March 19, 2020
By Evan Lepler
Brackets and madness. Two March staples.
With the eager anticipation of the 2020 ultimate season put on pause, I have been reflecting on the past decade of the American Ultimate Disc League. It felt only natural to try and figure out how some of the greatest teams ever would match up against each other.
Here’s the premise:
I have selected the top 16 teams from the AUDL’s first eight seasons. All former champs automatically qualified, leaving eight spots for non-champs.
The teams have been seeded 1-16 based upon a combination of their achievements, legacy, and my personal impressions/recollections. I am a one-man committee in this venture (I dare anyone to @evanlepler with their quibbles), and teams have a chance to play their way through the single-elimination. Well, not actually play, since this is just a mental exercise. But stay with me.
As you will see, there will be upsets, a byproduct of specific matchups and careful consideration/reevaluation, contemplating all the tangible and intangible factors. Obviously, health and player availability on specific rosters are both important and fluctuating variables, and I am going to operate by thinking about each team as it was made up during the peak moments of the season. In other words, what the team looked like in the playoffs and at Championship Weekend.
Without further adieu, here’s a look at the field, seeded 1-16.
- 2016 Dallas Roughnecks (Champions)
- 2019 New York Empire (Champions)
- 2015 San Jose Spiders (Champions)
- 2017 San Francisco FlameThrowers (Champions)
- 2014 San Jose Spiders (Champions)
- 2017 Toronto Rush (Lost in finals)
- 2019 Dallas Roughnecks (Lost in finals)
- 2016 Seattle Cascades (Lost in finals)
- 2018 Madison Radicals (Champions)
- 2013 Toronto Rush (Champions)
- 2017 Dallas Roughnecks (Lost in semis)
- 2017 Raleigh Flyers (Lost in South Division final)
- 2016 San Francisco FlameThrowers (Lost in West Division final)
- 2018 Raleigh Flyers (Lost in South Division final)
- 2015 Madison Radicals (Lost in finals)
- 2012 Philadelphia Spinners (Champions)
Bubbles burst: 2018 Dallas Roughnecks (Lost in finals), 2019 Raleigh Flyers (Lost in South Division final), 2018 Toronto Rush (Lost in East Division final), 2016 Madison Radicals (Lost in semis)
That creates the following first-round matchups:
#1 Dallas Roughnecks ('16) vs. #16 Philadelphia Spinners ('12)
Quick 2016 Roughnecks Capsule
Core Superstars: Dylan Freechild, Kurt Gibson, Beau Kittredge, Jimmy Mickle, Cassidy Rasmussen
Key Complementary Talent: Matt Jackson, Ben Lohre, Kai Marshall, Brandon Malecek, Stanley Peterson
Underrated X-Factors: Chris Larberg, Dillon Larberg, Thomas Slack, Dalton Smith
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Matt Bennett, Chris Mazur, Jeremy Langdon
The Narrative: The inaugural ’16 Roughnecks steamrolled their competition, going 14-0 in the regular season, maintaining perfection by an average of 9.6 goals/gm, including 11 games in which they never trailed. Insanely, they never once faced a multi-goal deficit in the regular season. That changed in the playoffs where Dallas fell behind 2-0 twice, but the Roughnecks handled all three postseason challenges with relative ease, beating Atlanta, Toronto, and Seattle by margins of seven, seven, and six to become the league’s second-ever undefeated champion.
Quick ’12 Spinners Capsule
Core Superstars: David Brandolph, Matthew Glazer, Jake Herman, Sean Murray, Jake Rainwater
Key Complementary Talent: Michael Baer, Nick Hirannet, Trey Katzenbach, Greg Owens, Art Shull
Underrated X-Factors: Leon Chou, Aman Nalavalde
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Dustin Damiano, Trent Dillon
The Narrative: In an eight-team AUDL that launched the first season of pro ultimate, the ‘12 Spinners were clearly the class of the competition, going 13-2 in the regular season and capping the campaign with a 29-21 victory over Indianapolis in the inaugural championship game, held in the Detroit Silverdome on August 11, 2012. Eight years later, only two members of the original Spinners remain active in the AUDL: Dustin Damiano with the Philadelphia Phoenix and Matt Jaffe with the Chicago Wildfire.
