Max Adler Pays Off Andy Towers' Confidence with PLL Championship

Max Adler heard the whispers that he wasn’t good enough to play in the Premier Lacrosse League. He admits, at one point, he even believed the sentiment himself.

But once again, just as he had done in Major League Lacrosse, Adler proved you can’t keep him down. With a gutsy performance in the 2021 PLL championship game, he helped the Chaos earn their first-ever league championship last weekend.

“It’s the best team in the world and highest level,” he said. “The MLL seemed second tier to the PLL, so I had to hear that nonstop. I don’t think our Outlaws team was second tier. We could’ve competed with anyone. But having to hear that all the time, it was nice to win the championship when it was one league, so I don’t have to hear that anymore.”

The 2021 PLL Entry Draft was the first time Adler was looking for a new professional team after spending his first four seasons with the Denver Outlaws in Major League Lacrosse. Adler said he spoke with a few teams — including the Archers and Waterdogs — as both sides did their due diligence and kicked the tires on a potential relationship.

He was adamant about being a part of the Chaos, however, after his conversation with head coach Andy Towers.

“Coach Towers said, ‘We play whoever is going to win a championship,’” he said. “We were completely on the same page. He said he was going to pick me with his first-round draft pick, and that’s the team I knew I wanted to play for.”

The instant respect and admiration went both ways.

“I try to talk with guys to see if they’re a fit in our locker room,” Towers said. “After speaking with him, he was a defer-all-the-credit, accept-all-of-the-blame type of guy. That locked him for us as the guy we wanted. Getting to know him, he proved to be 100 percent authentic, and we couldn’t be happier.”

“Getting to know him, he proved to be 100 percent authentic, and we couldn’t be happier.”

— Andy Towers

The Chaos were in the market for a new faceoff athlete coming into the 2021 season. During the 2020 regular season, the team had the lowest faceoff winning percentage (35 percent), and while Tommy Kelly won 48 percent of his faceoffs in the championship game against the Whipsnakes, Joe Nardella won several faceoffs in a row during a fourth quarter in which the Whips scored nine unanswered goals.

Towers said he fully intended to bring Kelly back for the 2021 season, but he left him unprotected during the expansion draft. He said he hoped he would slip through, but Sean Quirk made him one of the 18 players selected by the Cannons, leaving the Chaos with an even larger hole to fill at the position. So, when Adler slipped past the Redwoods — who were also looking for a faceoff athlete — Towers jumped at the chance to take him with the eighth pick.

Adler, a 2019 MLL All-Star and the 2020 MLL Faceoff Specialist of the Year, wanted to make sure he lived up to the high expectations.

“This offseason, I’ve never worked harder to get ready,” he said. “I’ve heard the outside noise of not being good enough to play in the PLL. I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

He might have put too much pressure on himself, at least initially.

Adler struggled at the start of the 2021 season. In his first four games, his faceoff winning percentage was less than 50 percent in three separate games, and he had a winning percentage lower than 40 percent twice, including in his season debut, when he won only 7 of 23 faceoffs and picked up two ground balls against the Whipsnakes.

Towers described Adler as someone with “no self-doubt,” but Adler admitted he thought his professional lacrosse career might be over.

“That first game I get my a** kicked by Joe [Nardella],” he said. “We get blown out. They drafted me so we could beat the Whipsnakes, and I played like crap. I felt like a failure and let down. I took it personally.

“In the MLL, there weren’t many games I went under 50 percent. After our game in Minnesota, I called [Towers]. I said, ‘I’ve done everything I can.’ I said, ‘Maybe I’m not the guy.’ He reassured me to stay the course, and that I was the guy.”

When Adler doubted himself, his teammates picked him up.

“Blaze Riorden, every practice, was helping me with faceoffs, and he’s the MVP,” Adler said. “He could say, ‘How about you win a couple more faceoffs, so we can win?’ but he didn’t. He stayed the course.”

His play started improving in Colorado, his former professional home. He won 48 percent of his faceoffs, picked up five ground balls and added two assists as the Chaos won the game, kickstarting a run of five victories in the team’s final six games.

In those six games, Adler won 50 percent or more of his faceoffs four times.

“I felt incredibly confident that Max Adler was going to be at his best,” Towers said, “and that what was a weakness in the beginning of the season, statistically, would be a strength down the stretch as our guys came together as a group.”

A rematch against the Whipsnakes and Nardella was in store for the Chaos and Adler.

In a close game, Adler won the last five faceoffs in the second quarter to help the Chaos go into halftime with a two-goal lead.

Things got more physical in the third quarter, and Adler wasn’t immune to it. After the Chaos scored to take a 9-7 lead, Adler won the ensuing faceoff, picked up his own ground ball and started a fast break. A few steps inside the two-point arc, Adler saw the slide approaching and took a shot at goal, but that left his body vulnerable, and Matt Dunn plowed through him, leaving him rolling around on the ground.


Taken to the sideline, Adler was diagnosed with a separated shoulder, which the medical staff popped back in. While the hit — which he and Towers both said was perfectly legal — looked vicious, neither Adler nor Towers was concerned about his return to the game.

“I don’t want to let my teammates down. My one goal is to win a championship,” he said. “For me, there’s never a conscious decision where I’m hurt so I’m not going to play. I’m going to do everything I can to win a championship.”

Adler stayed in the game and finished with a 50-percent winning percentage and eight ground balls. He also helped make sure there would not be a fourth quarter slide for the Chaos, as the team actually increased its lead and won the game 14-9.

Towers had high praise for his faceoff man after the game.

“He had a tall order,” he said. “Everyone was expecting Joe Nardella to control that aspect of the game. It’s not the way it shook out. Nards deserves everything he has done in the sport and established himself as the best. For Max, who struggled so much in the first game, to come back in the last game and have the performance he did, you have to talk about him making a case for the [Championship Game] MVP as well.”

For the fifth consecutive season, Adler’s year ended in the championship game, and for the second time in his career, it ended with a victory. It also happens to be that Adler’s two championships came in the last two seasons all talent played in a single league; he won with the Denver Outlaws in 2018, the year before the PLL’s inception, and now with the Chaos, the first season after the PLL and MLL merger.

Adler said those championships were more a product of his environment than him being the X-factor. He said he was “super fortunate,” and the championships are a way to prove the people that supported him — from the staff at Bentley, the Outlaws organization, his employers at ESPN, his strength and conditioning coach and mental conditioning coach, and, of course, Towers and his teammates with the Chaos — right.

“For me, it’s really important and special,” he said. “I’m representing something more than myself. There’s so many people that helped me get to where I am. Everyone works hard. Everyone sacrifices. What is different for me is all the people that have had my back.”