July 26, 2022
By Evan Lepler
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there are three significant storylines involving postseason positioning. Two of them are fairly obvious, but the most important and more complex conversation might surprise you.
Let’s delve quickly into the two simpler but still intriguing scenarios first.
In the South and Central divisions, Austin and Indianapolis control their destiny, though it’s possible everything could be sorted out by the end of Friday night. Week 14 begins with a five-game Friday slate, including Tampa Bay at Austin and Chicago at Madison. If Austin can simply take care of business at home against the 1-9 Cannons, the Sol are in the playoffs and heading to Carolina on August 20. Meanwhile, Madison needs a home victory over 9-1 Chicago to remain alive for the final postseason spot in the Central. A Union triumph would certify the AlleyCats’ third place finish even before they take the field on Saturday.
While very unlikely, the most interesting scenario would involve Tampa Bay and Madison both winning on Friday, which would then transform the rare interdivisional Indianapolis at Atlanta matchup into a must-win game for both teams. In this improbable event, the AlleyCats-Hustle victor would be playoff-bound, while the loser would be out, with either the Sol or the Radicals sneaking into the dance.
But the Indy-Atlanta matchup only becomes a showdown with unprecedented significance if both underdogs can somehow prevail on Friday. Frankly, I’d be shocked if it happened, but it would be incredible.
More relevant to the long-term landscape is the under-the-radar race for Championship Weekend seeding. No team is eager to talk publicly about this, considering it involves looking beyond a tough home playoff game against a formidable opponent, but it’ll definitely linger in the back of everyone’s mind over the course of the Week 14 schedule.
As a reminder, Championship Weekend is re-seeded based upon the regular season records of the four teams that make it. Consequently, if New York can win the East Division final, the 12-0 Empire will be the top seed. The other three divisions all have one loss teams at the top, and the order of the second, third, and fourth seeds could very well come down to just a couple goals.
That’s the fascinating and sneaky storyline of Week 14. Colorado and Chicago may try to rout Portland and Detroit by the largest possible margins to avoid potentially seeing the undefeated Empire in the semifinal. Assuming the Summit and Union can both finish 11-1, it will come down to regular season goal differential, with the Carolina Flyers also included in the conversation.
Currently, Carolina is 11-1 and plus-60, Colorado is 10-1 and plus-47, and Chicago is 9-1 and plus-42. Obviously, the Flyers are currently positioned to be the two seed at Championship Weekend, but it’s not unrealistic to imagine the Summit, the Union, or both passing them.
Firstly, this all becomes a moot point if Chicago loses at Madison; in that event, Carolina and Colorado, presuming the Summit don’t slip up against Portland, would be certain to avoid New York until the finals if they indeed make it that far.
But let’s imagine the Union prevail by five over the Radicals on Friday; Chicago and Colorado would then both be plus-47 heading into their finales. At this point, it would all come down to who demolishes their Saturday foe by more, and let’s be honest, the Mechanix and Nitro have ignominiously suffered through some of the largest blowouts of the season. Detroit, who carries an astonishing 60-game losing streak into the weekend, has lost three times by double digits this year, including two 14-point thrashings. Portland, meanwhile, is mired in its own seven-game skid, which includes two double-digit defeats, the biggest of which was a 15-goal margin exactly one month ago.
If it’s important to them—and if the Mechanix and Nitro are either uninterested or incapable of stopping them—it’s entirely possible that Week 14 could conclude with Chicago and Colorado both surpassing Carolina’s season-long point-differential, which would then put the reigning champion Flyers into a potential semifinal against New York, creating the possibility where the Flyers knock off the undefeated Empire and give the Union and Summit slightly easier potential paths to their first AUDL titles.
It’s also vital to remember that there’s no guarantee that these theoretical 11-1 division champs are making it to Madison for the league’s biggest weekend. In fact, a road team has defeated a regular season champion in the AUDL playoffs in each of the past five seasons. So New York, Carolina, Colorado, and Chicago, regardless of their final records and point-diffs, all have difficult work to do even before the final seeds are set.
But it’s something to be aware of heading into Week 14, and if Chicago has two wins in the bag by the time Colorado takes the field later that Saturday night, the Summit should know exactly what they need to do against the Nitro to maximize their championships chances. Despite just a few teams playing for their postseason lives, the final weekend of the season still could subtly serve up some very meaningful results.
The Full Field Layout
Why should teams even be thinking so much about that Championship Weekend seeding? Admittedly, it all could be meaningless, but the conversation is seemingly worthwhile because of the New York juggernaut. The Empire are not necessarily unbeatable, but they did just complete one of the most impressive and dominant regular seasons in AUDL history.
