Breakdown in Boston

May 9, 2023

By Shaggy Shragis

It brings me no joy this week to recap the worst collapse in Phoenix history. After a seven goal run from the end of the first quarter into the second, the Hotbirds took a 9 - 2 lead with 3 minutes left in the first half, and then proceeded to fritter away possession after possession to lose to the Boston Glory and fall to 0 - 3 on the season. Though not the most disappointing Philadelphia sports loss to Boston this weekend, it was certainly more surprising.

There are excuses to be sure. This will be the least consistently reffed game of the season, with multiple instances of missed calls—a strip on Mott, several missing fouls on James Pollard, and a foul on Matt Hanna that brought the game to a standstill while the refs tried to figure things out. Furthermore, the wind at Hormel Stadium certainly played tricks with the disc, such as a great D by Max Trifillis on Orion Cable that defied gravity and popped back up for a Boston score. But this Hotbird team would be the first to tell you that accountability does not start with excuses, and this game was determined by their own mistakes far more than the weather or the officials.

With a strong first quarter and a seven goal run going into the second, the Phoenix took a commanding 9-2 lead. The wheels came off with 3:10 left in the half, when Boston scored four straight points in exactly one minute of game time, pulling within three with just over two minutes left. It was a cavalcade of errors for a Philly offense that had looked largely invincible to that point: a run that featured a first throw turnover from Alex Thorne, a third throw turnover by Calvin Trisolini, and a first throw drop by Anthony Prato in his return to lineup for the 2023 Hotbirds.

After putting up 11 points in the first half, Philadelphia was outscored 11–5 in the second, which included just a single goal in the third quarter: an opening break from the D line. There was fight from Philly in the quarter—Boston was unable to get clean holds or clean breaks—but every time Philadelphia seemed to gather momentum, they were met with a brutal error or slip in concentration which gave the disc back. The Philadelphia backfield was once again plagued with unforced turnovers and struggled to find an offensive flow. Jordan Rhyne in particular had his worst game as a Hotbird, with 6 turnovers, no assists, and just 26 throwing yards on 37 completions.

The big issue seemed to be Philly’s inability to connect lateral handler movement on the offense to their cutters downfield. Swinging is all well and good, but too often Philadelphia’s swings seemed purposeless, and it caused them to miss-time downfield throws or miss seeing downfield cutters that were opened up with side to side motion. Without attacking downfield, the Phoenix offense had turn after turn throwing tight passes into the wind, and that sideways or backwards movement gave Boston a runway for quick scores going the other direction. Philadelphia needs to resolve this issue fast. No AUDL team can win games with double digit turns from its O-line handlers, and Philadelphia has had three straight games with just that.

With nine games remaining, the season is far from over for the Hotbirds. They started the 2022 season 0-3 as well, including a loss to Boston, before rattling off a 6 - 3 record down the stretch. However, this season has felt different, and Ottawa, who the Phoenix beat twice in 2022, have been replaced by a game against Pittsburgh, who has started strong, and the Carolina Flyers, who have been to two straight championship weekends and handed Philadelphia their worst loss in 2021. For Philadelphia to have a chance at the playoffs, they will not only need to sweep the Canadians and defeat Boston in the rematch at home, but they will need to win at least one game, and potentially two, against New York, DC, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. The Commonwealth Cup (against the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds) is the most attainable win in that stretch, but a season that started out so hopeful is now veering towards disappointment.

Philadelphia needs to figure out their offense, and figure it out immediately. Struggling in the rain against New York or against the fearsome DC Breeze is one thing, but falling to Boston in the manner that they did sets off alarm bells in the entire Phoenix organization. In particular, Jordan Rhyne, James Pollard, and Greg Martin need to rediscover their magic from a season ago. Those three combined for more huck completions than half the league last season, and a resurgence in Philadelphia’s deep game could open up space for the handlers, giving them more cushion on the dumps and swings that seem so difficult for the Hotbirds this season. It's either that or just be better at throwing and catching. Philadelphia was middle of the road last season in completion percentage at around 93%. This season they are bottom five, with a completion percentage close to 90%. That might not seem like a big difference, but for Philadelphia it's the difference between 2-1 and 0-3.