July 19, 2022
By Evan Lepler
Some years we are blessed with a smorgasbord of meaningful competition over the final couple weeks of the regular season. Unfortunately, this is not one of them.
With two weeks remaining, the AUDL playoff bracket is almost completely set. Eight of the 11 postseason tickets have been punched, and the last three available spots are not exactly up for grabs. Austin in the South, Indianapolis in the Central, and San Diego in the West all have magic numbers of one, meaning that any win from the Sol/AlleyCats/Growers or loss from the closest competitor—Atlanta, Madison, and Oakland, respectively—would enable them to officially clinch.
Here’s a division-by-division glimpse at the playoff picture.
New York Empire 11-0
DC Breeze 8-2
It’s interesting to have such a clear top three and also have such sizable separation between the trio of teams. New York will seek a perfect 12-0 regular season in Philadelphia this weekend, though the result is meaningless from a standings standpoint. Everyone is locked into their seed.
Colorado Summit 10-1
Salt Lake Shred 8-2
IN THE HUNT
San Diego Growlers 6-3
Oakland Spiders 3-6
Although the Summit’s perfect season came to an end this past Friday night in San Diego, Colorado locked up the top spot in the West with Saturday’s win at Los Angeles. Technically, the Growlers could still surpass the Shred for the two-spot, but all Salt Lake needs to clinch a home playoff game is a single win in its final two weeks. With home games against 3-6 LA and 2-7 Portland these next two Fridays, the Shred hosting the Growlers in the opening round of the playoffs feels inevitable. Mathematically, the Spiders are still alive; realistically, they are not.
Chicago Union 8-1
Minnesota Wind Chill 7-3
The Union’s magic number to be the top seed is one after their road win at Minnesota on Saturday night. Similarly, the Wind Chill’s magic number is one to secure home-field in the opening round playoff game against the three-seed. Since both the Union and the Wind Chill have a remaining home game against a team that’s lost 60 games in a row, there’s very little doubt that Chicago and Minnesota will finish 1-2, in that order, in the Central.
IN THE HUNT
3. Indianapolis AlleyCats 6-4
4. Madison Radicals 6-5
Thanks to their clutch performance at Breese Stevens Field this past Friday night, the AlleyCats are well-positioned to get back into the postseason. But it’s not gonna be easy. Indy needs a win or a Madison loss, and the AlleyCats have two tough games left, a home game with Minnesota this weekend and then an interdivisional road trip to Atlanta the following weekend. Even if the AlleyCats lost both those games, Indy would still make the playoffs unless Madison can beat Chicago on Friday, July 29.
1. Carolina Flyers 11-1
IN THE HUNT
2. Austin Sol 8-3
3. Atlanta Hustle 6-4
Remember, only two teams make the playoffs in the South. While still technically alive, it’s almost impossible to fathom Atlanta leapfrogging Austin for the two-spot. The Hustle need the Sol to lose at home against Tampa Bay, a team that is currently winless at 0-9 and has been mostly non-competitive on the road this season. (The Cannons have been outscored by 32 in their four road games.) If Miranda Knowles can convince Andrew Roney, Mischa Freystaetter, Cole Sullivan, Jordan Huston, and Chris LaRocque to re-sign with the Tampa Bay for the Austin game, then maybe the Hustle could make the playoffs if they also win their remaining two home games vs. Dallas and Indianapolis.
As for the race for Championship Weekend seeding, a reminder that the semifinals are re-seeded once the quartet is set. The four postseason division champs will be ranked by regular season record, with point-differential serving as the tiebreaker if, for instance, Carolina, Chicago, and Colorado all finished 11-1 and won their playoff games.
