May 23, 2019
By Adam Ruffner
With Week 7 in the rearview mirror, we're at the halfway point of the 2019 AUDL season and the divisions are in chaos as parity reigns. With the exception of the undefeated 5-0 New York Empire, every team has tasted defeat. And with numerous topsy turvy head-to-head results, divisional matchups are starting to feel like a game of rock-paper-scissors, with teams going from looking like a darkhorse competitor one week to a squad beset with questions the next (hello, Minnesota!). It's an exciting predicament to be in, given that the playoff picture is more muddled at the midseason than it has ever been.
21. Detroit Mechanix (21)
After comitting just 43 turnovers in their first two contests of the 2019 season in closely contested games, the Mechanix have struggled to maintain possession in their last two losses, giving the disc away 57 times combined against Minnesota and Pittsburgh. The result has been an ever widening margin of defeat, as they dropped their past two games by nine- and 13-goal gaps. The Detroit offense can't get out of first gear, and is averaging a league-worst 17.75 goals per game.
20. San Jose Spiders (18)
The Spiders' two losses during their Week 7 SoCal road trip were the final coffin nails in the team's playoff hopes, barring some genuinely freakish results over the next eight weeks. At 2-6, San Jose can salvage some respectabiltiy with three of their four remaining games coming at home. For a team that started the season with Championship Weekend aspirations, a lack of defensive structure has produced a unit allowing the second most goals per game in the league (24.5 per game).
19. Seattle Cascades (19)
Similar to San Jose, Seattle's slow start has cost them mightily in the hopes of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2016. There is a slim chance of the Cascades running the table with half of their schedule still in front of them; Seattle has played the division-leading Growlers as well as anyone in the West, splitting their two matchups. Mark Burton seems to have the singular capability of transforming this team into a playoff contender with his throws when he's on the field—he has 16 assists on 109-of-113 (96 percent) throws in just two games—but the team's reliance on him has been both a blessing and a curse.
18. Austin Sol (14)
Austin's long coveted wish to finally win a game against Dallas must have been made on a monkey paw, because since the Sol's 19-17 overtime upset of the Roughnecks on April 13, the team has endured a five-game slide to the cellar of the South Division. The defense has been pesky but slightly toothless, ranking in the bottom third of the league in takeaways at 8.57 per game. And while it's becoming a refrain in this space, it can't be overlooked that the Austin offense is in a bad place, especially with the loss of Chase Cunningham to injury. They've reached the 20-goal mark just once in seven games, and despite going to overtime in their Week 7 matchup, could only muster 17 at home in a loss to the Cannons.
17. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (16)
Pittsburgh has been building momentum slowly and steadily the past month of the season, improving play across the board and developing depth in their rotations. This is most notable on defense, as the Thunderbirds have given up 19, 18, and 11 goals in their past three outings, respectively. Pittsburgh is currently 10th in takeaways, averaging 10.40 per game, and it would be impossible not to bank a significant chunk of credit on the return of franchise block leader Anson Reppermund for the 2019 season. He's tied for fifth in the AUDL with 10 blocks in five games while taking top opponent matchups.
16. Ottawa Outlaws (20)
There must be some kind of hex over the Outlaws and close game results, because while there's much to celebrate in their 22-21 double overtime win against the Breeze, losing franchise star Derek Alexander to a season-ending achilles injury is a particular kind of starcrossed devastation. And with Alexander turning 36 this September, it's the type of injury that brings into question whether he can return to the Outlaws next season, much less as the same high-volume player who is 11th all-time in assists per game (4.13) and 3rd in completions per game (49.23).
15. Montreal Royal (11)
The Royal punted away a good opportunity to win their first game of the season by dropping their Week 7 home opener to a Breeze team playing their second game in a road trip back-to-back. Montreal created a six-goal second half deficit for themselves before mounting a furious fourth quarter comeback that fell one-goal shy. There are no glaring problems with this team, other than its inability to play consistently for more than a quarter at time, especially on offense. Montreal has not scored 20 goals in a game during their 0-3 start, and they are 17 out of 21 teams in offensivde efficiency.