The Skinny: Despite our desire for upsets, most 1/16 matchups are lopsided affairs. In the history of men’s college basketball, there’s only been a small handful of close calls, with just one genuine shocker (UMBC over Virginia in 2018). With all due respect to the pioneering Spinners, a matchup with the undefeated Roughnecks would not be pretty for Philly. Dallas’ stardom speaks for itself, with a half-dozen Team USA weapons along with a sensational supporting cast. While there’s an element of absurdity in referencing any exhibition game as evidence, it feels at least slightly relevant that a group of college All-Stars known as the NexGen team—a roster that, by the way, included future Roughnecks Dylan Freechild and Jimmy Mickle—beat the Spinners somewhat comfortably a week and a half before the 2012 AUDL finals.
The Result: 29-20 Roughnecks over Spinners
#8 Seattle Cascades ('16) vs #9 Madison Radicals ('18)
Quick ’16 Cascades Capsule
Core Superstars: Mark Burton, Simon Montague, Zane Rankin, Matt Rehder, Nick Stuart
Key Complementary Talent: Donnie Clark, Danny Karlinsky, Reid Koss, Joe Sefton, Mario O'Brien
Underrated X-Factors: Husayn Carnegie, Matt Russell, Will Chen, Sam Hart
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Michael Caldwell, Tim Gehret, Ben Snell
The Narrative: After an underwhelming 9-5 regular season despite a spectacular roster glittered with big name players, the ’16 Cascades coalesced brilliantly in the postseason, starting with pair of breathtaking playoff performances against Los Angeles and San Francisco, Then, as an unforgettable encore at Championship Weekend, Seattle authored the most exhilarating comeback in AUDL history, overcoming a 20-13 third quarter deficit to stunningly demoralize and defeat the hometown Madison Radicals, 26-25. A day later, the Cascades led the dominant Dallas Roughnecks 11-9 late in a high-scoring first quarter, but Seattle could not keep pace for the full 48 minutes, falling 33-27 in the title game.
Quick ’18 Radicals Capsule
Core Superstars: Kevin Brown, Colin Camp, Peter Graffy, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Pat Shriwise
Key Complementary Talent: Thomas Coolidge, Sterling Knoche, Andrew Meshnick, Ben Nelson, Andrew Meshnick, Dave Wiseman
Underrated X-Factors: Logan Pruess, Tom Annen, Chase Marty
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Tarik Akyuz, Scott Richgels
The Narrative: After years of heartbreak—from 2013 to 2017, the ’18 Radicals had gone 3-5 at Championship Weekend, falling short in the final on three separate occasions—the stars magically aligned for Madison in 2018. In fact, a large chunk of the roster had been with the team since the franchise’s inception, providing a galvanizing motivation for the team and its hearty, dedicated fans. Madison's mindset clearly shifted midseason after a blowout loss to Raleigh in late May, as Peter Graffy assumed a larger role on offense for the second half of the journey, an adjustment that helped Madison win nine of their next 10 games, including Championship Weekend triumphs over Los Angeles and Dallas, as the Radicals cathartically hoisted the trophy for the first time.
The Skinny: First and foremost, this is Madison’s chance for a bit of hypothetical revenge against Seattle. The Cascades are clearly more talented individually at the top, however chemistry, depth, and coaching are meaningful factors too, all of which lean toward the Radicals. The meeting between the franchises in 2016 tilted on a couple crazy plays, most notably the closing seconds of the third quarter when Carnegie’s block led to Chen’s full-field prayer to Russell (“Are you kidding me??? YOU ARE KIDDING ME!!!”). But the fact that Seattle needed so many miracles to pull out the 2016 game is telling. Madison dominated the first 30 minutes of the original meeting, and I think the ’18 Radicals learned from past failures, enabling them to sneak past ’16 Seattle in a mini-upset.
