April 2, 2020
By Evan Lepler
Three games remain in this hypothetical adventure, and good golly Beau Kittredge is gonna be busy.
Of course, it does make sense that the sport’s greatest champion is prominently involved in the semis and finals of the Greatest AUDL Teams of All-Time Tournament. Here’s perhaps the most absurd element of this whole project: Beau will by default accrue three times as many (imaginary) playoff losses in the climactic two rounds of this alternate universe exercise than he has endured in six seasons actually competing in the AUDL, in which his postseason record is an otherworldly 17-1 with five championships.
In retrospect, maybe the most astounding aspect of Kittredge’s career is the fact that he’s won titles with four different franchises in his six years in the league. It’s one thing to find a happy home and stay there, but Beau has literally helped bring championships back to wherever he decides to play. There’s no doubt he’s positioned himself well in terms of the talent around him, but he also has fostered a level of belief and commitment for many mid-tier players throughout his career.
“I think it has to do with getting the most out of a player and getting a player to buy in to understanding how to win and being the best they can be,” commented Kittredge, when asked about how he’s cultivated success wherever he’s been. “There are so many good players who are scared to take that step and invest. But if you find the right way to get people to buy in, you can really get people to elevate their game.”
With four immensely talented teams full of stars and swagger, it obviously becomes tough to decipher critical differences within matchups to determine winners. But contemplating these on-field matchups is an invigorating agenda, especially amidst our current circumstances, homebound, uncertain, and yearning for ultimate season to start.
Alrighty, time to dive into the matchups, with a reminder that we’re contemplating these great rosters as they were constituted at Championship Weekend.
#1 Dallas Roughnecks ('16) vs #3 San Francisco FlameThrowers ('17)
Closer Look: 2016 Roughnecks
How They Got Here: 29-20 over ’12 Spinners, 25-18 over ’18 Radicals
Primary Offense: Kurt Gibson, Beau Kittredge, Brandon Malecek, Kai Marshall, Chris Mazur, Jimmy Mickle, Cassidy Rasmussen
Primary Defense: Jake Anderson, Matt Costello, Dan Emmons, Dylan Freechild, Matt Jackson, Jeremy Langdon, Ben Lohre
Secondary Defenders: Matt Bennett, Chris Larberg, Dillon Larberg, Zach Riggins, Thomas Slack, Dalton Smith
Closer Look: 2017 FlameThrowers
How They Got Here: 28-21 over ’16 FlameThrowers, 27-23 over ’14 Spiders
Primary Offense: Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge, Grant Lindsley, Jordan Marcy, Marcelo Sanchez, Joel Schlachet, Mac Taylor
Primary Defense: Greg Cohen, Lucas Dallmann, Antoine Davis, Sam Kanner, Eli Kerns, Byron Liu, Cassidy Rasmussen
Secondary Defenders: Patrick Baylis, Kevin Cocks, Lior Givol, Michael Spear, Devon Williams
The Breakdown: The public consensus certainly would make Dallas a moderate favorite in this matchup, but my gut goes against the grain; I view it truly as a 50/50 toss-up. Remember, the question is not which one of these teams had a superior season overall. In that context, there is no debate that the Roughnecks’ perfect record would easily prevail. Instead, we’re wondering about how the team looked and fared at their Championship Weekend peak and how they would handle the pressure of a one-game semifinal against another great team.
And when I asked Kittredge to analyze this matchup, his response sorta shocked me.
“The potential is probably highest with Dallas, but I don’t know if they beat the FlameThrowers,” he replied. “San Francisco, at that point, our mindset about winning was pretty strong. And some guys on Dallas had never won a championship. The potential was probably higher on Dallas, but there were four or five stars on that team that had never won a championship. Then you take a team of proven people, [the FlameThrowers] had a bunch of guys that had won championships and knew how to do it. [With Dallas], you could still sense a bit of doubt here and there. All the players on the Flamethrowers had to have such a deeper connection as far as understanding. I could cut however I wanted and know where Ashlin would get me the disc.”
Of all the things he said, the inkling about the Roughnecks playing through ‘a bit of doubt here and there’ was the most surprising sentiment. This was a team that confidently went 17-0, steamrolling their opposition with style by an average of nine goals per game. Their closest result all year was a four-goal win over Austin in early July, a game in which six of their Championship Weekend top 20 did not even play. And yet, I think I understand what compelled Beau to make that admission.
Whereas the Roughnecks O-Line felt more like an All-Star team, built upon a powerful foundation of great individual talent but not necessarily possessing telekinetic chemistry, the FlameThrowers offense was composed of seven players that had previously won a world championship together. This is obviously not meant to bash the #1 seed and undefeated Roughnecks, who unquestionably put together the post impressive inaugural roster the AUDL has ever seen. Throughout the ’16 season, they answered every test and were never truly exposed, relentlessly wearing down every opponent into submission. Of course, they also never faced a team with as much ability, experience, and cohesion as the ’17 FlameThrowers.
