April 3, 2019
By Adam Ruffner
With the 2019 AUDL regular season just two days away, it's time to do one more preseason rankings calibration. Rosters have solidified since the last update in January, with teams like the Chicago Wildfire, San Jose Spiders, and San Diego Growlers making major strides in the offseason. Despite losing two All-AUDL caliber players and a host of throwing talent, the Raleigh Flyers look to be just as deep and athletic as ever. But it is still the New York Empire who have made the biggest noise entering the 2019 season; it's possible they're not done adding MVP-level talent, either.
Lucky for the rankings, we got a top tier power matchup to start the season on Friday night, as the Flyers travel to face the Dallas Roughnecks on AUDL.TV. I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, but that game could help set the tone for what to expect when two superpowers meet in 2019.
Previous ranking in parentheses.
21. Detroit Mechanix (21)
Without the presence of most of their top playmakers from last season, it is looking like another long road for the Mechanix in 2019. Last year Detroit finished with an offense that was stingier than the league's best defense—the Mechanix scored fewer goals (16.8 per game) than the league's best defense allowed (17.9 per game). Every other team in the division made roster improvements heading into 2019, so Detroit will have to adapt quickly to remain remotely competititve.
20. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (20)
One of the younger teams in the league, the Thunderbirds reclaimed veteran defender and Pittsburgh franchise blocks leader Anson Reppermund after spending the 2018 season with the Radicals. His presence should immediately help bolster a Thunderbirds defense that finished in the bottom 10 in the league last season. The offense returns virtually every starter from a season ago, including the promising downfield receiving duo of Jimmy Towle and Noah Robinson. Towle had 42 goals in his first full season in 2018, while Robinson registered 15 in just three games, including an impressive seven-goal performance against Madison's league-best defense.
19. Tampa Bay Cannons (17)
The losses of Bobby Ley, John Paul Taylor, and Jordan Huston, as well as Tyler Kunsa's injury, are big blows for a Tampa Bay team sorely in need of first-line talent in the South. With Nathan Vickroy back at full health and likely to take on an increased workload in his second full season with the Cannons, we may see the first 50-assist, 50-goal campaign since Isaiah Masek-Kelly and Justin Allen both did it in 2015. And if this team even sniffs the playoffs, Andrew Roney deserves MVP consideration; his 50-assist, 20-goal, 20-block season from a year ago was the first of its kind in AUDL history.
18. Ottawa Outlaws (19)
At 42 and entering his fifth season of professional play, Andrew Ouchterlony is still one of the more reliable downfield contributors in the East Division. Age be damned, he's played 530 points in 23 games over the past two years, using his 6'5" frame to haul in passes over defenders half his age, while still able to deploy one of the best hammer throws in the game. He may not be the #1 receivering target like he was during his legendary prime, but Ouchterlony is still one of the best "bailout" options in the league.
17. Seattle Cascades (18)
One of the true enigmas heading into the 2019 season, the Cascades have plenty of talent in Mark Burton, Khalif El-Salaam, Kodi Smart, and Brad Houser, and their new additions of Jay Boychuk and Zach Sabin are sneaky good fits. But Seattle's problem the past two seasons has been their inconsistency in strategy and style of play, leading to mental lapses and a lot of goals allowed—the Cascades finished third worst in the AUDL with 25.8 goals per game allowed in 2018. The Cascades can compete with anyone in the West, but they will need to do it for the full four quarters to get wins.
16. Philadelphia Phoenix (16)
The Phoenix are more talented on paper than this ranking indicates, but for a franchise that has won just 12 games total since the start of the 2014 season, they will need to prove it on the field before getting a bump. Philadelphia will have major roster continuity for the first time in franchise history, returning every top player on both sides of the disc from last year's squad. If the Phoenix can improve on their turnover rate—they averaged an abysmal 26.7 turns per game last season, third worst in the league—they will find themselves back in the playoff hunt for the second straight season.
15. Los Angeles Aviators (5)
After their first semifinals appearance in franchise history in 2018, the Aviators lost nearly every member of their starting offensive line from a season ago, hemorraghing 100+ assists, 100+ goals, and 1000+ completions worth of production in the process. Meanwhile, the rest of the West has gotten noticeably tougher. Led by Jeff Silverman and Zach Theodore, Los Angeles has perennially had one of the more stout defenses in the division. But with Theodore likely to split more time on offense, defenders like Sam Plasman and Aaron Weaver will have to step into larger roles.
