided between the pipes. Can the best goalie in Canada (Ward) match the best goalie in the U.S. (Riorden)?

The pick: Picking against Andy Towers and Chaos in the playoffs after the last two years just feels wrong. But, I think the Waterdogs are the more complete team. There are a multitude of ways this game can go where I see the ‘Dogs winning. And for that reason, I’m picking the PLL’s third-ever champion: Waterdogs LC.