Battle of the Birds

In the most exciting AUDL twist yet, the league has instituted a series of cross division games for many of its teams, fielding never-before-seen matchups and exciting measures of divisional talent. And boy do we have a high flying (this will be an article feathered with bird puns) affair in store for this Saturday.

Philadelphia will be hosting their cross-state, cross-flight rival in the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, one of the more historically impressive teams in the league. While these two teams technically have never met on the ultimate field, Saturday’s matchup represents the pitting of two all-too-familiar ultimate scenes against one another, with an undertone to the game set by years of rivalry at the college, club and high school levels. Pittsburgh touts 2 historic college ultimate programs (Pitt mens and womens), while Philadelphia currently sits king of the region in club performance across every gender division. Many of these players have battled one-another through long careers of competitive play, and more than a few will carry a chip to this Saturday’s contest.

The beloved and fiery hometown Phoenix will be looking to hatch their first win against a team from the United States, as their only victories have come over our Canadian brethren.  In order to succeed, Philadelphia will need their full roster to play like they were in the beginning of the season. Injuries and club tryouts have seen a fragmented Phoenix season, wherein the team has struggled to replicate their early season soaring.

Through their first five games, Philly was led in goals and plus minus by their star rookie Himalaya Mehta, with 22 goals and a +26 plus minus.  Ethan Peck pecked his way into an all star birth, and was +20, and had 25 assists (which is wild). Coach Trey Katzenbach, Peck, and defensive stalwart Matt Esser led the team in playing time, each with over 1000 minutes played (also flapping wild considering that in those 5 games there are a total of 240 minutes they could have played, so the fact that they each played 25 games in those 5 games is nuts!  All stats by ultianalytics).

In the last 4 games (in which they have gone 1-3), the team has been missing some big pieces from their roster and relying on younger players and new faces to make up for absent contributors. Mehta only has three goals over that stretch (mainly due to absence), whereas GM Mike Arcata and D Line Playmaker Eric Nardelli have both managed to spread their wings and score 10 goals a piece.  Ethan Peck, who had a wild +20 plus minus with the 25 assists, is a -3 with 5 assists. He has also dropped from a 96% completion rate to an 84% completion rate. With a player as high usage as Ethan, that's nearly 5 more missed throws a game or, if you want to intensely fudge those numbers, 20 more assists over these last 4 games.

In weathering some of their all-star woes, the Phoenix have hung their hat on the consistency of Sean Mott, who even in the trying month of May tallied 13 goals and 13 assists on 109 touches.  That means every four times Sean touched the disc the Phoenix scored. Returning to the field this Saturday from at least 2 absences in the past 3 games are:

#4 Greg Martin

#8 Ethan Fortin

#9 Himalaya Mehta

#42 David Baer

#48 Ryan Weaver

#91 Vince Reydams

If Philadelphia still harbors playoff dreams, they’ll need these early season stars to return with a vengeance and hope to build off the impressive productions players like Esser, Mott, Nardelli and Arcata have had during their absence.

Any post-season aspirations though must go through the hungry Thunderbirds, who hold an even standing with the Phoenix in their respective division, the stiflingly competitive Midwest. After testing their mettle against the DC Breeze last weekend, the Thunderbirds travel east to take on their cross-state counterparts, bringing with them the talent offered by Sam VanDusen and Jimmy Towle. Both players are team and league leaders, pegging spots on separate leaderboards in assists and goals respectively. VanDusen leads the team with 39 Assists, his huge quick-release hucks launching him to 4th overall in league assists. Towle represents his favorite target at 29 goals for the season (8th in league goals), and the pair will be a tough duo for the Phoenix defense to stifle.

With the Battle of the Birds set for this Saturday, 6:30pm at AA Garthwaite field I’ll be anticipating a win for the home team but do not count out the Thunderbirds. With pride and bragging rights on the line fans can expect a fiery and unforgettable showing for these two teams.

Alex Shragis

Philadelphia Phoenix Commentator, Contributor