For the majority of their regular season campaign, the FlameThrowers were a discombobulated group. Half of their Championship Weekend 20 played in fewer than 10 of their 14 regular season contests, and difference-makers like Joye, Lindsley, Robbie Cahill, Christian Johnson, Alex Evangelides, Nathan White, and Andrew Hagen all played in five games or less. But none of that really seemed to matter too much in considering how they would fare in Montreal or how they would hypothetically handle the ’16 Roughnecks.
“We only had one goal,” Kittredge said about the ’17 FlameThrowers. “That was winning a championship that year. We were pretty confident if we got to the end of the year, we’d be able to pull it together. All those players, we all played together for so long, it’s hard to discount that amount of chemistry.”
This semifinal is not a best-of-seven series; it’s just one game, survive and advance, with all the prestige and pressure that goes along with that. The Roughnecks’ legacy is unmatched and that will never change. But Beau, the greatest champion ever who was a member of both of these teams, was leaning toward the FlameThrowers. And so am I.
Kittredge and Joye, playing together, have never ever lost a game they needed to win. With more than enough talent around them, I think San Francisco would pull off the upset and become the first team to defeat Dallas, narrowly edging the Roughnecks in a semifinal stunner.
The Result: 28-27 FlameThrowers over Roughnecks
#2 New York Empire ('19) vs #3 San Jose Spiders ('15)
Closer Look: 2019 Empire
How They Got Here: 21-16 over ’15 Radicals, 23-18 over ’13 Rush
Primary Offense: Jeff Babbitt, Harper Garvey, Ben Jagt, Ben Katz, Conor Kline, Grant Lindsley, Jack Williams
Primary Defense: Albert Alarcon, Josh Alorro, Mike Drost, Ryan Drost, Beau Kittredge, Matt LeMar, Jibran Mieser
Secondary Defenders: Matt Auletta, Marques Brownlee, Sam Feder, Ryan Holmes, Matt Weintraub, Tristan Yarter
Closer Look: 2015 Spiders
How They Got Here: 26-23 over ’18 Flyers, 27-26 over ’17 Roughnecks
Primary Offense: Chuck Cao, Sean Ham, Simon Higgins, Ashlin Joye, Jordan Marcy, Marcelo Sanchez, Cassidy Rasmussen
Primary Defense: Greg Cohen, Matt Crawford, Tyler Grant, Beau Kittredge, Justin Norden, Kelly Van Arsdale, Russell Wynne
The Breakdown: Going into their respective seasons, both the ’19 Empire and ’15 Spiders had to answer certain questions about their depth. New York clearly had more superstars than ever, but the bottom half of the roster was largely composed of a mix of solid players and question marks. San Jose replaced Gibson with Rasmussen and added a few more marquee weapons to their title team from ’14, however the super steady Santa Barbara contingent was gone (thanks to the expansion Los Angeles Aviators franchise), and injuries nagged at the Spiders throughout much of the season. In that final four at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, even Kittredge, the league MVP, was ailing with a rib injury suffered in the regular-season finale. Still, this Empire-Spiders clash is incredibly juicy in terms of the specific matchups, with potential to become a high-scoring shootout.
While Babbitt and Katz primarily played offense at Championship Weekend this past August, they are obviously both fantastic defensive weapons that I think the Empire would need to utilize to try and slow down the Spiders attack. But even with that adjustment, I’m a tad skeptical that San Jose would be able to consistently contain New York’s offensive threats like Jagt, Lindsley, and Williams, so maybe the Empire coaches would double-down on taking care of business on offense and just mix the stars in on D here and there. That strategy worked pretty well throughout the 2019 postseason. And in so many key situations, New York’s O-line, bolstered by Babbitt and Katz, played excellent defense after a turnover to prevent a momentum-building break.
With the Spiders offense, the question would be whether the Empire can stifle the disc movement of Cao and Marcy and the downfield dynamics of Ham and Sanchez, both of whom played phenomenally in 2015. Presumably, Higgins, Joye, and Rasmussen would all get their fair share, and other four would decide their game by their ability to handle the pressure. Remember, Kittredge was not at full strength for the Spiders at Championship Weekend, mustering just one goal and two assists in those two games, a +2 for the weekend compared to a +90 over his 13-game regular season. He continued to battle defensively, but tempering Madison’s offense in that title game does not compare to the challenge of calming Garvey’s cannon and the rest of New York’s high-powered artillery. It’s fair to say the AUDL also evolved significantly from 2015 to 2019, something that Kittredge mentioned when asked to analyze this particular hypothetical matchup.