Presently, here’s where the top teams stand in terms of record and point-differential:
New York 11-0, +95
Carolina 11-1, +60
Colorado 10-1, +47
Chicago 8-1, +34
The Full Field Layout
The easy Week 12 headline could be that road teams went 10-2, but according to the odds, only two of those 10 road victories were upsets. And actually, the biggest “upset” of the weekend, based upon the DraftKings line, came with a home underdog that has a tremendous track record of being a top tier team. On Friday evening, the San Diego Growlers handed the Colorado Summit their first loss in franchise history, a 23-20 Growlers’ triumph that reminded everyone how the two-time defending West Division champs should not be underestimated headed toward the playoffs. The 9-0 Summit were 5.5 point favorites on the road, but Colorado never once held a lead over the course of the full 48 minutes, as the Growlers surrendered a season-low 11 turnovers and were only broken twice.
“It really was a great game for us all around on Friday night,” said Travis Dunn, who led the Growlers offense with eight assists, three goals, and 554 total yards. “I thought we came in with a better understanding of what they wanted to do, and our defense did a good job of making things difficult for them [...] And offensively, we just did a much better job of executing our game plan. We were methodical with it and attacked when the opportunities presented themselves, but overall we were more cautious with the disc in our hands [...] It was easily our most complete game as a team this season.”
Though the Summit never led, it’s not like they were blasted. To the contrary, the game was constantly close; there was only one break in the first half, and neither side had a multi-goal lead until San Diego went up 13-11 early in the third quarter. Colorado was within one at 20-19 with less than nine minutes left in the fourth when a 3-0 Growlers spurt basically put the game away.
“San Diego definitely just outplayed us,” said Colorado cutter Quinn Finer, who churned for a game-high 556 receiving yards. “The biggest difference from the game in Denver was our ability to run our defensive sets and their ability to exploit them [...] We also need to convert our break chances at a high clip. In the playoffs, we know we’re not going to get many chances at it, and we have to make them count.”
To Finer’s point, the Growlers were 5-for-8 on their break opportunities, while the Summit went just 2-for-7. In a nutshell, that was the difference.
“It seems that we’re starting to round into shape at the right time,” said Dunn. “Sean [McDougall] is starting to click with all the game and make the same plays we’ve known him for in LA in the past. Steven [Milardovich] is getting back to being the top downfield defender that we’ve seen him be for so long. Getting Will [Turner] back [from injury] for the final stretch is definitely huge for us too. He’s an anchor for our defensive unit for sure.”
At 6-3, the Growlers need just a single win in their last three games—at Seattle, at Portland, and vs. Oakland—in order to make their postseason plans.
For Colorado, the Friday night loss briefly opened the door for second-place Salt Lake to potentially rise into the top seed, but the Summit slammed that entryway emphatically with their Saturday performance at Los Angeles. The younger Danny Landesman earned bragging rights over his dad yet again, as Colorado led 8-5 after one, 13-9 at half, and 22-14 through three, ultimately prevailing 27-21 to improve to 10-1 and clinch the West’s top seed for their inaugural playoff run.
“I think experiencing some adversity before the playoffs was overall good for us,” said Finer. “In the end, learning from the loss and moving on was our goal, and I think we executed that well. By the time we were back to the hotel in San Diego, the team had their eyes set on LA.”
And as for the Landesman dynamic, Aviators Head Coach Jeff fell to 0-2 for the season against his son, Danny, experiencing what many of LA’s opponents dealt with over the past two seasons.
“I had never coached against him in the past,” said Jeff, “and now I know how it feels. He really is unstoppable.”
Danny Landesman completed 43-of-44 throws against his former team, accumulating a career-high 307 passing yards and four assists working alongside Jonathan Nethercutt, who lit up the Aviators for 835 total yards—including 574 passing—and eight assists. As a team, the Summit produced just 14 turnovers for the second straight day, coaxing 20 turns and eight breaks from LA.
Though the undefeated season is no more, the Summit need just a Week 14 home victory over 2-7 Portland to finish 11-1. Win or lose in their regular season finale, the road to Championship Weekend out West goes through Denver.
Elsewhere out West, the Salt Lake Shred improved to 8-2 with a 22-19 road win at Oakland, transforming a three-goal halftime deficit into a three-goal victory, the Shred’s fourth consecutive win. In fact, the Shred outscored the Spiders 10-4 over the game’s final 18:13 to escape the West Bay with their streak intact.