The Result: 23-21 Radicals over Cascades
#4 San Francisco FlameThrowers ('17) vs. #13 San Francisco FlameThrowers ('16)
Quick ’17 FlameThrowers Capsule
Core Superstars: Antoine Davis, Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Marcelo Sanchez, Joel Schlachet
Key Complementary Talent: Greg Cohen, Lucas Dallmann, Eli Kerns, Byron Liu, Jordan Marcy
Underrated X-Factors: Kevin Cocks, Lior Givol, Sawyer Thompson
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Ashlin Joye, Mac Taylor, Grant Lindsley
The Narrative: Following a couple years as San Jose’s pesky but inferior little brother, the FlameThrowers seized the torch as the premier Bay Area power in ’16 before blossoming into top contenders in ’17, with Kittredge and Rasmussen notably returning to the West Division in the latter after spending the former in Dallas. The FlameThrowers were inconsistent throughout portions of the campaign as they fit all the puzzle pieces together, but got a substantial boost late in the year when Joye returned to the field and at Championship Weekend where Lindsley and Taylor were additional difference-makers. The Toronto Rush played phenomenally in the final, but the FlameThrowers had all the answers, narrowly prevailing 30-29 in arguably the most thrilling title game in league history.
Quick ’16 FlameThrowers Capsule
Core Superstars: Greg Cohen, Simon Higgins, Eli Kerns, Marcelo Sanchez, Joel Schlachet
Key Complementary Talent: Patrick Baylis, Lucas Dallmann, Christian Johnson, Byron Liu, Jordan Marcy
Underrated X-Factors: Federico Chialvo, Barrs Lang, Clay Miller, Michael Spear
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Robert Cahill, Nathan White, Russell Wynne, Sam Kanner
The Narrative: After starting the season 8-0, a three-game losing streak may have slightly simmered expectations for there ’16 FlameThrowers, but this was still a stacked team that included 11 former players that were seeking a Bay Area three-peat after winning a title with San Jose either in 2014, 2015, or both. Beyond that, this was a group that felt determined to win without Beau Kittredge, the two-time MVP who became Dallas’ splashy first signing prior to the 2016 season. Without Beau, San Francisco still finished first in the regular season, but came out ice cold against the Cascades in the West Division final, a game that marked the first postseason setback for two-time champion standouts like Cohen, Higgins, and Sanchez.
The Skinny: Here we have our first real existential matchup of the bracket, as these two teams obviously share many of the same players. The 2016 team was hungry, impressive, and provided a platform for many burgeoning stars to claim more responsibility and take the next step, but something was still missing when it counted most. Meanwhile, the 2017 FlameThrowers were, quite simply, better and deeper. Adding Davis, Kittredge, and Rasmussen tips the scale significantly in this hypothetical San Francisco showdown, with Lindsley and Taylor transforming this battle into something of a blowout.
The Result: 28-21 FlameThrowers (’17) over FlameThrowers (’16)
#5 San Jose Spiders ('14) vs. #12 Raleigh Flyers ('17)
Quick ’14 Spiders Capsule
Core Superstars: Mark Elbogen, Kurt Gibson, Simon Higgins, Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge
Key Complementary Talent: Tyler Bacon, Kevin Cocks, Greg Cohen, Eli Kerns, Jeff Silverman
Underrated X-Factors: Michael Kiyoi, Kevin Smith, Sonny Zaccaro
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Nate Bosscher, Nathan White
The Narrative: The first AUDL game I ever saw in person was opening day for the ’14 Spiders, in which they outscored San Francisco 7-4 in the fourth to prevail 20-16, setting the tone for their magnificent debut journey in the league. It was evident early that Gibson, Joye, and Kittredge would shoulder significant responsibility on San Jose’s inaugural roster, but several young studs along with the easily overlooked “Santa Barbara contingent” provided the Spiders with enough firepower to cement their status as a league-wide favorite. Through the entire season, San Jose’s lone blemish was one-point loss to San Francisco on a wildly windy mid-May Saturday in the North Bay, a game in which the Spiders actually coughed up a five-point first-half lead. In the postseason, the Spiders pounded the FlameThrowers by 10 in the West Division final, outlasted Madison by three in the semis, and then crushed the Rush on Toronto’s home-field 28-18, the largest rout in AUDL championship game history.
