April 5, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
1. San Francisco’s Quest To Repeat
The San Francisco FlameThrowers are a question mark coming off of their first title. Their roster remains star-studded in 2018 with gems in Greg Cohen, Eli Kerns, Marcelo Sanchez. Players will come into the first game ready to compete at full throttle, with tryouts having run through the most recent practices. Guys are chomping at the bit, and there is as much top-level talent still in San Francisco as in any other city.
And yet, my first statement remains true. San Francisco is still a title contender, but they won’t field the overwhelming dynamism of their 2017 championship roster. The FlameThrowers play an egalitarian style, with everyone on the field trusted to make throws. That worked when practically everyone had all-AUDL talent. In 2018, the FlameThrowers will depend on newer names. The team will have an influx of college talent, and the ability of the youth to compete will, to a certain extent, determine San Francisco’s championship goals. The team will have 15 players at age 25 or younger. The FlameThrowers are searching for players to step into larger roles, and it will spread minutes around in its quest to find what works. Many rostered players have never played together before, and you can count on the team being better and more cohesive by Week 10.
The stars on the roster will be asked to do a little more, but of how much more are they capable? Sanchez already led the league in 2017 in offensive points played, and coach Greenough describes his talent as very much the product of hard work.
“Marcelo sneaks up on people in terms of finding a way to contribute to big moments but it is also a product of always being hungry and hustling," Greenough said. "Having a nose for the right spot and then always grinding create that kind of big play moment more often than most. He is hard to game plan for because it isn't a product of tricks but just a lot of blue collar work.”
Can he work harder in 2018?
Others will expand their roles. Kerns is more than capable of throwing dimes – dropping 29 in 2017 – but can he step into a larger handling role while still using his athleticism to dominate opponents? San Francisco Coach Josh Greenough predicts Cohen will grow into a top two-way player this year, as the team will offer him lots of time on the offense. Cohen will always be a monster downfield, but who will be best equipped to throw him into successful spots?
Important handlers for the team will include Cody Kirkland, Ben Scharfstein, Tommy Lin, and Sam Swink. Scharfstein and Lin will be rookies, while Kirkland and Swink combined for 134 completions last year (though have both have had a previous season with >200). Hunter Corbett will help as well, but the team expects him to take some time to adjust to the San Francisco system. The team is searching for its new center-handler-like Jordan Marcy, who can provide a stable foundation.
If a new team arose in a new city that fielded the roster of San Francisco, it would be hard not to call them championship contenders. The team bleeds talent. A number of the questions related to the team derive solely from comparison to the dominance of the full-strength 2017 iteration. San Francisco will be an amazing team, but their success doesn’t feel assured. Their season starts this Saturday against the San Jose Spiders in San Francisco. I’m excited to watch the journey and learn the answers to my (and the team’s) questions.
2. Antoine Davis
Staying with the FlameThrowers, Antoine Davis will increase his role on the O-Line for the Flamethrowers. This is good. He cuts with fire, offering as much athleticism as anyone in the league, but he still has a blue-collar work ethic.
“Antoine will start to terrify people with his cuts as much as his blocks,” said Greenough. An increased offensive role for one of the most exciting and athletic players in the AUDL will mean a good time had by all—except for his defenders.
3. Raleigh VS Dallas
The South boasts two legitimate title contenders in the Raleigh Flyers and the Dallas Roughnecks, which means fans will be treated to multiple matchups between the two title hopefuls throughout the 2018 season. Raleigh’s first chance at avenging their 2017 playoff loss to Dallas comes this Saturday, which game was recently announced as a replacement Stadium Game of the Week broadcast. Raleigh is a relatively known quantity, especially after their solid win over the Tampa Bay Cannons in Week One. Those expecting a Raleigh demonstration of power were sorely disappointed, but the Cannons will be an incredible team in 2018. In that first game, Mischa Freystaetter and Jonathan Nethercutt were both quiet for their best-in-the-world expectations. Expect them to look to make some statements against Dallas.
The Roughnecks have lost some superstars, including Dylan Freechild, heading into 2018. Don’t think the team will be without stars. Abe Coffin receives less buzz than some of his heralded teammates, but he is as solid as they come. He’s a do-it-all engine who put up more than 35 goals and 35 assists in 2017 on only 21 touches per game. Dallas Head Coach Wes Nemec expects him to have a huge season. If there was an excitement per minute statistic, Jay Froude would be near the top of the AUDL. Froude only touched the disc around 14 times per game, but he averaged around seven impact plays (goals+assists+blocks) per game. Froude averaged one thrill every two touches. His brash, celebratory style can antagonize opponents, but it always thrills fans.
The Roughnecks like their matchup against the Flyers. They have big, athletic bodies who they believe can win one-on-one matchups with Freystaetter in Dan "Danimal" Emmons and Joel Clutton. Both are 6’5". According to Nemec, the key to beating Raleigh is staying unpredictable on the defensive end:
“I think the key is throwing some different looks at them... We've got a couple of different things drawn up that we can deploy. If one thing's not being successful, we can change the gameplan on the fly and move to something else. Whether that's sticking with a strict man[-to-man defense], which has been our strength in the past, or looking at some junk or more zone-type options, which we've kinda been working on.”
This matchup has important narratives for both teams. Raleigh is the favourite, predicted to win the 2018 championship, and is still looking to integrate their important new additions. Dallas is out to show they still have as much talent as anyone, and the South Division has belonged to them since their 2016 inception. They won’t relinquish it happily. Game one will set the tone for a terrific season of divisional rivalry.