14. DC Breeze (14)
The sudden loss of big arm Cole Sullivan as reported by the Toss is tough for a Breeze team in need of throwers. But if there's one coach who can manipulate a roster to hide an All-AUDL caliber absence, it is Darryl Stanley. Rowan McDonnell was supposed to get more reps downfield as a receiver following his 2018 MVP campaign, but that may be delayed as DC figures out roles early in the season. 2019 might be a breakout year for Nate Prior, who has operated as one of the best possession-based handlers in the division, completing 641-of-654 passes over the past two regular seasons.
13. Montreal Royal (11)
It's a new era in Montreal as many of the team's veterans retired over the offseason, ushering in a wave of youth talent. The French Connection of Stève Bonneau and Quentin Bonnaud now take center stage for the Royal attack, flanked by Kevin Quinlan and Miguel Goderre. Montreal loved to huck it last year, as evidenced by having the fourth-fewest team completions in the AUDL. But they also earned the fourth-lowest team completion rating, completing a woeful 91.30 percent of their passes, nearly four full percentage points lower than the league best. The Royal will also be without four of their top five goal scorers from 2018, which means someone will have to emerge alongside Bonnaud as a viable threat in the endzone.
12. Atlanta Hustle (13)
The Hustle have suffered some painful losses, most notably Parker Bray who will miss the 2019 season with an injury. But they also added a raft of Nashville-area talent in the wake of the NightWatch's contraction. Paul Lally is back with Atlanta for his second stint, and is heralded by his peers as one of the most underrated playmakers in the division. He has averaged 25+ assists and 25+ goals per season throughout his four-year pro career, so it will be intriguing to see of Head Coach Miranda Roth Knowles will utilize him once again in her defensive schemes as she did in 2017.
11. Minnesota Wind Chill (9)
Minnesota had one of the more extensive roster overhauls over the offseason, which could be good for a team that struggled with its identity for much of the 2018 season. Gone are Ryan Osgar, Colin Berry, Charlie McCutcheon, and Greg Cousins among others, and in come former Detroit standouts Tate Halberg and Brendan McCann, Montreal import Cam Burden, and four Canadian U23 prodigies. It's a weird mix, to say the least. The 22-year-old McCann is one to watch, as he now gets to work in tandem with two of the better handlers in the division alongside All-AUDL thrower Josh Klane and Jason Tschida.
10. Chicago Wildfire (15)
The indefinite sidelining of Kurt Gibson is a loss that knocks the Chicago Wildfire down a bit, but their other offseason additions still make them a legitimate playoff contender in the Midwest Division for the first time in years. Matt Rehder, Zane Rankin, and the return of Tim Fergus should immediately contribute to a Chicago offense that has struggled over the past two seasons; they finished second to last and in the bottom eight in 2017 and 2018, respectively. But it might be the Wildfire defense that will define the team's ceiling. Getting Von Alanguilan back alongside Nate Goff gives Chicago two top coverage defenders, and a handful of their rookies possess the skills to make an impact immediately. The Wildfire were 10th in the league last year, allowing just 22.1 goals per game despite generating just over 10 blocks per game, fourth worst in the AUDL. Now with playmakers on defense, they have a chance to be a top unit in the Midwest, and maybe even the league at large.
9. Austin Sol (7)
One of the more peculiar and effective traits of the Austin Sol is their lefty handler set of Ryan Purcell, Jeff Loskorn, and Chase Cunningham. And though they are not the most efficient throwers in the league—they completed 850 passes at a well-below-league-average 90.62 percent clip in 2018—they are productive, and each individual has a full arsenal of throws and is capable of releasing downfield to make plays. Using one lefty in a handler set can negate an opponent's marking strategies, and three basically makes it disappear at times, opening up the field for Austin's offense. The Sol finished with a top 10 offense in 2016 and 2017 before falling back to 20th last season, largely due to some shoddy performances on the road. If Austin can regain their offensive rhythm, they will likely return to the playoffs in 2019.
8. Indianapolis AlleyCats (8)
Adding Brett Matzuka is the biggest free agency get for the Indianapolis AlleyCats since signing Brodie Smith in 2012, and immediately addresses one of their issues from last season: handler depth. And though he's played just 12 regular season games over the past two seasons in Raleigh, Matzuka has been his usual high-volume facilitator self, dishing 465 passes at a ridiculous 97.48 percent rate; he may not be the one throwing the assist, but Matzuka is a maestro in setting up teammates and creating space/opportunity where there wasn't any before. The AlleyCats open the season at home against the Radicals, and could jump a few more spots with a win against the reigning champs.