Quick ’17 Flyers Capsule
Core Superstars: Justin Allen, Jacob Fairfax, Jonathan Helton, Jonathan Nethercutt, Noah Saul
Key Complementary Talent: Matt Bode, Terrence Mitchell, Mike Pannone, David Richardson, Shane Sisco
Underrated X-Factors: Nate Goff, Josh Hartzog, Jacob Mouw, David Snoke
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Brett Matzuka, Liam Searles Bohs, Jack Williams
The Narrative: This was unquestionably Raleigh’s top regular season team that had a knack for making huge plays in crunch time. Memorable moments include overcoming an 18-13 fourth quarter deficit to beat DC 23-21 in overtime, erasing an 18-15 fourth-quarter gap to surpass Jacksonville 21-20 on Mouw’s unbelievable buzzer-beater, and then Nethercutt probably cemented his MVP campaign two weeks later when he skied for the game-winning score in a rematch with the Cannons, another thriller that Raleigh won 27-26. Overall, the ’17 Flyers went 13-1—the lone setback being a 33-18 blowout in brutal blustery conditions at Dallas on the second day of a back-to-back very early in the year. The Flyers avenged that outcome on their home field a month later and earned the right to host the 11-3 Roughnecks in the South Division final, but Nethercutt’s 10 assists and five goals still were not enough to dethrone the champs in the game that mattered most, preventing the Flyers from getting back to Championship Weekend.
The Skinny: College basketball fans certainly know that 5/12 duels have a propensity for upsets, and this is a mighty fun matchup of two runaway MVPs, as ’14 Kittredge and ’17 Nethercutt each were at the peak of their powers throughout the season. From a talent standpoint, Raleigh actually matches up decently well with San Jose, especially with Williams added into the arsenal late in the season. The Flyers have always had an army of depth defenders, and unsung stars like Goff, Pannone, Tim McAllister, and Jeff Nordgren would make life tough on the Spiders’ offense. Late in the game, however, established track records matter, and the Joye/Gibson/Kittredge trio has earned the benefit of the doubt. Along with solid supporting standouts like Bacon/Elbogen/Higgins, the Spiders would pull away in the fourth to survive and advance, but they would be feeling fortunate to escape past this particular Raleigh roster.
The Result: 27-22 Spiders over Flyers
#2 New York Empire ('19) vs. #15 Madison Radicals ('15)
Quick ’19 Empire Capsule
Core Superstars: Jeff Babbitt, Ben Jagt, Beau Kittredge, Grant Lindsley, Jack Williams
Key Complementary Talent: Marques Brownlee, Harper Garvey, Ben Katz, Conor Kline, Jibran Mieser
Underrated X-Factors: Albert Alarcon, Mike Drost, Ryan Drost, Matt LeMar
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Josh Alorro, Matt Auletta
The Narrative: The Empire finally broke through in 2018 by shockingly toppling Toronto on the road in the East finals, but New York redefined expectations for the ’19 season when Lindsley and Williams signed free agent deals and Bryan Jones officially became the team’s new Head Coach. Suddenly, the Empire were the favorite, and it was a pressure-packed burden that they struggled to fulfill through a decent chunk of the season. They were victorious in every game, but the margins were often slim, winning by more than five goals only once and needing overtime to prevail twice. Still, the Empire improved mightily as the season progressed and played their best when it counted most, outscoring the Roughnecks 7-3 down the stretch in the biggest game of the year to complete their undefeated championship run with a 26-22 triumph in the finals.