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The most important tests are still ahead for the Empire, but they are unquestionably the favorite heading into the postseason, with a team of all-stars and excellent role players coalescing into a finely tuned machine.
This past Friday night, presumptive AUDL MVP Ryan Osgar dynamically sliced and diced the Philadelphia Phoenix, tossing 10 assists in the Empire’s 24-19 win. The Phoenix were within two at halftime and mustered a couple promising break chances in the third quarter, but unfortunate red zone errors prevented Philly from truly threatening New York’s season-long winning streak. John Lithio scored eight goals for the Empire, while Jeff Babbitt, Ben Jagt, and Matt Stevens each caught four apiece.
The Empire are off until August 20, when they will host the survivor of the two/three matchup between DC and Philadelphia.
The Breeze were not at their best on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in Boston, but still managed to escape with a 23-21 overtime win. DC broke the Glory just twice in the first three quarters, but the D-line roared for three clutch breaks in the fourth and one more in OT to sneak away with the road win.
That’s six straight wins for the Breeze, who are 9-2 and ready to host Ottawa in their regular season finale before battling Philadelphia for the right to face New York. A win over the Outlaws would give DC a 10-2 record for the second straight season.
Throughout their franchise’s history, the Indianapolis AlleyCats have rarely made life easy for themselves. But they also have never given up.
That’s the reality again after a disappointing home result on Saturday against Minnesota, where Indy had an opportunity to barge through the front door of the playoff mansion by beating the undermanned Wind Chill. But now the ‘Cats must encounter the reality where they either outplay a talented Atlanta team on the road or at best sneak through the shed and into the slightly ajar backdoor if Chicago helps out by winning in Madison. Or worse, they get excluded from the tournament entirely.
Indy looked sharp early against the Wind Chill on Saturday afternoon, with five consecutive turnover-free holds from the O-line and mid-first quarter break from the D-line giving the AlleyCats a 6-4 edge. But Minnesota rallied right back with an 8-2 rampage en route to a 13-9 halftime lead. The Cats crawled to within one early in the fourth, but never had the disc with the chance to tie, as the Wind Chill prevailed 24-21.
Andrew Roy’s "Honor Roll" performance of 872 total yards anchored the Minnesota offense, while Dylan DeClerck and Brandon Matis each produced multiple blocks for the Wind Chill D. It was also the fourth time in the last five games that Minnesota has kept its turnover total under 15.
While 8-3 Minnesota will likely face an 0-11 Detroit team this Sunday in the Mechanix’s final chance to break the streak before 2023, the 6-5 AlleyCats are living on the brink. It won’t be easy, but they’re used to that.
As expected, Salt Lake and San Diego officially secured the second and third seeds, respectively, in the West Division with their Week 13 wins. The Shred erased a three-goal second-half deficit against Los Angeles, outscoring the Aviators 9-3 down the stretch to win 19-16 on Friday night. On Saturday, the Growlers never trailed for a single second in Seattle, jumping in front 2-0 in the opening minutes and breaking the Cascades eight times total in a 22-18 win. On Sunday in Portland, the Growlers and Nitro were within one goal of each other for the entire first half, but three straight San Diego breaks to begin the third quarter created the separation responsible for the Growler’s weekend sweep. Paul Lally’s 808 total yards anchored their 23-18 triumph in Portland, improving the Growlers to 8-3 for the season.
Consequently, the Shred and Growlers will square off in Salt Lake on August 13. Winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to Denver and a showdown against the Summit.
Thought you might be interested in seeing it all in one place, so here’s the tentative AUDL playoff schedule. Everything is subject to change, but here’s the rough draft. Looks like a pretty tasty few weeks, if you ask me.
#3 Philadelphia Phoenix at #2 DC Breeze (East) — 7:00 PM/ET
#3 Indianapolis/Madison at #2 Minnesota Wind Chill (Central) - 7:00 PM/ET
#3 San Diego Growlers at #2 Salt Lake Shred (West) - 9:00 PM/ET
#2 Austin/Atlanta at #1 Carolina Flyers - 6:30 PM/ET
Winner Philadelphia/DC at #1 New York Empire - 7:00 PM/ET
Winner San Diego/Salt Lake at #1 Colorado Summit - 8:30 PM/ET
Indianapolis/Madison/Minnesota at #1 Chicago Union - 5:00 PM/ET
2022 AUDL Championship Weekend
AUDL Semifinal 1 - 5:00 PM/ET
AUDL Semifinal 2 - 8:00 PM/ET
2022 AUDL Championship Game - 8:00 PM/ET
All three Championship Weekend games will be held at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, WI. The two semifinal games will be available to watch live on watch.AUDL.tv, while the 2022 AUDL Championship Game will be broadcast live on FOXSports FS2.
