May 25, 2023
By Daniel Cohen
The spotlight is on the Central Division this week, with big matchups between Chicago, Madison, and Minnesota in addition to an interdivisional game for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. This week’s list features several players hoping to lead their teams to bounce-back performances, as playoff hopefuls look to make a push in the middle third of the season.
Ross Barker, Chicago Union (Pictured)
Don’t know if we can categorize it as a revenge game anymore since it’s been five seasons since he’s played for the Radicals, but let’s call attention to it anyway. Ross Barker takes on his former team in this week’s Game of the Week on Saturday, and he’ll look to have an encore performance from last year; he scored five goals the last time these teams met in Madison and recorded seven total scores in each of the teams’ two meetings last season, including catching the game-winner in Chicago. Barker will have two games this weekend to get the offense back on track after a rough showing in their first game against Indy, as the Union return home on Sunday to face the Wind Chill for the first time this season. The Pawel-Janas-sized hole in the offense didn’t amount to a heavier workload for Barker in Week 3, but the season is young, and it’s going to take some time for this O-line to adjust to the new era—allowing Barker to run circles on his matchups seems like a solid start to a game plan.
Luc Comiré, Toronto Rush
Through the first four weeks, Toronto’s offensive conversion rate is down 13 points from last season, and their deep game in particular has been noticeably lacking; they completed over eight hucks per game at a 67 percent completion rate (fourth best) in 2022, compared to just five per game at a 49 percent rate (fourth worst) in 2023. It’s time for Luc Comiré to reignite the spark. The 24-year-old center handler has been one of Toronto’s most consistent weapons this season, completing his throws at a career-best 96.1 percent rate while leading the team in assists and throwing yards. He’s also completed 7-of-8 hucks on the year and could probably afford to raise the volume of deep shots with guys like Ty Barbieri, James Lewis, and Mike Mackenzie streaking downfield. The Rush offense looked like its best version of itself last season when they were connecting deep, and they may be able to build some confidence in a Week 5 clash with Montreal, the only team they’ve beaten thus far in 2023.
Henry Goldenberg, Madison Radicals
Through the first two games of the season, third-year Madison Radicals handler Henry Goldenberg leads the team in both assists (7) and total scores (10). He’s formed a nice one-two punch with Victor Luo in the backfield, with each accounting for a substantial portion of the team’s total offensive production, in terms of both throwing and receiving yards. Goldenberg moves well without the disc and gives the offense some burst with his throws, though throwaways have been an issue in his time as a starter; in his seven games playing at least 15 O-points dating back to last season, Goldenberg has three or more throwaways in six of them. If he can take care of the disc against Chicago, the Radicals offense will have a great shot at out-converting the Union and protecting their home turf.
Josh Klane, Minnesota Wind Chill
The Minnesota Wind Chill backfield will belong to Josh Klane on Sunday, as the team is expected to be without both Abe Coffin (doubtful) and Jason Tschida (not rostered) for the first time this season. The offense will also be without two of their top goal-scorers in Quinn Snider and Marco Dregni, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Minnesota can keep up their league-leading offensive efficiency against Chicago. Luckily, they still have a white-hot quarterback leading their attack; Klane has thrown for 400-plus yards in back-to-back games with seven assists and just a single throwaway to start the season. When Klane’s connecting on his deep shots, the Wind Chill offense is the most potent in the division, and the fact that he’s limiting turnovers—he has five zero-turnover games in his last seven dating back to July 2022—bodes well for their chances on the road this week.
Ben Lewis, Houston Havoc
Houston Havoc captain Ben Lewis is off to a strong start with his new team, working in a system that allows him to shine both offensively and defensively. He’s played an exact 50/50 split of O-points and D-points this season, and he’s been producing equally on both sides; no player on the team has more goals (9), blocks (4), or receiving yards (917) than Lewis. Always hustling downfield, Lewis’ combo of size and speed makes him a nice target for a versatile lineup of throwers, and he has a knack for punctuating possessions with breakaway goals. The Havoc have a tough draw this week in a double header road trip to Carolina on Friday, then Atlanta on Saturday, but they’ve got a rock solid travel roster and could be punchy in their first ever meetings with the Southeast teams.
James Pollard, Philadelphia Phoenix
“Big Game” James Pollard went nuclear for 682 total yards against New York this past weekend, setting his new career high in a game where the Phoenix nearly pulled off the upset of the year. After an abysmal 25.9 percent O-line conversion rate through their first three games of the season, Pollard helped right the ship in Week 4, as the team converted on a respectable 58 percent of their O-line possessions against New York. The 6’5” cutter was dominant downfield, winning air battles against Ben Jagt and Jeff Babbitt on multiple occasions, and his hucks provided a visible spark; Pollard was perfect from range, completing all four throws of 40-plus yards. There may not be a more fun player to watch when they’re in rhythm, and Pollard’s play seems to be contagious throughout the Phoenix O-line. If they can build on last game’s momentum, Pollard and co. could put up big numbers this week in Pittsburgh.
Max Sheppard, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
If you told me Max Sheppard would have just a single throwaway through three games while upping his scoring average from last season, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds all-star has been uber-consistent so far, averaging over 400 yards and six scores per game while completing 98.5 percent of his throws, more than 10 percentage points higher than his career completion rate. He’s still his normal explosive self—he’s completed two hucks in every game, and we all saw his Week 1 walk-off game winner—but he’s taking significantly better care of the disc than he has historically, MAXimizing the impact of every touch without trying to do too much. Up against Philly this week in the “Commonwealth Cup,” he’ll look to repeat his performance last time these teams met back in 2021 when Sheppard finished with six scores and zero turnovers in the T-Birds 23-20 victory.
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