7. San Jose Spiders (12)
With the exception of Beau Kittredge, Marcelo Sanchez has the most established championship pedigree of any current player in the AUDL, and his return to the San Jose Spiders in 2019 cannot be understated. Steven Chang, Chuck Cao, and Lior Givol all return to their original AUDL team as well, giving the Spiders a slew of high impact offensive performers. Givol in particular is coming off a breakout season, scoring 50 goals in just 11 games, leading the league in goals per game average. San Jose has struggled defensively the past three seasons, and with an overload of offensive talent, it will be intriguing to see if Givol reverts back to the defensive coverage role that he began his career in. Also, and just to cover my own tail here: This team has championship potential, and could rocket up the rankings ladder shortly after a convincing win or two to start the year.
6. San Diego Growlers (10)
Only four goals shy of a Championship Weekend appearance last season, the additions of Jonathan Helton and Jesse Cohen to an already robust roster make the San Diego Growlers an early favorite to win the West Division regular season as San Jose adapts its rotations. And though they may lack some of the top tier talent as their rivals in San Jose, the Growlers' mid roster depth is formidable and productive, giving their lineups a lot of balance. The one place San Diego needs to improve is on defense, as they had eight games of 25+ goals allowed last season. When the Growlers avoid getting into a shootout, and control the tempo of the game, they look like the West's best.
5. Toronto Rush (4)
Yes, the Toronto Rush endured some pretty noticeable losses in Ben Burelle, Ben Oort, Mark Lloyd, Jeff Lindquist, and Bretton Tan. But it's basically impossible to discredit the six-time reigning East Division regular season champs until they show otherwise. They have had a top three offense for six straight years, and with the AUDL's all-time completions leader Thomson McKnight and Adrian Yearwood back again setting the disc in motion, it's hard to see that trend changing at all. One young player to pay attention to is Jason Huynh, who was on the verge of a breakout season in 2018. A jackrabbit with or without the disc, Huynh put up very impressive numbers as a part of the Rush's counterattack off of turnovers on the defensive line.
4. Raleigh Flyers (6)
There was a good amount of panic in public discussions about the Raleigh Flyers and their potential downfall following the departures of Jack Williams, Jonathan Helton, and others. Ha! Hahaha. Good one. Have you seen the depth of this roster, especially on defense? Well, the fifth best unit from last season got upgrades as Raleigh added former DC standout Chuck Cantone, and re-added vets JD Hastings and Tim McAllister. And it may be hard to remember now, but Mischa Freystaetter was added to the Flyers roster a week before the season started in 2018. He went on to have a borderline All-AUDL performance splitting time between offense and defense in a completely new system, and remains one of the single most impactful players in the AUDL heading into season two in Raleigh. Plus, the three Carleton kids Eric Taylor, Sol Yanuck, and Henry Fisher all have AUDL-tailored games. Similar to Dallas a year ago, the Flyers could benefit from having a little less "talent" and more properly defined roles.
3. Dallas Roughnecks (2)
The Dallas Roughnecks did little in the way of roster changes this offseason, which is perfect for a young team coming off a championship game appearance. And the Roughnecks continue to unearth developing talent: last year, Carson Wilder bounced into a much bigger role and became a standout player in the South; Connor Olson could have a similar year in 2019 after a great showing at Championship Weekend last August. But the biggest advantage the Roughnecks have heading into the new season is their mob squad of defenders. Led by Dan Emmons and Dillon Larberg, Dallas deployed a lot of rookies on the field in 2018 and came out the other end with the fourth best defense. The Roughnecks love to take away what opponents like to do, and an offseason of continuity and development could make them even better.
2. Madison Radicals (1)
As expected, the Madison Radicals return the same core roster for a seventh consecutive season. Peter Graffy and Pat Shriwise (deservedly) made headlines for their offensive play during the team's championship run, but given equal credit for the smoothness of the Radicals offense to longtime distributor Ben Nelson. A day-one Radical, Nelson has refined his game over the past seven seasons with brutal efficiency, finishing last regular season completing 357 passes at a 97.30 clip, ninth best for any player with 250+ completions. His numerous release points and throw-and-go motion with the disc allow him to easily find teammates whether they are open or not, and make him invaluable in redzone situations.
1. New York Empire (3)
With numerous potential MVP candidates on the roster, the New York Empire are the team to beat heading into 2019. Big surprise, I know. But what really makes this squad championship caliber aside from the stars are the adaptable parts. Take Ben Katz, for example. Nominally a handler, Katz racked up 35 goals during the 2018 regular season despite a 60/40 playing time split between offense and defense. Once the roles became more clearly defined in the postseason, Katz was the Empire's leading handller, tossing 11 assists on 140 completions (94.00 percent) in three games. On a roster absolutely stacked with talent, it will be selflessness in favor of the team that will determine New York's fate in 2019.