“That Spiders game was frustrating and fun for sure,” said Salt Lake’s Joe Merrill, who finished with a game-high eight goals. “They have probably the best double teams we’ve seen so far and are great about switching and containing our offense [...] Going into the second half, our O-line stepped up the defensive intensity if we turned it, and our defense started getting the turns. It started slow; no real break train until the fourth quarter, when Tony Mounga got hot.”
Mounga produced three fourth quarter blocks, along with an assist and a goal on consecutive points, that helped the Shred put the game away. Justin Norden totaled 486 yards and seven assists, while Evan Magsig and Wyatt Berreman each contributed four blocks apiece for the Spiders, but Oakland still dipped to 3-6 and onto the brink of elimination from the playoff race.
The Toronto Rush had two players with superhuman performances on Saturday night against Philadelphia, but the balance, depth, and determination from the Phoenix enabled Philly to earn a hard-fought 25-23 victory, clinching the Phoenix’s first playoff berth since 2013.
“The feeling I had was a lot of pure excitement and joy that we had finally broken through to make the playoffs,” said Phoenix veteran Eric Nardelli. “It’s been a long, long time coming.”
The Rush did not make it easy. Ryan Poloz and James Lewis were virtually unstoppable, combining for over 1,400 yards, 12 goals, and 12 assists, but Philadelphia also had some answers too, with Sean Mott, Jordan Rhyne, and James Pollard collecting 17 assists and nine goals as a trio. Toronto’s top defender Phil Turner had four blocks, bringing his AUDL-leading total to 24, but seven different Phoenix tallied at least one block of their own.
“Every member of the team chipped in and did their part in this win,” said first-year Phoenix Head Coach Roger Chu. “I think another factor was our team was able to handle the snakes in the grass, onsides pulls, and sideline double teams that the Rush threw at us. [Toronto Head Coach] Adrian Yearwood has done an excellent job coaching his squad, and props to him for pulling out all the stops against us on Saturday.”
After falling behind 4-2 early, the Phoenix closed the opening quarter on a 3-0 run and never trailed again. Philadelphia led 13-10 at halftime, 19-16 through three, and maintained their multi-goal advantage all the way to the finish line in the two-goal win.
“Being able to earn the win and a spot in the playoffs on Saturday came directly from the hard work and dedication of each and every member of the Phoenix,” said Chu. “I actually didn’t know that it was the Phoenix’s first playoff berth since 2013, and so it only hit me later how much making the playoffs has meant to the players, especially vets like Mott, [Eric] Nardelli, [Matt] Esser, and others.”
Since going 9-7 in 2013, the Phoenix averaged less than three wins per year from 2014-21, a stretch that included a winless 0-14 campaign in 2016. Nardelli joined the organization in 2015 and was the only player to see the field in every single game during the winless ’16 summer. Consequently, seeing the team get back to the playoffs was a magical feeling.
“It just made all of the hard work and games that I’ve played in over the years for the Phoenix worth it,” said Nardelli. “[After the game], I just thought about all of the work that we’ve put in as a team this year and how we’ve played for each other. We also shifted our mindset to say our work isn’t finished yet. We have a few more regular season games and then are looking forward to our third matchup with DC to try to exact some revenge.”
Indeed, the Phoenix, who suffered back-to-back heartbreaking one-goal defeats against the Breeze earlier this month, will travel to DC on Saturday, August 13, with the winner advancing to face New York for the East Division crown.
The Central Division playoff picture shifted substantially as two road teams earned critical two-goal wins on consecutive nights. On Friday, the AlleyCats closed on a 9-5 run to edge the Radicals 19-17 and surge into sole possession of the final playoff spot. One day later, the Union utilized a thrilling greatest and an amazing layout block to seize control in the closing minutes against Minnesota, escaping St. Paul with a 27-25 triumph to remain atop the Central table.