“I don’t think that the San Jose team can overcome the [Empire] roster,” he decided. “Just the sport in general has gotten so much better. Our starting seven on that San Jose team had a really good understanding and flow, but I think the drop-off in athleticism would be too much to overcome.”
I agree. Aside from New York having a healthy MVP and San Jose having a hobbled one, the ’19 Empire simply possessed more firepower from 1 to 20. Joye was superhuman during that run against the Rush and the Radicals in quarterbacking the Spiders to a title, but this New York team is a different monster, especially with Babbitt and Katz shifting over to D in critical moments, Alorro and Mieser rising to the task to handle tough matchups, and the Drost twins maintaining their always solid defensive relentlessness. The Spiders offense keeps this close, but the defense cannot convert enough breaks to prevail.
The Result: 26-23 Empire over Spiders
#2 New York Empire ('19) vs #4 San Francisco FlameThrowers ('17)
The Breakdown: Hopefully the Empire coaching staff didn’t spend 100% of their prep time focused on the ’16 Roughnecks. Upsets happen, and you gotta be ready for anyone you could potentially meet. And perhaps the Bay Area folk would reject the premise that an upset even occurred, as the FlameThrowers undoubtedly entered that semifinal with confidence and belief.
The bookmakers would probably make the Empire a goal or goal and half favorite here, I think, but this really feels like another toss-up between two tremendous all-around teams that have survived to this point by playing smart, cohesive, and, perhaps most importantly, clutch ultimate. The Empire and FlameThrowers could have lost to any of their opponents in this bracket if they failed to bring their best, a testament to the rest of the field in this highly competitive bracket. Yes, it’s a hypothetical, but we are talking about the best teams in the history of the league, and the whims of misfortunate can be flexed on any given day by one unfortunate gasp of Mother Nature. That disc we so love is, after all, a meager 175 grams of plastic, spinning airborne at the mercy of the ever-changing atmosphere.
While I could never know for sure exactly what matchups Empire Coach Bryan Jones and FlameThrowers Coach Ryo Kawaoka would initially employ, let’s investigate some of the possibilities. Presumably, the FlameThrowers would stick Kanner and Liu on Katz and Garvey in the theoretical backfield, leaving Cohen, Dallmann, Davis, Kerns, and Rasmussen to try and manage the Empire cutters. I envision Davis on Jagt, Dallmann on Lindsley, Rasmussen on Williams, Cohen on Babbitt, and Kerns on Kline. Baylis and Cocks are versatile defenders on the second line for San Francisco, while Thompson also gives the FlameThrowers some additional height to match up with Jagt or Babbitt
As impressive as San Francisco’s defenders can be, obviously the offense still has a significant advantage, even in the world of silent stalls and double teams. And considering these complex dynamics, it’s a tad simplistic to delve into specific matchups because zones, junk, and switches are inevitable. The FlameThrowers would certainly have confidence in Davis, Dallmann, and Rasmussen on New York’s top three cutters, however Jagt’s size, Lindsley’s acceleration, and Williams’ versatility give the Empire a great foundation to start or end any possession. It feels like San Francisco’s best hope would involve Kanner and Liu flustering the New York handlers via voracious marks and suffocating dump defense. The Empire certainly have proven that they can execute when the windows are small and the pressure is fierce, but the FlameThrowers have plenty of weapons to convert turns into breaks if New York’s precision wavers even a little.
Don’t forget, the Empire defenders also have to try and contain Lindsley, who joins Kittredge as the lone player on both of these teams. And it feels like a blindfolded shot in the dark to try and guess which of New York’s defenders would attempt to handle Grant. Perhaps Mieser would start out on Lindsley. It does not feel like a great fit, but there may not be a single individual in the world who would covet this matchup. If Alorro and Lemar took Joye and Marcy, that would leave Alarcon, M. Drost, R. Drost., and Kittredge to match up with Sanchez, Schlachet, Taylor, and, oh yea, Kittredge. I would imagine that Katz might cross-over a bunch to tangle with Schlachet, but let’s imagine Alarcon on Taylor, Mike Drost on Schlachet, Ryan Drost on Sanchez, and, why not, Kittredge on Kittredge. This kooky column that seemed like a fun idea a couple weeks ago has now reached its breaking point.
I have obviously stuck with the general guidelines of the lineups the two teams employed in their respective Championship Weekends, but presumably extensive game-specific prep might shuffle the lines significantly. Still, I’m still quite intrigued by all the one-on-one battles that, unfortunately, can only be waged on paper. (Who I am kidding? They are being waged on cell-phone and laptop screens; no one has actually printed this out.) Regardless, there are several stages of the game that factor into the final outcome.
