February 6, 2023
By Evan Lepler
First things first, here’s the most important tidbit about the 2023 FOX Sports AUDL Game of the Week: It will be much easier to watch them.
Presently, the plan is for every regular season showcase to air live on watch.AUDL.tv, with a tape-delayed broadcast on FOX Sports 2 within 24 hours. More often than not, the FS2 telecast will begin sometime between 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM Eastern time on the same Saturday night.
With that starting off point, I’m absolutely thrilled with the tentative slate that’s been crafted for the upcoming season, as I humbly and gratefully commence my ninth year as the primary play-by-play voice for the AUDL's featured collection of marquee matchups. Traveling the continent to help narrate so many of the league’s most anticipated contests is truly an honor, and I’m especially excited about this year’s schedule.
The 2023 journey includes more interdivisional action than we have ever previously witnessed. More than half of our "AUDL Game of the Week" programs will involve teams from different divisions colliding in a slew of potential Championship Weekend previews. Many of these matchups—like DC at Carolina, Atlanta at New York, and San Diego at Austin—are the rekindling of enticing rivalries built during the radical realignment in 2021. Others—like Portland at Chicago, Minnesota at Colorado, and New York at Salt Lake—are unprecedented AUDL battles that add a new, invigorating feel to the entire upcoming season.
Beyond the riveting interdivisional drama, the schedule also highlights several traditional regional rivalries, matchups both fierce and familiar, like New York at DC, Chicago at Madison, and Carolina at Atlanta. With the AUDL moving further into its second decade, each of these divisional disputes is full of history. When the Empire and Breeze reunite on May 13, it’ll be their 30th all-time clash, more meetings than any other pair of teams that have battled in the dozen years of the AUDL’s existence. Similarly, the Radicals will be seeing Chicago for the 27th time on May 27, and the Flyers and Hustle will tangle for the 22nd time when they intersect for their respective regular season finales on July 22.
All together, these 13 Saturday showcases provide a tremendous stage for the league’s elite teams to compete with each other, along with plenty of opportunity for rising contenders to rearrange the expected order and transform the league’s recent hierarchies.
Week 1 | DC Breeze at Carolina Flyers
Sixth all-time meeting (Breeze lead 3-2)
What a matchup to launch the season! The DC Breeze and Carolina Flyers have tangled five times before, and each game has been packed with crazy intensity, mind-bending highlights, and jaw-dropping fourth quarter drama. While they never crossed paths in 2022, DC and Carolina met three times in 2021, with the Breeze twice prevailing by one in regular season thrillers. But then the Flyers flipped the script in the playoffs, overcoming an early four-goal deficit to win 19-16 on DC’s home field and deny the regular season Atlantic Division champs their coveted berth to host 2021 Championship Weekend. That game was the springboard toward the Flyers’ first and only AUDL title, a moment that Carolina is desperate to replicate. Big picture: this year’s opening weekend matchup will indicate which squad is more likely to threaten New York’s current reign.
Week 2 | Colorado Summit at Los Angeles Aviators
Third all-time meeting (Summit lead 2-0)
Who knew that when Pawel Janas attended the very first Colorado Summit tryout it was basically a long-term reconnaissance mission? Any intel he picked up might have come in handy when his Chicago team faced Colorado in last year’s AUDL semifinal, and it might also help a little bit when the league’s all-time goal-throwing king makes his Los Angeles Aviators debut this May. Arguably the premier free agent signing of the offseason, Janas brings his unique combination of midwestern rocky mountain roots to Hollywood for this epic opening night opportunity against the defending West Division champs. The Summit went 11-1 in their inaugural 2021 regular season behind the masterful contributions from Jonathan Nethercutt, Quinn Finer, and Cody Spicer, among others, with their only loss coming on the first day of a SoCal back-to-back. If the Summit fall short again at San Diego the night before—they open their season against the Growlers on May 5— they’ll be arriving to LA with a legitimate sense of early-season urgency, trying to avoid a potential 0-2 start. Either way, they’ll definitely be looking to spoil Janas’s LA premiere.
Week 3 | New York Empire at DC Breeze
30th all-time meeting (Empire lead 17-12)
Regardless of how the Breeze fare at Carolina in Week 1, this home date with New York will set the tone for the 2023 East Division race. The New York Empire—who host Philly and Toronto in Week’s 1 and 2, respectively—might very well be riding a 17-game winning streak into this Week 3 affair, a string that obviously includes their buzzer-beating victory over DC from last August’s climactic divisional playoff matchup. The Breeze have spent the entire offseason stewing in the aftermath of last year’s heartbreaker, and they have already announced a trio of high-profile additions to inject new fuel and fire into the DC-NY rivalry. Both teams will likely be as talented as ever, and the outcome will undoubtedly be decided in the closing moments, as it’s historically been in this series. In fact, 21 of the last 26 Empire-Breeze games, including their 2021 exhibition in Colombia, have been determined by four goals or fewer. Also, exactly half of those 26 games have been decided by a single goal.
