June 21, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
This Saturday will mark the third and final regular season game between the Toronto Rush and D.C Breeze. Though Toronto will have little to play for – with first place all but guaranteed in the East – playoff standing remains in the balance for D.C. As the Breeze are the only team this season to have beaten Toronto, the Rush will have extra motivation to beat D.C and try to make it less likely that D.C qualifies for the playoffs. The game will tip at 6:30 PM ET at Monarch Park Stadium, and tickets are still available.
D.C’s win over Toronto at home provided a blueprint of sorts to beating the 2018 Rush. On offence, D.C moved the ball quickly, with more handlers than strictly necessary on the field. D.C looked to their dumps on stall two or three; high stall counts are situations in which Toronto’s defence generates many of their turnovers. Having Rowan McDonnell as a handler provided a consistently open reset valve, which was one of the most important contributors to D.C’s offence playing a near-perfect second half. Nate Prior’s consistency as a handler, throwing 59 completions in as many attempts, was equally integral.
That McDonnell was able to turn the corner on many of his short catches allowed him terrific momentum to distribute. Look for Toronto’s defenders to work harder before the catch to make sure that McDonnell has more difficult finding passing lanes.
On defence, D.C made sure Toronto felt them. D.C only compiled 9 blocks in the game, but few of Toronto’s completions were uncontested. Rush pull plays were well-defended, and Toronto generally had to work for every goal.
Toronto will have some reinforcements against D.C this week. Star offensive cutter Andrew Carroll will be in the lineup after not making the trip to D.C two weeks ago. Winnipeg resident and defensive superstar Mark Lloyd will play in his fourth game of the season. His is a major defensive stopper who can take away deep shots at will; with Marijo Zlatic, Bomber Powell, and Mike MacKenzie still on the shelf with injuries, Lloyd is an especially welcome addition.
Toronto will again be without defensive wizard Bretton Tan. After food poisoning held him out against D.C last time around, he dominated in wins over Ottawa and New York, shutting down top handlers in Derek Alexander and Harper Garvey. However, Tan injured his right wrist during a layout towards the end of the game against New York, and Toronto will be without one of its top options against McDonnell.
Two weeks ago, Toronto was led by the youthful quartet of Connor Armstrong, Ben Burelle, Nate Hirst, and newcomer Hugh Knapp. They combined for 11 assists and 8 goals in a game in which Toronto only scored 24 goals. Expect Cam Harris and Andrew Carroll to absorb more of those counting numbers, but Toronto’s offence has morphed into a much younger version of itself during these past few weeks. Especially when 18-year-old Ben Oort comes back healthy (he won’t play against D.C), Toronto will likely start the youngest O-Line in the history of the Rush.
Though the Rush beat the Breeze 33-20 early in the season in Toronto, you can expect this coming rematch to bear far more similarities to the D.C game that went to overtime. Though Toronto has been practically unbeatable at home so far this season, D.C will be playing for its playoff life. Anything can happen.
To help me prepare for the game, Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum), a writer for the D.C Breeze, was kind enough to answer some questions. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Louis Zatzman: Toronto mashed D.C at home in May, but D.C snapped Toronto's undefeated season the other week. Which game is more predictive of this weekend?
Tyler Byrum: It is hard to tell which version we will get in round three. The Breeze have so many young and new players that they've been working into their system to maximize value, and they didn't pay dividends until their last three games. This is a far different team from what Toronto saw back in May. At the same time, DC's one-point overtime win saw the Rush without many of their top players. Confidence, I think, will be a huge factor for the Breeze when they make the trek this weekend. Knowing they can beat Toronto has changed their mentality, especially for the rookies.
Louis: In the last matchup, Rowan dominated in handler sets against Toronto, especially providing easy (and yard-gaining) resets with his athleticism from the position. Even now that he's less hampered by his hamstring, is there any argument to keeping him as a handler against Toronto instead of shifting him back to his natural position of initiation cutter?
Tyler: Rowan McDonnell coming back and playing a little bit of handler is a part of the Breeze's gameplan. So many good things happen with the disc in his hands. I don't suspect much will change this week with him as a hybrid just like two weeks ago. It will also preserve his hamstring for a doubleheader weekend, as the Breeze travel to Ottawa for a Sunday game.
Louis: Sticking with that last game, D.C had incredibly few turnovers in the second half. Why? What was working so well?
Tyler: The first half of the last game was a careless half for the offense. Silly mistakes and self-inflicted turnovers prevented DC from setting the tone early. I talked to some of the players after the game, and they just all had a moment where they, without saying a word, agreed to make a commitment to value the disc more. Seeing the extra energy from the D-line finally result in breaks also amplified that.
Louis: The Breeze are 4-1 at home, with wins over Raleigh, Toronto, and New York. They're... less good on the road. What's the deal? And how can they correct that trend against one of the league's best home teams in Toronto?
Tyler: Well that's the million-dollar question. It’s not just this season, but the past handful of seasons has seen DC struggle on the road mightily. Heck, since April 23, 2016, D.C has the best home record in the league by a long shot, but hasn’t yet made noise in the playoffs. In D.C, there is a special homefield advantage that the Breeze's fans bring, and their current and past stadiums have really bolstered that advantage. On the road, whether it’s missing key players, transportation hardships, careless mistakes, the team cannot seem to get the monkey off their back. I do believe though, that once D.C gets a big road win, and a win in Toronto would certainly count, the flood gates may open up.
D.C (10 games played)
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders:||Block Leaders:|
|Rowan McDonnell – 34
Xavier Maxstadt – 22
|Rowan McDonnell – 35
Jeff Wodatch – 28
Delrico Johnson – 20
|Delrico Johnson – 15
Troy Holland – 15
Toronto (11 games played)
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders:||Block Leaders:|
|Andrew Carroll – 24
Cam Harris – 24
|Ben Oort – 24
Ben Burelle – 19
Andrew Carroll – 19
|Isaiah Masek-Kelly – 15
Cam Harris – 14
Iain MacKenzie – 14
The line: Tor (-4.5) vs DC (+4.5), per AUDL pick em