14. Atlanta Hustle (12)
The Hustle remain the best team with a losing record in the league, with four of their five losses coming by three goals or fewer, including now two against a very strong Raleigh squad. Both speedy Hustle teammates Matt Smith and Eli Jaime are tied for sixth in the AUDL in goals (21) through seven weeks of play, pacing a perennially efficient Atlanta offense that is currently third in team completion percentage (95.20). And while Atlanta is down, they are certainly not out of the playoff hunt. Their matchup this Saturday at home with the Cannons is a must-win if the Hustle want to get back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
13. Minnesota Wind Chill (8)
What a bizarre seven-day stretch for the Wind Chill between Week 6 and Week 7. After completing 97 percent of their passes as a team against the league's best defense in a historic upset in Madison, Minnesota turned around and turfed half the game in a 13-11 trombone sound of a home loss to Indy; the Wind Chill were 155-of-181 (86 percent) on throws in their Week 7 loss. The setback now gives the Wind Chill three losses combined to Chicago (twice) and Indianapolis (once) already in 2019, the two likely teams they will be directly competing against for playoff spots in the Midwest. And now they must go on the road this weekend and face a Thunderbirds team that took them to overtime on April 27.
12. Tampa Bay Cannons (17)
After splitting a tough two-game road trip down in Texas with moxie, it's apparent this year's Cannons team is one of the most cohesive and deep units the franchise has ever fielded. And though Tampa Bay may lack name recognition beyond Andrew Roney, just behind him are a bevy of hungry competitors. Cannons veteran Bradley Seuntjens exemplified that effort in Saturday night's big overtime win in Austin, as he put together a dominant statline of three assists, five goals, and three blocks. Even on Sunday in a lopsided loss, the Cannons still came out firing, making numerous big plays in the midday Dallas heat.
11. Philadelphia Phoenix (15)
Philly's first three games of the 2019 season felt mired in weird, windy weather, and while the Phoenix were competitive, it was hard to gauge how this team stacked up against the East. But following a first-ever win, at home, against the Rush on Sunday, and it's safe to say this is not the Philadelphia team of losing seasons past. The Phoenix defense was terrific, accumulating 12 blocks and limiting Toronto to just 16 goals, the Rush's lowest total in franchise history. On offense, the Phoenix did enough to maintain the lead wire-to-wire, converting patient possessions while also shooting deep when the opportunity arose. Philadelphia can extend their winning streak to three games and move into third place in the East with a win over Montreal at home this Saturday.
10. Chicago Wildfire (9)
Two three-goal losses over the past two weekends—including a narrow loss at home to Madison that had a chance to upend divisional order in the Midwest—have left the Chicago Wildfire with some questions during their rebuild. It was hasty to say the team was "close to full formed" back in Week 5, as Chicago's downfall last Saturday against the Radicals was largely due to communication issues, and not some disparity in talent. The Wildfire were able to engineer a few ties late in the second half, but could never wrangle control of the lead from Madison, as Chicago was out executed down the stretch. The Wildfire defense has now given up 25 goals twice in four games, and is fourth worst in the league allowing 22 goals per game.
9. Los Angeles Aviators (10)
For the third time in four games, the Los Angeles Aviators scored 25 goals, elevating the team to fourth overall in the AUDL with 22.86 goals per game in 2019. The team is led by a pair of teenage rookies in Joc Jimenez and Danny Landesman, but the Aviators' spread attack utilizes almost every player on the field near the endzone. That attack starts with the smooth-yet-aggressive handling of Tyler Bacon, Tim Beatty, and Sean McDougall, who have combined for 58 assists and 469 completions (93.80 percent) while displaying a great balance between swing-heavy flow and deep hucks. A year after leading the league in goals, McDougall is tied for fourth in 2019 with 26 assists, averaging just under four per game while acclimating to his new role in the Los Angeles backfield.
8. Indianapolis AlleyCats (13)
Going on the road and winning a bad weather game in Minnesota might be the difference between the Indianapolis AlleyCats making the playoffs or not later on in 2019—it's hard to overstate how important of a bounce back win that was for Indy in Week 7 after dropping a game at home to Atlanta. And while it's hard to ascribe this team's success to an individual, and especially a first year member of the AlleyCats, it's difficult to downplay the impact of Brett Matzuka's play at handler. He anchored many of Indy's offensive drives in the wind and wet last weekend, completing a game-high 69 passes on 72 attempts. He lock-picked Minnesota's defense at times with precision hammer throws, but mostly Matzuka calmly went through his reads and made the right decision, maintaining AlleyCats possession and helping the team convert on a handful of crucial redzone opportunities.