Week 4 | San Diego Growlers at Austin Sol
Third all-time meeting (Growlers lead 2-0)
The San Diego Growlers and Austin Sol met twice in July of 2021—the season when the two Texas teams were shuttled into the West Division—and both matchups were mighty memorable. On a Sunday afternoon in San Diego, the Growlers scored the game-winning goal with just three seconds left to narrowly prevail 21-20. Then, just six days later, the Sol were back home in Austin and poised to stomp San Diego. The Sol opened that rematch with four consecutive breaks, only to later surrender five straight scores at the start of the second half. Eventually, the Growlers capitalized and broke it open, sweeping the series with a 21-17 roller-coaster victory on the second night of a back-to-back. Suffice to say, Austin has some unfinished business with San Diego, something they can deal with this May.
Week 5 | Chicago Union at Madison Radicals
27th all-time meeting (Radicals lead 19-7)
Like all things, context is key. Yes, the Madison Radicals have a healthy edge in the all-time series, but Chicago has beaten Madison in five of their last six matchups, including both times they crossed paths in 2022. Entering 2023, the Chicago Union are coming off their most successful postseason run in the franchise’s decade-long history, defeating Minnesota and Colorado soundly before running into the juggernaut Empire in the AUDL title game. While they are losing Janas to Los Angeles, the Union did make a splash by signing Detroit’s Andrew Sjogren, who’s 105 goals over the past two seasons rank third-most in the league in the span. Madison, meanwhile, still has the best, most consistent home-field environment in the league, but the Radicals have stumbled from the league’s elite in recent years, missing the playoffs every year since their 2018 championship. If Madison wants to get back into the contender conversation, beating Chicago at Breese Stevens Field is a must.
Week 6 | Carolina Flyers at Philadelphia Phoenix
Second all-time meeting (Flyers lead 1-0)
This will be the Flyers third and final interdivisional game of their 2023 season, and it might indicate whether Carolina still has the depth of talent required to compete amongst the league’s best teams. The Philly matchup arrives on the second day of a back-to-back after the Flyers face DC the previous evening, the type of scheduling circumstance that can be embraced as a challenge or rendered as an excuse. And the Philadelphia Phoenix, fresh off their first playoff berth since 2013, are determined to take the next step in 2023, no easy task in a division with New York and DC, not to mention three other dangerous opponents like Boston, Montreal, and Toronto. To that point, the Phoenix will have only had three consecutive road games and a home date with New York before this June tussle against Carolina; if the HotBirds are gonna be in the mix in the East Division race, getting this result against the fatigued, yet still-favored Flyers feels critically important.
Week 7 | Atlanta Hustle at New York Empire
Third all-time meeting (series tied 1-1)
It’s another throwback to the short-lived Atlantic Division, and both matchups from the 2021 season were true instant classics. If there was any doubt that Atlanta had evolved into a true Championship contender coming out of the pandemic hiatus, the Hustle’s performance against New York a couple seasons ago revealed just how close they were. In the regular season matchup, Kelvin Williams’ last-second block secured a thrilling 22-21 victory in Georgia. In the playoff rematch up north with a semifinals berth hanging in the balance, Atlanta brilliantly built a five-goal lead before New York’s epic comeback delivered one of the greatest postseason adventures in AUDL history. Ben Jagt’s unforgettable block on Brett Hulsmeyer denied the Hustle’s game-winning score in the last seconds of regulation, and five minutes later, Atlanta could not prevent Ryan Osgar’s buzzer-beating snag as overtime expired. Jack Williams offered a performance for the ages, playing almost every point in the second half and overtime to will the Empire comeback. Will Playoff Jack show up again this June?
Week 8 | Portland Nitro at Chicago Union
First ever meeting
The first of our unprecedented "Game of the Week" matchups arrives in Week 8, with the second-year Portland Nitro—who only won two games last year—traveling to face the defending Central Division champs, who experienced defeat just twice a year ago. But a brand new season is upon us, and the Union are certainly losing some significant firepower from their 2022 edition that went all the way to the finals. Meanwhile, Portland brings a different style and collection of weapons than Chicago has ever previously faced. Furthermore, this type of one-off game between franchises that are geographically distant illustrates just how far the AUDL has come, growing from a couple regional divisions a decade ago into a truly national competitive landscape. These interdivisional games also transform a team’s schedule and provide an opportunity to re-calibrate expectations. Despite the Nitro’s painfully disappointing first season, everyone understands that Portland is a sleeping giant as an AUDL contender. If the Nitro can wake up in 2023, this could become the toughest game on Chicago’s entire schedule.