Firstly, let’s look at what happened in Madison, where the Radicals fell to just 8-8 in their last 16 home games. Before this stretch, Madison had won 46 straight against divisional foes at vaunted Breese Stevens Field. But Friday’s result was especially painful because the two-goal margin also gave the AlleyCats the narrow edge in head-to-head point-differential.
“Clearly, the end-of-quarter snafus have been a thorn in our side all season,” said Madison’s Avery Johnson.
Indy’s fourth-quarter buzzer-beater was not the difference in Friday’s game, but it did give the AlleyCats the tiebreaker if the two teams finish the regular season with the same record.
“Coming out of there with that two-goal win was absolutely huge,” said Indy’s Cameron Brock, who snagged the final tally as time expired for his seventh goal of the night. “Catching that goal at the end was a great feeling. As far as individual goals go, it might be the biggest one I’ve scored.”
Considering Brock now owns 563 career goals, that’s a pretty lofty statement. But that also shows just how meaningful it was.
“We seized control in the fourth by simply wearing them down, I think,” said Brock. “Their O had a lot of struggles all night moving the disc quickly. They were forced to make lots of throws. Specs [Jake Fella] absolutely crushed his matchup on [Victor] Luo. A handblock, plus just making life more difficult for him in the backfield, allowed the rest of our D-line to be successful in their roles.”
Luo thought he had a go-ahead buzzer-beater of his own in the closing seconds of the third, but to the dismay of the Radicals, the officials conferred and bizarrely overturned their force-out ruling, declaring no-goal. Instead of heading into the fourth quarter with a one-goal lead, the score was tied. The Radicals still produced the first break of the closing frame, but the ‘Cats got the last two.
“The loss for the most part just felt extremely self-inflicted,” said Luo, “especially considering they only had two blocks.”
Indeed, the AlleyCats were far from defensively dominant or especially explosive—they only attempted four hucks all game—but their poise and precision were monumental.
“When Travis [Carpenter] went down in the preseason, I really felt the need to play at a higher level,” said Brock. “I became the sole captain on the O-line, the new play caller, and the leading voice [...] So I really came into this season with my biggest goal being to maintain possession of the disc as much as possible. I didn’t want to go back to any game and look at a throw I made and say, ‘that’s a bad decision. That wasn’t the right play.’ Outside of one or two throws, I think I’ve done that, and we’re really starting to take that to heart as an entire O-line.”
The AlleyCats still have work to do, but they control their own destiny if they can win one of their final two games. Firstly, they host Minnesota this Saturday, and the Wind Chill will be trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since May 2015.
Since handing the Union their only loss of the season on July 1 and steamrolling Detroit one day later, Minnesota has stumbled with setbacks against Madison on July 10 and Chicago this past Saturday.
The Union and Wind Chill both played brilliantly for most of their critical rubber match. The offenses were handling the ever-increasing pressure, and neither side ever led by multiple goals until Paul Arters hit Jack Shanahan late in the third to put Chicago in front 19-17. But that lead was short-lived, as the Wind Chill scored four of the next five goals to surge back ahead 21-20.
The fourth quarter was riveting, with Ross Barker saving possession with a red-zone greatest, leading to the 22-all equalizer with 9:09 left.
“I’ve played with these guys for many years now, and they’ve seen me throw greatests at practice a handful of times,” said Barker. “It was awesome to have a game moment where my teammates recognized the situation and knew I was going to attempt it. Before I went for it, Paul yelled to me ‘I’m right here, Ross!’ which gave me a sense of where to direct the disc back into play. Sam [Kaminsky] told me that supposedly he was yelling to me too, but I didn’t hear him in the moment.”
Between college, club, and pro, that was the fifth greatest of Barker’s career.
“It’s always an awesome moment that hypes everyone up,” Barker said.
Later in the period, John Jones delivered the game’s dagger block, soaring for a layout D with less than two minutes remaining that set up the goal that all but the game away. Interestingly, Jones gave Barker credit for a key adjustment in practice earlier in the week that helped him make the play.
