For each of the Premier Lacrosse League’s first two seasons, Lyle Thompson could do nothing more than watch the sport’s preeminent league take shape. As the new league was in the making, Thompson was locked into a multi-year contract with Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks, winning the MLL MVP award and a championship in 2019, but also seeing how much of the sport’s best talent they played in other places. “It’s been honestly difficult,” says Thompson. “It’s not that they didn’t treat me well in the MLL. It’s just that, as a competitor, you want to play against the best. ”
Thompson will get that opportunity this summer after MLL merged with the PLL in January, bringing Thompson and other MLL holdovers into the mix. Combine your onboarding with a loaded rookie draft class and those within the PLL are eager to see how product on the field continues to improve as the league enters its third season. “Our goal is not only to put the best product in the history of the league, but also in the history of pro lacrosse,” says Paul Rabil, one of the co-founders of PLL and Thompson’s teammate at Cannons Lacrosse Club.
Rabil and Thompson head the league’s latest expansion team, Cannons LC, which was renamed the Boston Cannons of MLL when the two leagues merged in January. (Rabil was traded to the club this offseason after spending his first two years of PLL with Atlas LC.) The eighth team marks the second consecutive year of expansion for the PLL and established an offseason that again consisted of three drafts: a draft entry for former MLL players and other professional players looking to join the league, including former Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan; an expansion draft (to assign a roster of players to Cannons LC) and a college draft. For that reason, PLL’s 2021 season could mark the most talented collection of professional male lacrosse players in the history of the sport.
The season itself begins Friday at 7 p.m. ET with Redwoods LC vs. Cannons LC at Gillette Stadium. And while the first of the season’s 44 games will take place in a familiar venue, the tour-based league, which Rabil says is on track to have 90% of its players fully vaccinated by Friday, will also do stops in markets that have no shelter. t have traditionally been hotbeds for professional play, such as Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City. “I think it’s great to be able to look at the tour-based model and go to Utah, [Colorado Springs], places that might not have access to professional lacrosse year-round, ”says Thompson. “To be able to witness it and really help the game grow in those areas, I think it’s a really good thing.”
Last winter, the league planned to enter several emerging lacrosse markets before the coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the course of the season. Rather than travel to cities like Denver, the PLL operated its second season in a bubble environment outside of Salt Lake City, with a 14-game group play season to determine qualification for a single elimination tournament that ultimately capped a champion.
Rabil says that among the myriad takeaways from last season was that despite the intense condensation of the PLL schedule, interest in the sport remained high throughout.
“Our fans’ appetite is what they want to do professional lacrosse on a regular basis and they like to watch it for days in a row,” says Rabil. “In other words, there is no audience fatigue.”
Rabil has said the merger will create even more interest in the league, which will see a record 21 professional lacrosse games broadcast on linear television this summer on NBC and NBCSN. He also said this summer is a “culmination of the last three years,” noting that creating a “unique destination for professional lacrosse will be a huge leap forward for us.”
Thompson, the 28-year-old forward, sees the unique destiny in a similar light, feeling equally optimistic about how the only outdoor professional men’s league will drive the future of the sport.
“I think it shows longevity,” he says. “You watch leagues like the NHL or even the UFC where you have the best of the best. As long as you have the best of the best and athletes who do this for a living and train for a living and put everything they have in their life for the game, the product will be there. People are going to want to see that, and people will be amazed at what they are seeing because these athletes make a living doing this. And I think that’s what we’re starting to see in lacrosse.
“The athletes in the game are now fully committed to the game.”
And after an offseason full of major changes, Thompson is eager to finally make his PLL mark: “I’m excited, excited to have a club in my hand and play an opponent.”
More lacrosse coverage:
• Faces in the crowd: Caitlyn Wurzburger
• From the SI Vault: After Racist Taunts, Lacrosse Star Lyle Thompson Defends His Heritage