Quick ’15 Radicals Capsule
Core Superstars: Andrew Brown, Jay Froude, Peter Graffy, Andrew Meshnick, Pat Shriwise
Key Complementary Talent: Kevin Brown, Colin Camp, Adam Drews, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Dave Wiseman
Underrated X-Factors: Tom Annen, Thomas Coolidge, Seth Meyer, Jadon Scullion
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Brian Hart, Matt Weber
The Narrative: On the ’15 Radicals, a large chuck of the team’s three-year vets were in the heart of their athletic prime. Meanwhile, youthful Kevins like Brown and Pettit-Scantling were also coming into their own as centerpiece contributors, and Camp and Froude were super impactful rookies. Collectively, this Madison outfit went 13-1 in the regular season and handled Raleigh in the semis. On Championship Sunday at beautiful Avaya Stadium in San Jose, the Radicals gave the superstar-laden Spiders all they could handle. Madison played the game at its pace and flustered the San Jose offense much of the day, but the Radicals flubbed a game-tying opportunity late in the fourth, and the Spiders prevailed 17-15. It was the third consecutive season—at that point, all of Madison’s existence—that the Radicals fell to the eventual champ at the final four.
The Skinny: There’s no question the #15 seed would be a sizable underdog here, for Madison’s system and chemistry could only match up so well with New York’s pantheon performers. Surely, Radicals Coach Tim DeByl would try and concoct something special to calm the pace and fluster the Empire, but Empire Coach Bryan Jones is a master at making adjustments to an opponent’s early wrinkles. This feels a lot like the 2/15 NCAA matchup where the mid-major keeps it close for a half and maybe about 6-8 minutes into the second half before getting worn down and overpowered by the bigger, taller, faster, and overall more talented opposition. Just like Ashlin Joye’s ability to slice and dice through the Radicals’ D proved to be the difference in the ’15 final in San Jose, the Empire would trust Garvey and Katz to orchestrate the attack late in the game, and New York’s D would get the necessary breaks late to comfortably advance.
The Result: 21-16 Empire over Radicals
#7 Dallas Roughnecks ('19) vs. #10 Toronto Rush ('13)
Quick ’19 Roughnecks Capsule
Core Superstars: Abe Coffin, Jay Froude, Kai Marshall, Dalton Smith, Carson Wilder
Key Complementary Talent: Dan Emmons, Dillon Larberg, Kaplan Maurer, Kevin Richardson, Thomas Slack
Underrated X-Factors: Henry Furuta, Zach Marbach, Griffin Miller, Connor Olson
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Gabriel Hernandez, Brandon Malecek
The Narrative: Over the past four years, I have marveled at the Roughnecks’ ability to gradually evolve from a team of high-priced, out-of-town talent to a core of largely homegrown athletes from throughout Texas and its neighboring states. The ’19 Roughnecks epitomized this transformation, with young players like Furuta, Maurer, Marbach, Olson, and Wilder growing into game-changing weapons. A so-so regular season concluded with eight wins and four losses, but the Roughnecks entered the playoffs with tremendous confidence in their full, healthy roster. In the postseason, Coffin delivered a clinical dissection of Raleigh’s defense to win the South final on the road, and then Dallas traded punches admirably for three full quarters with New York before the Empire gained enough traction to pull away in the fourth, forcing the Roughnecks to settle for a second-place finish for the second straight season.
Quick ’13 Rush Capsule
Core Superstars: Cam Harris, Jeff Lindquist, Mark Lloyd, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Adrian Yearwood
Key Complementary Talent: Gord Harrison, Michael Jones, Thomson McKnight, Geoff Powell, Ricky Szeto
Underrated X-Factors: Steve Armitage, Trevor Henry, Andrew Kubinec, Phil Watanabe
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Calum Mackenzie, Sachin Raina
The Narrative: The AUDL had just two divisions in 2013, but this was the year that several long-standing successful organizations made their debuts. The Windy City (now Chicago) Wildfire went 14-2, the Madison Radicals went 13-3, and the New York Empire went 11-5 in their premier campaigns, but obviously none of these teams were as strong as the ’13 Rush, who went 16-0 in the regular season with a ridiculous +171 goal differential. In the postseason, the Rush handled New York 25-18 in the semifinals before edging Madison 16-14 in the finals, setting the league’s initial standard for perfection. At 18-0 with a +180 goal-differential, they remain the most dominant team statistically in AUDL history.