4. Montreal VS DC
The East has been the playground of the Toronto Rush the past five years, but there are several teams looking to change that in 2018. The DC Breeze have long been a good team, with perhaps their best ever roster in 2017. Bolstered by offensive star Lloyd Blake and multi-tool standout Rowan McDonnell, DC’s top-end talent can hang with anyone. However, Alan Kolick was often the team’s best player, capable of taking over a game with his pinpoint lefty throws. The team missed him in 2017 when he was unavailable. He played in nine regular season games, and the team lost two. Kolick missed five regular season games, and the team lost an equal two games. That’s a big discrepancy in terms of winning percentage, and DC has to prove that they can consistently win without Kolick. They are hoping that their youthful additions will be able to replace Kolick’s contributions. Darryl Stanley’s space-oriented offense is considered one of the most creative in the league, and he always has his team playing well.
The Montreal Royal, on the other hand, have only added talent. Cam Burden will make his AUDL debut with the Royal, and Morgan Hibbert (previously of the Vancouver Riptide) will also join the Royal. He will start on defense for the Royal because “he's a killer machine in defense” according to Royal Head Coach Caroline Cadotte. The Montreal defense prioritizes athleticism and intellect, so its players consistently force turns, averaging 14.7 Ds per game as a team in 2017, good for third in the AUDL. Converting turns into defensive scores has been a weakness for Montreal, and Hibbert will greatly help there. Another foreign import, Estéban Ceballos has been in Montreal for a few weeks. All three will play important roles for the Royal. In order to foster chemistry, Royal imports live in Montreal, which hasn’t always been the case. Hibbert arrived just this week.
Despite the influx of talent, Montreal already had more than enough on the roster to compete. Stève Bonneau and Quentin Bonnaud were a terrific handler-cutter duo on the offensive line, and the French connection Bonneau-Bonnaud struck for a monstrous 17 goals in 2017. No other duo in the East combined for more goals thrown from one to the other.
In the first round of the playoffs, DC beat Montreal by an outrageous score of 28-16. Montreal’s truly felt the lack of Bonneau in the game. A 10-hour bus ride (and four-hour delay) meant the team never found its focus. Montreal’s first game since their playoff defeat will be back in DC. They’re hoping that their imports have allowed them to overtake DC as the East’s clear second-best team. This game will be snowy, which is exactly how I (a Canadian) like my disc.
5. Indy's Gotta Prove It
In an effort to prove Indy deserved more pre-season buzz, the team went out and pulverized an outclassed Detroit team. Cameron Brock, Rick Gross, and Travis Carpenter all played like superstars. The team has incredible top-end talent, and it unsurprisingly loves to huck early. That doesn’t work against the Madison Radicals; Peter Graffy swallows anything tossed in his direction, like someone who’s awesome at catching grapes in his mouth, or a golden lab. This game will be a true test of Indy’s mettle. Madison’s defense is the league’s best, sporting athletic marvels with high Frisbee IQs at every position. The Indianapolis offence was only broken once in its first game, after finishing with a middling 64 percent conversion rate in 2017. Can they crack 70 percent against Madison? Indy’s has never beaten the elite of the Midwest before. If they can, Indy will truly stake a claim to being a much improved team and perhaps a secret playoff contender.
6. Eyes On Madison
Speaking about Madison, their march to defending home field in the playoffs begins this week. The franchise is hungry for their first ever title, and there will be several young guns joining the veterans in 2018. Madison perpetually flies under the radar, but with high-flying stars like Colin Camp on offense and Graffy on defense, the cavalry is as exciting in Madison as in any other city in the AUDL. Looking to watch someone other than the same guys who’ve run the Radicals since 2013? Robyn Wiseman will be a dynamic O-Line handler. Marquis Mason is in terrific health, and beginning to understand the depth of the game. After a rookie season in which Mason didn’t get much time on the field, the team expects some highlights worthy of young Beau in 2018.
7. Pleasure In Consistency
Tim Beatty of the Los Angeles Aviators is a joy and pleasure to watch. He will be playing this Saturday, and I will be excited. In 2017, he threw 668 completions and only 16 turnovers. Of his 701 touches, he dropped the disc precisely once. Translation: like John Wick, he never makes mistakes. But don’t think Beatty doesn’t take shots (also like John Wick), however! On the contrary, Beatty has an impressive throwing arsenal, more than capable of airing the disc out to a cutter streaking downfield. You know who he’s playing against on Saturday? Dom Leggio of the San Diego Growlers. Leggio equalled Beatty in terms of consistency (only 16 throwaways compared with 703 completions in 2017), but Leggio had practically half the number of assists (24 for Leggio compared with 45 for Beatty). Though Leggio takes fewer shots, he is equally steady. Both are solid, fundamental main handlers. If you want to watch a game with steady offence and few turnovers, San Diego-Los Angeles is going to be fantastic.
James Park, a co-owner of the Aviators, cautioned me not to even guess at what might take place in the matchup on Saturday.
“It's the game that really doesn't matter what's on paper," Park said. "They're always going to be great matchups because of the nature of us being so close, cities that are so close. They're the natural rival.”
So maybe I’ll expect zero turnovers from Beatty and Leggio, and they’ll end up with a dozen apiece. I’m still looking forward to watching solid, consistent frisbee.