Week 9 | Minnesota Wind Chill at Colorado Summit
First ever meeting
Another tantalizing first-time interdivisional matchup between young, hungry teams. The Minnesota Wind Chill are hosting Championship Weekend in late August, and if they have genuine ambitions of doing damage at that event, they gotta show their ability to play competitively against the league’s very best teams, a group that unquestionably includes the Colorado Summit. In their inaugural 2022 campaign, the Summit only lost one game in the regular season, and they finished a perfect 7-0 on their mile high home field. But Colorado also fell flat in its first ever interdivisional opportunity at Championship Weekend, and this will be the Summit’s chance to reset the narrative not just for themselves, but also the entire West Division that hasn’t won a semifinal game since 2017.
Week 10 | Salt Lake Shred at San Diego Growlers
Fourth all-time meeting (Shred lead 3-0)
A year ago, the Growlers were the reigning West Division champs, with a super solid top-to-bottom roster that looked like a final four favorite. Then came opening night against expansion Salt Lake, which redefined expectations dramatically. Suddenly San Diego looked like an old, rickety has-been against the new crop of enthusiastic athletes from Utah. Too harsh? Perhaps. But let’s be honest, the Growlers never really recovered from the Salt Lake Shred’s opening weekend 24-22 statement, nor could San Diego ever defeat Salt Lake in two more chances, including during the playoffs. The Shred arrived into the AUDL with an exhilarating high-risk, high-reward brand of ultimate, and it’ll be mighty interesting to see whether their talented youth will continue to be the high-volume shooters that they showcased in year one. By the way, this game could also be simplified as a battle of perennial MVP candidates, with the Shred’s Jordan Kerr tangling with the Growler’s Travis Dunn. Get your popcorn ready!
Week 11 | Boston Glory at DC Breeze
Fourth all-time meeting (Breeze lead 3-0)
The Boston Glory entered the AUDL with considerable hype in 2021, but failed to meet expectations in consecutive seasons. Consequently, few will forecast Boston becoming a true threat to powerhouse programs like New York and DC in 2023, and maybe getting overlooked by the masses will finally inspire the Glory to reach their potential. With all that said, the Breeze needed overtime to escape Boston with a win last summer, and this DC team has a brutal schedule, with two matchups against New York, two more against Carolina, and then a tricky batch of games against Philly, Toronto, and Montreal, all teams that are good enough to serve as a land mine for the Breeze’s true championship ambitions. Also, not for nothing, but last year DC surpassed Montreal as the best home-field environment in the East. Cozy Carlini Field brings big noise and energy, and the Breeze will need to capitalize upon that advantage in alliance with their greater goals.
Week 12 | New York Empire at Salt Lake Shred
First ever meeting
The penultimate weekend of the regular season offers arguably the most intriguing interdivisional doubleheader road trip of the entire slate. The reigning champs are traveling all the way to Denver and Salt Lake City for a pair of tests unlike anything they’ve previously experienced in the AUDL. This will also be the first ever "Game of the Week" broadcast in Utah, as the hometown Shred and their passionate fans should create an unreal atmosphere for this highly anticipated matchup. Undoubtedly, this contest will carry massive consequences for both teams in the late-season race for playoff positioning, and New York will be dealing with the challenges of travel, not to mention the altitude, in both Denver on Friday and Salt Lake City on Saturday. Furthermore, this Week 12 experience provides a futuristic glimpse of what the AUDL could be with more frequent interdivisional drama. I can’t wait.
Week 13 | Carolina Flyers at Atlanta Hustle
22nd all-time meeting (Flyers lead 12-6 entering 2023)
This will be the third and final regular season matchup of the 2022 season for the Flyers and Hustle, and who knows, perhaps this regular season finale will just be another appetizer preceding an inevitable playoff clash between the two South Division rivals. Worth mentioning, the South Division is returning to three playoff berths this season, meaning that the second-place team will host the third-place finisher to earn the right to travel to the regular season champ for a spot at Championship Weekend. And while both of these teams have interdivisional doubleheader road trips into the East, the Austin Sol only have two games outside of Texas all season long. It’s easy to envision the Sol steamrolling through their Lone Star State rivals, leaving the Flyers and Hustle with little margin for error as they try to keep pace in the contentious South Division playoff race.