Thursday Thoughts: Week 14

1. Is this the year of the Minnesota Wind Chill?

All season long, it’s been apparent that Minnesota’s make-or-break stretch would arrive in July. Well, it’s here.

Over the next two weekends, the Wind Chill will play their two toughest games of the season, at Madison and at Pittsburgh, and we will truly see what this team is made of. On Saturday, as the calendar flips to July, the switch must flip for Minnesota.

At 8-1, the Wind Chill are tied with 11-1 Raleigh for the fewest losses in the league. With five games remaining, Minnesota has already clinched a playoff spot, and homefield advantage in the Midwest is clearly within reach. All signs indicate that none of the players will simply be satisfied to be in the postseason mix. Collectively, they realize that this is a genuine chance to elevate the national regard for Minnesota ultimate by making some noise in July, and more importantly, in August.

Saturday’s matchup with 9-2 Madison—broadcast live at 7:00 PM/ET on AUDL.TV/Live—the rubber match of three regular season meetings, will be a very tough test. Even though the Radicals will be missing some key pieces, Minnesota absolutely enters Madison’s house as the underdog. After all, the Wind Chill were outscored 61-26 in two games at Breese Stevens Field last year.

The two teams have similar styles, both prioritizing a defensive mindset first and foremost. Entering this weekend, the Radicals and Wind Chill are 1st and 3rd in the league in forcing their opponents to throw a lot of passes before scoring a goal. Along with New York, who is #2 in the aforementioned stat, Madison and Minnesota make up the top three in terms of the fewest goals allowed per game. Consequently, every score will be critical on Saturday.

In late April, Minnesota won by two.

In the June rematch, Madison prevailed by one in overtime.

Don’t be surprised if OT beckons again, as it appears the race at the top of the Midwest is as close as it’s ever been.

2. Montreal could slam the door on New York’s playoffs hopes simply by taking care of business at home on Saturday.

The range for the Royal, depending on their result this weekend, is pretty staggering. With a win over the Empire, Montreal would be in position to contend for the East division regular season title and the accompanying homefield advantage. With a loss, they would suddenly be in a pretty precarious position to even make the playoffs.

Montreal and New York are tied 1-1 in their season series so far in 2017.

From the New York perspective, this is the first road game of five in a row that will ultimately yield a verdict on the Empire’s frustrating season. At 4-5 and coming off back-to-back home wins over bottom-feeders Philly and Ottawa, the Empire still control their own destiny. If they run the table down the stretch, they would finish in the East’s top three.

However, New York’s on-field play has done little to inspire the great belief that the Empire are set to embark on a torrid winning streak. The talent is apparent, while the inconsistency has also been painfully present. And in fourth quarters, the Empire have faltered too many times to deserve our collective trust.

The Royal, on the other hand, should have a raucous crowd supporting them, not to mention their underrated core of contributors that have gradually gained more and more confidence throughout the season. The big question heading into Saturday is whether Montreal’s anchors can remain impervious to the pressure. With a win, the Royal would head to Toronto next week with the possibility of leaping over the Rush and the Breeze into first place.

The Royal have never won a playoff game and have only been to the postseason once. The Empire have never missed the playoffs and have proven they can win at Montreal in the past.

Like the Wind Chill, Saturday’s game just might be about redefining the ceiling for Montreal’s competitive ultimate ambition. The Royal have already beaten every team in their division this year, but a loss at home this weekend would mitigate much of the progress that has been made.

3. There are no safe playoff bets in the West Division.

Each of the top five out West has three or four games left.

San Jose Spiders (8-3): vs. Seattle, at San Diego, at LA
San Francisco FlameThrowers (7-4): vs. Seattle, at Seattle, at Vancouver
Los Angeles Aviators (7-4): at San Diego, vs. San Diego, vs. San Jose
Seattle Cascades (5-5): vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at San Francisco, vs. San Francisco
San Diego Growlers (5-6): vs. Los Angeles, at Los Angeles, vs. San Jose

As the remaining schedules indicate, this will be settled on the field. Five teams for three spots, and every team has a reason for optimism.

There are no easy games out West.

San Jose controls its destiny for home field, but winning just one of their last three would almost certainly get the Spiders in the dance. San Francisco lost its first meeting against the Cascades, but the FlameThrowers look to be getting stronger, with a roster that will definitely be bolstered by the conclusion of Beach Worlds. Meanwhile, the Aviators have the tiebreaker over Seattle and a pair of home games. One win would guarantee the Aviators no worse than 8-6, and that would probably be enough to advance to August.

Seattle and San Diego are on the outside at the moment, however the Cascades and Growlers both will enter their remaining games with confidence. Seattle has had success against Vancouver and played both Bay Area teams to razor thin margins throughout the season, while San Diego possesses a unique motivation, with a slew of former Aviators on the Growlers roster heading into the pivotal home & home with LA.

There may only be one game out West this weekend—Vancouver at Seattle on Friday night—but there’s still plenty to think about in this division, which sports the tightest race involving the most teams of any quadrant in the league.