“I changed my positioning so I could see the action as well as dictate where MJ [Michael Jordan] could go,” said Jones. “You can see us early on make contact in the middle of the field as he tried to make a deep cut, which then pushed him under. MJ burned me pretty bad with a similar cut to the sideline that led to a [score in the last meeting], so I figured that was what he was looking for. Once I saw the pass go up from [Andrew] Roy, I knew I was going to sell out and that it was going to be a block from there based on my closing speed and how good I felt at the time. Sometimes it can come down to being close enough and hoping for a bad throw that you’ve been waiting for the whole time as a defender in the AUDL.”
Jones now has a block in five straight games, and Chicago needs just a single victory in its last three contests to ensure that the Central Division final goes through the Windy City.
Seven On The Line
- Despite their track record of winning—the Breeze are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season and the seventh time in eight years—DC had never before won on back-to-back days in Canada before this past weekend’s trip to Montreal and Ottawa.
But the Breeze rolled through Quebec and Ontario in Week 12, outscoring the Royal and Outlaws by a combined total of 48-31 on their 2-0 weekend. After winning by 10 over Montreal on Friday, Saturday’s game against Ottawa was close and competitive halfway through before the Breeze broke it open with an 8-2 blitz in the third quarter. “DC made some defensive adjustments that evidently caught us off guard and led to them generating a number of turns that they, for the most part, were able to effectively capitalize on,” said Ottawa’s Geoff Bevan. “They started the third quarter with a roller pull into a double-team that led to a first pass turnover, and subsequently a break. It also felt like we took a few more risky shots than we had to up to that point in the game, and a high percentage of them didn’t go our way.” At 8-2, the Breeze head to Boston this Saturday before closing the regular season at home against Ottawa. Meanwhile, the 2-8 Outlaws travel to Philly and DC for a road double-header in Week 14 to finish their campaign.
- One subtle source of inspiration for the Breeze this past weekend was watching the World Games Flying Disc competition that was simultaneously unfolding down in Birmingham, Alabama. “Both of our games were fairly close to the times of the Team USA semis and finals games,” said DC’s Jeff Wodatch. “We were all watching the beginning in the locker room, huddled around some phones, and continued to follow the score throughout warmups. Watching two teams playing at the highest level and playing with everything they have definitely motivated us to do the same.” In case you missed it, the US National Team dropped their second pool play game against Germany, but rebounded to defeat Colombia in the semifinals and Australia in the finals, earning the fifth consecutive gold medal for Team USA at the World Games.
- Eric Taylor was an alternate on the USA World Games roster, and though he was not activated to play for his country this past week, he still shined for the Carolina Flyers.
Taylor dished seven scores and accumulated nearly 500 total yards as the Flyers prevailed 27-22 at Pittsburgh to finish their regular season at 11-1. The Thunderbirds struggled to stymy Carolina’s disc movement, as the Flyers finished with a season-low eight turnovers, completing 12-of-15 hucks on the night. “We were just firing on all shots from the start,” said Terrence Mitchell. “Like everything was working, all the throws and all the catches. All around, we came out doing what we need to do and just took care of business.” Mitchell registered seven goals, three assists, and 612 total yards, while Alex Davis found the end zone eight times and produced 476 total yards. The Flyers will go exactly five weeks between games, as their South Division title contest against either Austin or Atlanta—likely the Sol—has been set for Saturday, August 20.
- Speaking of the Sol, Austin swept the season series over Dallas five games to none by hanging on for a 26-22 victory on Saturday night at Chaparral Stadium.
The Legion was within one with nine minutes left, but the Sol’s 4-0 spurt created the meaningful separation in the middle part of the fourth quarter, enabling Austin to get the win. “Legion brought a better 20 than we had seen in previous matchups this season,” said Sol Captain Jake Radack, who had eight assists and 722 total yards. “Unlike previous games, their O-line did not just give us the disc. It took our D some time to realize that they would have to fight a little harder.” Mark Evans added nine assists for the Sol, finishing just 13 receiving yards shy of a 300/300 game. Evan Swiatek and Vinay Valsaraj each scored six goals, as the Sol improved to 8-3 and inched within one game of the playoffs. “Should be a matter of taking care of business [against Tampa Bay], but we saw how close they played Atlanta,” said Radack.
