Thursday Thoughts: Week 15

July 13, 2017

1. There are 22 games left in the AUDL regular season, 18 of which could have postseason implications.

We’re 45 days away from the sixth AUDL Championship game—Sunday, August 27 in Montreal—and there are 13 teams that could still mathematically be there. Nine teams are already assured postseason berths, while the four West Division clubs are still tangling for three spots. But as pointed out at the open of Tuesday’s Toss, only one of those 13 teams—the 13-1 Raleigh Flyers—is locked into a seed. There are 11 games this weekend and 11 games next weekend, with a potential for more than 80% of them to be meaningful.

2. Tomorrow night is a must-win for Seattle's playoff hopes.

Of the 13 teams that are still alive to be the 2017 AUDL Champ, the Seattle Cascades are the one that’s most likely to be left out of the postseason dance entirely. And urgency is imperative since a winless weekend in the Bay Area would completely extinguish their already fading hopes.

A finalist at Championship Weekend in Madison last season, Seattle experienced a great deal of roster turnover in the offseason. Even still, the new array of talent coalesced quickly. When the calendar flipped to June, Seattle was one point away from being 5-0. Even factoring in the buzzer-beating setback against the Spiders on April 28, the Cascades were 4-1 in the West and very much in the mix.

Highlights from April 28 between San Jose and Seattle.

Over the past six weeks, however, the team’s lack of depth has been its downfall. Since recording impressive wins over Pittsburgh and San Francisco on back-to-back May Saturdays, the Cascades have not beaten anyone other than 1-12 Vancouver. They dropped games against San Diego in consecutive weeks, the latter being the shocking collapse on June 9 when they gave up a seven-goal lead over the final 15 minutes. Los Angeles also swept Seattle in a pair of June matchups, two more missed opportunities for the Cascades to right the ship.

Now, Seattle’s at San Jose and San Francisco on back-to-back days. Aside from Dallas’s jaunt to Jacksonville and Raleigh in mid-May, it’s hard to imagine a more daunting two-day gauntlet. The Spiders and FlameThrowers both will have among their strongest rosters of the season this weekend, with O-line standouts Justin Norden and Evan Boucher returning to the field for San Jose and superstars Ashlin Joye and Eli Kerns expected to be in uniform for San Francisco.

Seattle’s one-goal triumph over San Francisco back in May was an eyebrow-raising result, and it suggests the Cascades might have a couple more tricks up their sleeve. But it’s hard to envision them having the legs in their second game of the weekend against a vicious FlameThrowers roster, especially if they can’t enter with any momentum.

Highlights from May 13 between Seattle and San Francisco.

Consequently, it’s imperative they take care of business against the Spiders, a squad the Cascades feel they should have beaten back in April. Obviously, the matchup holds great meaning for San Jose too, as the Spiders look to maintain their slim one-game lead atop the West Division.

But the Spiders could theoretically stumble tomorrow and still find themselves in the playoffs. If the Cascades crumble down the stretch again, it will almost certainly be the final straw for their postseason dreams.

3. I cannot wait until Jacksonville-Dallas, Part III.

The Cannons have already handed the Roughnecks their first loss ever and their first home loss ever. On the weekend of July 29-30, Jacksonville will look to beat Dallas in the postseason, yet another unprecedented outcome that the Cannons will pursue.

Assuming the Roughnecks prevail in Austin this Saturday—I think they will—the South Division Wild Card game will take place in Dallas. But after Jacksonville’s performance at The Colony last weekend, one wonders just how much that matters. The poise and composure the Cannons displayed down the stretch creates the belief that their A-game is good enough to beat anyone anywhere.

It’s easy to forget, but two years ago, Jacksonville would have won the South and advanced to Championship Weekend if not for an excruciating late-game error and the ensuing miraculous last-ditch effort from Raleigh. This year’s road is exponentially tougher, but the Cannons should be ready.

The Roughnecks, as talented as they are, still have a bunch of questions. It’s clear that they are not as deep as last year’s juggernaut, and even as they sit at 10-3, the squad still feels unsettled. They have an amazing number of desirable puzzle pieces, but the leadership is still trying to fit them together correctly. Adding the malleable Kurt Gibson back for the playoffs should theoretically be a slam dunk, but with the changing roles of key guys throughout the season, it’s hard to know how everyone else will adapt.

The Cannons, on the other hand, may not be as talented at the very top. But they may be deeper than Dallas. And, perhaps more importantly, the Cannons have found success with their current alignment of contributors. Primarily, this has been trusting Bobby Ley, Andrew Roney, and Tyler Kunsa to run the show on offense, utilizing cutters like Jeremy Langdon, Jordan Huston, and Travis Catron serving as the initiators downfield. While the versatile Cole Sullivan did not play this past weekend, he could slot into either role for the Cannons in the postseason.

It’s bewildering to suggest that Jacksonville’s offense may be better with Mischa Freystaetter playing D, but the big fellas has been a revelation for the Cannons’ D-line. Between him and Jakeem Polk, it feels like Jacksonville always has someone who can patrol the skies on a deep shot, either as the primary defender or the poach.

The Cannons have beaten the Roughnecks twice, but both games could have gone either way, as Jacksonville won the two tilts by a total of three goals. During those contests, the rivalry has intensified. Even with both teams praising the other’s spirit in the most recent meeting, plenty of bad blood remains.

When they collide again later this month, the pressure and stakes will be massive. Dallas will still be a slight favorite at home, but the Roughnecks will enter that game with some nerves.

It’s simply shaping up to be spectacular showdown, and it will be a ton of fun to follow.