The Skinny: Overall, the AUDL product improved enormously from 2013 to 2019, with current franchises almost universally possessing more talent, know-how, and motivation compared to their counterparts from six or seven years ago. But the ’13 Rush were a special group, anchored by a core of traditional Toronto leaders, several of whom had represented Canada on the international stage. They would undoubtedly have their hands full with the speed and style of the ’19 Roughnecks, who did a great job of creating pressure and forcing their opponent to make difficult plays. Dallas would presumably prevent Toronto from using its first or second option, but the Rush had a knack for savvily spreading the disc around to secondary cutters. This, combined with the multi-faceted versatility of Toronto’s top stars, leads me to think that the ’13 Rush could pull off the upset over the ’19 Roughnecks.
The Result: 23-22 Rush over Roughnecks
#3 San Jose Spiders ('15) vs. #14 Raleigh Flyers ('18)
Quick ’15 Spiders Capsule
Core Superstars: Simon Higgins, Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Marcelo Sanchez
Key Complementary Talent: Chuck Cao, Greg Cohen, Sean Ham, Christian Johnson, Russell Wynne
Underrated X-Factors: Kevin Cocks, Jordan Marcy, Kevin Smith, Sonny Zaccaro
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Tyler Grant, Justin Norden
The Narrative: This edition of the Spiders lost Bacon, Elbogen, Gibson, and Kerns from the previous year, but added more than enough firepower to their arsenal to be considered the superior San Jose squad. Kittredge increased his production beyond his MVP-worthy ’14 numbers, earning the AUDL’s top award fo the second straight year, while Ham and Johnson became goal-scoring staples in their first seasons with the Spiders. After a 7-0 start, San Jose experienced a bit of midseason malaise in dropping four of their final seven regular season contests, however they erupted for 35 goals to stomp Seattle in late June, securing first place in the West for the second straight year. With Kittredge nursing an injury in the playoffs, Joye, Higgins, Ham, and Sanchez all stepped up around him to help the Spiders maintain their throne as kings of the AUDL.
Quick ’18 Flyers Capsule
Core Superstars: Jacob Fairfax, Mischa Freystaetter, Jonathan Helton, Jonathan Nethercutt, Jack Williams
Key Complementary Talent: Justin Allen, Bob Liu, Terrence Mitchell, David Richardson, Noah Saul
Underrated X-Factors: Kiron Allen, Josh Hartzog, Andrew McKelvey, Jacob Mouw
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Allan Laviolette, Brett Matzuka, Charlie Muniz, Hunter Taylor
The Narrative: If the 2016 Madison-Seattle semifinal still exists as the most heartstopping/heartbreaking result in AUDL history—which I believe it does—the 2018 Raleigh-Dallas South Division final is a close second. The ’18 Flyers had their ups and downs during the regular season and felt kinda clunky at times with their absurd array of talent searching for success, but Raleigh looked absolutely brilliant in peak form, which the Flyers found in Madison in their interdivisional game against the Radicals in May and rediscovered throughout the first half of that epic playoff game in Dallas. Up 12-6 with all the momentum in the world, the Flyers stunningly floundered down the stretch, succumbing to a remarkable Roughnecks rally that denied Raleigh a trip to Championship Weekend yet again. The league-wide landscape shifted dramatically that night, with both Raleigh and Toronto, considered two of the top title contenders that season, losing by one in their divisional finals.
The Skinny: I truly believe that the ’18 Flyers would have won the whole thing had they gotten past Dallas, but the painful trend of making completely uncharacteristic mistakes in the critical moments caught Raleigh again. In a matchup with the ’15 Spiders, the Flyers absolutely have the firepower to battle San Jose’s big guns, however it’s hard to fathom Raleigh totally running away from the Spiders. Consequently, this has the makings of another relatively close call, and it’s obvious which team you trust more in the fourth quarter of a huge game. In the end, Raleigh would deliver a respectable effort, but just like the ’14 Spiders surpassing the ’17 Flyers, the ’15 Spiders would again squeak by against the ’18 Flyers.