Obviously, each team would love to dictate their style early. I envision Jagt starting hot like he seemingly has in every Championship Weekend game throughout his career, and perhaps the Empire snag a break after a Ryan Drost block late in the opening quarter, giving New York a 7-5 lead at the end of one, led by Jagt’s two goals and two assists. The FlameThrowers offense would start clicking in the second quarter, however, scoring quickly with Lindsley, Taylor, Sanchez, and Schlachet all gobbling up chunks of downfield yardage. A couple high-stall throws from Garvey go awry, and Rasmussen pilots a pair of breaks, including a sky-scraping snag from Davis, to draw even at halftime, 13-all.
As the second half begins, the Empire defense again draws first blood, with Kittredge denying Kittredge (!!!) on a Schlachet swing that the swirly wind popped up for a split-second too long. But Kerns’ well-timed poach steals the disc back, and his huck hits Rasmussen in stride for the thrilling equalizer, tying the game at 20 apiece heading into the fourth.
Clearly, this is a result that can go either way. The immense suspense hangs in the air like a Jeff Babbitt full extension layout block.
“As far as potential goes, I think the New York team last year, our top 10 I think would be better, it’s just that they’ve never won anything,” said Kittredge, explaining again that many of his Empire teammates had never felt the championship pressure prior to last August. “But now that they understand how to do that. The mindset of winning; when you take two teams, there’s the potential to win vs. the mindset to win, which is completely different. That’s why we play sports. You can’t possibly put a number on winning mindset or what that means.”
Beau then started to comment that he felt the Empire had a weak point to possibly exploit.
“We’d be smarter about how we played New York,” he said, with the ‘we’ referring to San Francisco, before catching himself. “I was gonna tell you how to beat New York if I was playing New York, but why would I say that?”
It was clear that Kittredge did not want to give away an insight that could hurt the 2020 Empire for the sake of this article. Understandable. So, I asked him, who would win between the ’19 Empire and the ’17 FlameThrowers
“I don’t know who wins,” he answered. “I think maybe if you take into account the arc of the teams and how the New York team last year really came together in an amazing way for that final game. I don’t know if we lose if we play that well against any of the other teams. We pretty much played the perfect game [against Dallas in the 2019 final]. There was no real let up. I think it would have been hard for the FlameThrowers to win that game.
As the fourth quarter unfolds, New York and San Francisco continue to trade punches. With three minutes remaining, the game is tied at 25. Jagt has 12 scores with seven goals and five assists, while the two Lindsleys have 12 scores combined, seven for the FlameThrowers (four goals, three assists) and five for the Empire (two and three). Meanwhile, the defenses are both exhausted and this wildly entertaining game and tournament are both reaching their greatest crescendo.
An errant reset from Kittredge (the San Francisco version) gives New York a chance to break for the lead, but Lemar’s inside flick break-attempt finds grass rather than the bidding Alorro in the end zone. The FlameThrowers call timeout with a minute left and organize their offense. The score is 26 apiece, and San Francisco, to no one’s surprise, gives the disc to Joye. He shimmies—without a pivot—and flicks it for Lindsley (guarded by Lindsley!), gaining a decent chunk of yardage. With nowhere to go downfield, the reset rediscovers Joye, who sees Kittredge taking off. Babbitt had poached off toward the break space ever so slightly, and now his man bolted deep. Like so many times before, Joye’s huck spun majestically toward the end zone, angling toward the speeding Kittredge, who made the leaping clap catch with 25 seconds left.
San Francisco 27, New York 26. The Empire have one final chance
They work it to midfield before Garvey uncorks a cross-field hammer with five seconds left. Babbitt, Jagt, Williams, and Kittredge are all nearby for New York, but San Francisco has Cohen, Davis, Taylor, and obviously Kittredge well organized in the deep space. A half dozen bodies all jump simultaneously as the disc reaches the pack as the buzzer sounds, and the fluttering frisbee grazes off multiple fingertips before deflecting away, landing on the grass incomplete.
Improbably, or just as you predicted if you’re a huge Bay Area believer, the San Francisco FlameThrowers prevailed 27-26, knocking off the top two seeds by a combined two goals in the semis and finals to win the Greatest Teams of All-Time Tournament. If only we could actually see this riveting event unfold for real.
Despite the fictional flavor, I still had fun writing it, and I know it would be more fun to broadcast it. Let’s hope that we might a new season of magical moments and memories at some point this summer.
I hoped you enjoyed reading it, and now, by all means, feel free to tell me why I’m nuts.
In times like this—really, anytime—simply talking frisbee feels good.