- Indeed, the Cannons had only lost by two and by five in their previous two matchups against the Hustle, but following a lengthy weather delay on Saturday, the Hustle cruised to a more comfortable 26-17 victory. “That was one of the crazier storms I’ve seen,” said Atlanta’s Matt Smith. “It really came down for like 90 minutes straight and created a literal moat around the field that was five or six inches deep.” After falling behind 1-0, Atlanta scored the next four goals and led the rest of the way. It was only a four-goal game at halftime, but the Hustle opened the third with a 7-2 burst, widening the gap substantially. The lead swelled to double-digits in the fourth before Atlanta prevailed by nine. “It’s the first time Atlanta has ever swept Tampa in a season,” said Smith. “Tampa is always a difficult place to play and they always battle really hard, so it was a good sign for us to be able to care of business [...] The reality is that Austin is 95 percent going to the playoffs. Of course, we want to win the remainder of our games to give ourselves a chance, but it’s almost as much about continued growth and reps as a team as about trying to maintain hope for the playoffs [...] Austin played well when they needed to and deserve to be going into the postseason. There’s a reason you play the games though, and we’ll be doing our best to win the remainder of ours and you better believe I’ll be the biggest Tampa fan there is in a couple weeks.”
- Unless Dallas can win in Atlanta this Friday night, the Legion will meet the Cannons on Saturday in a weirdly intriguing game between teams that enter Week 13 still in search of their first wins this season. Currently, both teams are 0-9, with similarly rough point-differentials. The Legion have been outscored by 55 goals, while the Cannons have been beaten by a total of 62. Not only will they meet in Florida this weekend, but regardless of the result, they’ll rematch in Texas the following Saturday. Both teams are led by first-year head coaches, Dan Emmons in Dallas and Michael Taylor in Tampa, and despite their inability to earn wins, both coaches have seen positive signs of growth during the season. Certainly, each will be trying to motivate their team to cap their disappointing overall season with a win or two in the final couple weeks.
Of course, the Legion and Cannons are still a half-decade or so away from matching the league’s worst losing streak, which staggeringly reached 60 consecutive games after Madison smacked Detroit 25-18 on Saturday in Michigan. After falling behind 2-1, the Radicals used a 10-2 onslaught to seize control. Joe Cubitt, Bryan Walsh, and Chris Walsh all tallied over 500 total yards for the Mechanix, but the trio also combined for 12 turnovers, one more than Madison had as a team. The Radicals went 11-for-13 on their break chances, with Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Jack Nelson, Sterling Knoche, and Luke Marks all registering multiple blocks. The Mechanix are now just two losses away from their fourth consecutive winless season. In order to avoid that ignominy, they will need to win on the road against either Chicago or Minnesota in Week 14.
The New York Empire were idle this past weekend, but their perch as title favorites has not changed. This Friday in Philly, the Empire can complete their second perfect regular season in the past three years. And as Daniel Cohen pointed out on twitter last week, the Empire are now better than even odds to win the title, according to DraftKings.
Statistically, the Empire have been dominant. They lead the league in scores per game with 25.2. They also pace the league in goals allowed per game, giving up just 16.6. To complete the trifecta, they have the fewest turnovers too, at 13.4 per game.
They are trying to become the fourth AUDL team to go undefeated and win the championship, along with the ’13 Rush, the ’16 Roughnecks, and the ’19 Empire. History says it happens once every three years, but no team has ever been an undefeated champion while also leading the league in each of the three statistical categories that were just mentioned.
None of this is a guarantee that the Empire will hoist the trophy, but if they can peak at the right time and play their best ultimate in the playoffs, they might just earn the distinction as the most dominant AUDL team of all-time.
Time will tell.