The Result: 26-23 Spiders over Flyers
#6 Toronto Rush ('17) vs. #11 Dallas Roughnecks ('17)
Quick ’17 Rush Capsule
Core Superstars: Andrew Carroll, Cam Harris, Jeff Lindquist, Mark Lloyd, Isaiah Masek-Kelly
Key Complementary Talent: Connor Armstrong, Ben Burelle, Mike Mackenzie, Thomson McKnight, Adrian Yearwood
Underrated X-Factors: Jason Huynh, Bretton Tan, Marijo Zlatic
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Jonathan Martin, Jeremy Norden, Geoff Powell, Darren Wu
The Narrative: After a shaky 1-2 start to the season, the ’17 Rush ripped off wins in 10 of their final 11 games, including an interdivisional victory over San Francisco. In the postseason, Toronto scored 29 goals to beat DC by three in the East final, but few believed the Rush could compete with the defending champion Dallas Roughnecks in the semis. Warming up for the game wearing vintage Montreal Expos t-shirts, the Rush got the local Montreal crowd on their side and delivered a performance for the ages. Led by Burelle, Carroll, Harris, and Lloyd, Toronto erased an early four-goal deficit and made an absurd number of crazy highlight-reel plays to take down Dallas, 24-21. One day later, the Rush offense kept rolling by scoring 29 goals for the second time in three playoff games. But unfortunately, the FlameThrowers offense was even better, as San Francisco avenged its regular season loss to take the title in thrilling fashion, 30-29.
Quick ’17 Roughnecks Capsule
Core Superstars: Dylan Freechild, Jay Froude, Kurt Gibson, Chris Mazur, Jimmy Mickle
Key Complementary Talent: Abe Coffin, Ben Lohre, Kai Marshall, Stanley Peterson, Dalton Smith
Underrated X-Factors: Dan Emmons, Matt Jackson, Chris Larberg, Ben Lewis, Thomas Slack
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Matt Bennett, Joel Clutton
The Narrative: Beau and Cassidy departed Dallas after a single season, but the ’17 Roughnecks added Coffin and Froude to the similarly stacked crew that swept all competition in the inaugural campaign. They started 6-0, improving to 23-0 all-time, before losing their first games ever, dropping a pair in Jacksonville and Raleigh on consecutive days. This created a tougher road in the postseason, but the Roughnecks stomped the Cannons by 10 in Dallas in the opening round before playing a brilliant game in Raleigh to advance back to the final four. Most presumed that destiny would yield a San Francisco-Dallas clash in the finals, giving fans the opportunity to see the Roughnecks battle against Beau. But that clash never materialized, as Dallas faltered against Toronto in semis.
The Skinny: You rarely get do-overs in real life; but in the Greatest Teams of All-Time Tournament, second chances with different results can occur. As the only first round matchup between teams that actually met on the field, we have considerable evidence about what would happen. But this hypothetical head-to-head is not a repeat, but a rematch. Neither franchise had their best roster in franchise history in 2017, however both squads were superb at the top with plenty of wild cards that could change the course of the game. Retrospectively, perhaps Dallas had gotten too much hype and Toronto had been overly doubted heading into the semis. In the rematch, though, expectations are different, motivations have evolved, and the Roughnecks are still the stronger team on paper. Back in 2017, Mickle experienced seven throwaways in that semifinal, more than double the number of any other individual in the game. In the rematch, it’s highly unlikely that Toronto would get that many gifts again. And while the Rush won the game that mattered thanks to a plethora of incredible bids, skies, and snags, those were not the type of plays that are easily replicable. Bracing for the inevitable venom headed my way courtesy of Toronto fans, I lean towards #11 seed Dallas in the fictional rematch, with a more stable Mickle, along with Freechild and Froude, leading the way.
The Result: 26-24 Roughnecks over Rush 24