7. Toronto Rush (4)
Let's just go ahead and call Week 7 the worst weekend, by far, for the Toronto Rush in their franchise's seven season history. Not only did the Rush lose back-to-back games, they mustered just 33 goals over 96 minutes of game clock, committed an uncharacteristic 55 turnovers combined against New York and Philly, and held a lead for all of one point: The opening point against the Empire on Saturday night before giving up seven of the next nine scores en route to a five-goal defeat. What Toronto did gain out of the weekend was valuable reps for a slew of their first year players, as they were without key contributors Andrew Carroll, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, and Geoff Powell among others.
6. DC Breeze (7)
Two measly goals separated the DC Breeze from a 2-0 road trip and an 0-2 tumble, and the Breeze split it right down the center to stay in third place in the East. The depth of the roster continues to make marked strides, especially on defense; DC has only allowed New York and Ottawa to score more than 20 goals in a game, and it took Ottawa until double overtime to notch 22. Rowan McDonnell leads the league in goals with 30, but it's been the play of Nate Prior that has been at the center of this team's success. Despite the team going just 1-2 over their last three games, Prior has been on fire as a thrower, tossing 13 assists on 202-of-207 throws (98 percent). Yes, he's still one of the most reliable pivot handlers in the league, but Prior has added a deep dimension to his game that has been scintillating in 2019. Against both Ottawa and Montreal this past weekend, Prior unleashed pinpoint hucks almost on command.
5. San Diego Growlers (6)
The San Diego Growlers throttled the Spiders at home this past Friday, scoring a league season-high 32 goals in the process. The game helped push the Growlers to the top of the scoring charts, as they are now averaging a league-best 23.71 goals per game in 2019. The entire San Diego offense as a unit has been playing superbly, but Travis Dunn seems to keep raising the bar on his play after making the All-AUDL First Team last season. After a Week 7 four-assist, two-goal performance, Dunn is now tied for second in the league in assists (30), ranks 14th in goals (20), and is 15th in points played per game (26.86), putting him solidly in the race for MVP.
4. Madison Radicals (5)
There are few teams better at recalibrating and bouncing back following a loss than the Madison Radicals, and that's just what they did in Week 7 with a much needed road win in Chicago. The reigning champs are still searching for their first dominant performance of the 2019 season, but at 3-1 and with good confidence, Madison still feels they're just where they ought to be heading into a serious AUDL Game of the Week matchup on Saturday in Toronto. It's the first rematch for the Radicals and Rush since they met in the 2013 AUDL Championship Game, and Madison has waited six long years to avenge that loss.
3. Dallas Roughnecks (3)
As the weather heats up, so goes the Dallas Roughnecks and their punchy defense. Not only does the Roughnecks defense lead the league in takeaways per game (17.60) by a astronomical four-block-per-game margin, they are aggressively opportunistic with their break chances. Dillon Larberg and his huck-now, huck-often throwing approach has been a unique force on the counterattack for Dallas the past two seasons. He is able to single-handedly blitz opponents once the Roughnecks create a turnover, often cashing in on easy scores in transition while players are flat footed. Larberg and second year Roughnecks defender Kaplan Maurer have combined for 14 assists in the last two games alone, giving Dallas the most potent D-line offense in the league.
2. Raleigh Flyers (2)
Speaking of D-line offenses, Bobby Ley made his Raleigh Flyers debut this past Saturday against Atlanta and looked like his All-AUDL throwing self, tossing four assists and a team-high 53 completions despite being sidelined with an injury in the Flyers first six games. Ley's insertion into the offensive lineup meant that Jon Nethercutt continues to play a majority of his points on defense. I will repeat that: Raleigh has such an embarrassment of riches at handler now that the best pure thrower in the sport—someone who threw 162 assists and 1269 completions during the 2016-2018 regular seasons—is now able to slot over on defense. Ley's presence certainly helps solidify the decision for Nethercutt's line switch, but credit also goes to rookie Eric Taylor who has been phenomenal so far in 2019, averaging three assists and 55 completions (96 percent) per game.
1. New York Empire (1)
The New York Empire had the statement win of the season with their demolition of the Rush, using a pressure cooker defense to dictate Toronto's play from the opening pull, reconfiguring the historical narrative in the East Division in the process. It was the fourth time in five games that New York's defense held an opponent to fewer than 20 goals in 2019, largely due to their ability to win individual matchups; six different Empire players have 5+ takeaways on the season already. Jeff Babbitt paces the team with seven blocks, and right on his heels is 36-year-old Beau Kittredge with six, who looks rejuvenated this year. Though Kittredge can't dominate games as he did for most of his career, there are few (if any) better at picking their spots and exploiting opponents. His mane might be a bit more mangy, but Kittredge is still a lion capable of tracking prey out in space.