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Four things to watch in PLL Game of the Week: Cannons vs. Waterdogs

Cannons-Waterdogs Cannons-Waterdogs

The Philadelphia Waterdogs will kick off their Homecoming Weekend this Saturday against the Boston Cannons at Villanova Stadium. Here are four things to watch in the rivalry matchup, which starts at 12:30 p.m. ET on TSN2 and TSN+:

1. Michael Sowers makes debut as hometown hero

Waterdogs star attackman Michael Sowers was raised in Upper Dublin, Pa., 25 miles north of Philadelphia. He grew up a massive Philly sports fan, and most of his important relationships were forged through sports and Philly pride. Now, he gets to wear his city on his jersey, and he’ll have around 100 supporters in attendance. 

“When I take a step back and am like, I’m 26, I’m able to wear ‘Philadelphia’ across my chest, something that I’m proud of and my family is proud of, it’s going to be something that’s super special,” Sowers said. 

He’s always been a community-minded family man ever since he was little. He still drives home on the weekends to watch Eagles games, or just play sports in the backyard with his two brothers and countless friends.

Now, Sowers is one of those Philly sports stars that he looked up to as a kid. He’s led the Dogs to two straight PLL championship games – including a league title in 2022 – and just signed a contract extension through 2026.

– Wyatt Miller

2. Cannons’ new-look defense needs to play team D for a full 48 minutes

The Cannons shut out the Maryland Whipsnakes for 22 minutes last Saturday in their first win of the season, holding them scoreless from late in the first half until deep into the fourth quarter.

With their defensive field general in Jack Kielty out for the season, close defensemen Garrett Epple, Bryce Young and Cade van Raaphorst have had to step up quickly both in learning how to play with another and being leaders on this new-look Boston defense

We saw the three find their rhythm together in the second half of last week’s game, but if they want to beat the Waterdogs, they’re going to have to carry that cohesiveness for a full game. 

Much of the conversation surrounding the Cannons’ new defense has been about building chemistry and playing more team defense rather than one-on-one matchups. This Saturday will be a good indicator of just how far along this group has progressed since Week 1, when it struggled to contain the high-scoring New York Atlas. 

– Sarah Griffin

3. Waterdogs face Cannons for first time since Champ Series brawl

The Championship Series title game back in February was chippy from the jump. On Sowers’ first touch, Josh Stout went in head-first on a step-down, knocking Sowers out of the game. Minutes later, a late hit on Jack Traynor caused a scuffle between the two teams.

The Cannons ended up winning in overtime – avenging their blowout loss to the Dogs in PLL semifinals five months earlier – and this is the first meeting between the two teams since that tense matchup. This time, the Waterdogs have home-field advantage in their first Homecoming Weekend in Philadelphia. Although Andy Copelan is no longer the head coach, the players will surely remember the treatment the Boom Squad gave them a few months ago.

Copelan stepped down as the Waterdogs head coach during the offseason, and he wasn’t shy about his distaste with the Cannons’ tactics when he did so. New head coach and general manager Bill Tierney, one of the greatest college coaches of all time, has inherited a team that’s been extremely loyal and consistent year after year. So, don’t be surprised if there are some fireworks on the field on Saturday. 

– Wyatt Miller

4. How will the Cannons respond to the Waterdogs at the faceoff?

Last Saturday was the first time since the Cannons joined the PLL that they won a game at the stripe with a faceoff specialist. Zac Tucci, a former member of the Waterdogs, went 11-for-24 against Maryland’s Joe Nardella, helping his new team capitalize on the 32-second shot clock off the faceoff. Only a week prior, the Cannons faced off by committee, utilizing their short-stick defensive midfielders and Connor Kirst and falling flat against Atlas superstar Trevor Baptiste. Boston went just 7-for-25 in that game and, in turn, found limited offensive opportunities.

With Tucci on the 19-man roster again this weekend, he and the Cannons will face an interesting challenge they’ve never experienced before: facing off with a specialist against a team without one.

Last season, both the Cannons and Waterdogs utilized their long-stick midfielders at the stripe to play defense and burn the 32-second shot clock against their opponents’ faceoff specialists. Now, with the rule change banning poles from facing off, both teams had to map out new strategies during training camp.

It’s a no-brainer for the Cannons after Tucci’s success last weekend to play him again. However, Boston likely won’t even know for sure whom Tucci is up against until they take the field in Philadelphia. We know Tucci can hang with the best of them in a traditional faceoff, but how will he respond to the possibility of someone like Zach Currier battling back after the clamp? 

– Sarah Griffin