Seven On The Line
- After going to overtime and narrowly escaping against the Legion in Dallas, the Atlanta Hustle promptly pounced in the rematch, jumping ahead 3-0 in the opening three minutes and maintaining at least a three-goal lead all the way to the finish line of their 27-20 victory.
In order to score a season-high 27 times, Bobby Ley and Max Thorne both enjoyed two of their better games of the season, with Ley dealing seven assists and Thorne grabbing six goals along with dishing three dimes. Ley, Thorne, and Austin Taylor all produced over 500 total yards, while five members of the Hustle—Justin Burnett, JP Burns, Dean Ramsey, Parker Bray, and Bradley Seuntjens—all had two blocks apiece.
- Dallas’ Friday night defeat set up the winless war on Saturday in Tampa, as the 0-9 Cannons and 0-10 Legion met for a bizarrely enticing battle.
Among other things, consistency has plagued both teams throughout the season, and this game also became a bit of a roller coaster ride—and not just because it started a couple hours late due to a thick band of thunderstorms rolling through the region. When they finally could get underway, Dallas started strong with two goals in the opening 92 seconds and led 5-3 after the first, but Tampa Bay countered with a 5-2 spurt to surge ahead 8-7 with five minutes left in the half. The Legion scored the next three to reassume the lead at halftime, but the Cannons answered with their own 6-1 burst to seize control. Down two heading into the fourth, the Legion got within one a couple times, but never earned the equalizer, ultimately falling 17-15, as the Cannons tasted victory for the first time this season. The game’s final point lasted over six minutes, including two timeouts, seven turnovers, and ultimately, a string of 11 straight completions to run out the closing seconds. The Hustle are sure hoping that Tampa’s triumph will inspire the Cannons to confidently challenge the Sol this Friday, while the Legion, now 0-11, have one more chance to dodge a winless season, when the Cannons arrive in Dallas for the second game of their Texas two-step on Saturday.
- Four straight breaks to open the second quarter created substantial separation for Chicago on Saturday evening in Pittsburgh, and the Union cruised from there, managing a season-low 10 turnovers, leading by as many as nine, and rolling to a 25-17 victory.
Chicago’s Ross Barker and Pittsburgh’s Max Sheppard both registered 300/300 games, though Barker finished a turnover-free plus-eight, while Sheppard’s four throwaways dropped him to plus-three. Jeff Weis had the gaudiest scoring numbers, with seven goals and three assists, good for a career-best plus-10. The Thunderbirds concluded their season at 4-8, quadrupling their win total from 2021, but still missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons after making three straight Central Division title games from 2015-17.
- The Oakland Spiders earned their fourth win in their last five games by dispatching Los Angeles 22-18 on Saturday evening. Each team scored exactly six goals apiece in the first and fourth quarters, and they played an even 5-5 third quarter too. The difference, though, was Oakland outscoring LA 5-1 in the second, scoring four straight to transform a 7-all game into an 11-7 Spiders advantage at the half. Justin Norden and Matt Kissmann engineered the offense, combining to complete 84-of-85 throws, while Gavin May, who entered the night with just two blocks in eight games, recorded three blocks against the Aviators. Michael Kiyoi had a strong weekend for LA, with nine goals, four assists, one block, and just one turn across a couple games, but the Aviators still suffered two losses, falling to 3-8.
- New York’s Matt Stevens had caught three goals through three quarters on Friday night, a relatively routine showing for the nine-year AUDL veteran who’s fourth on the all-time goal scoring list. His only score in the fourth quarter, though, the 311th of his career, was unlike any other goal of his career. It was the first time he scored on a throw from an opponent. Indeed, Stevens caught his first AUDL Callahan with 9:23 left against the Phoenix, intercepting Paul Owens’ throw that had been deflected by Jeff Babbitt. It was just the fourth Callahan in Empire history, and the first by someone other than the Drost twins. Mike Drost is one of nine players in AUDL history with two career Callahans, while Ryan Drost joined the Callahan club at Ottawa on May 28. In 138 games this season across the league, there have been 17 Callahans from 17 different players.
- Interestingly, four of the top five all-time goal scorers in AUDL history now have a Callahan, with Stevens, Matt Smith, Ben Jagt, and Keenan Plew each recording one apiece. But Indy’s Cameron Brock, who’s number one all-time with 566 goals, has never had a defensive score. Despite this fluky fact, Brock is still in position to make some more history this coming weekend. The 10-year AUDL veteran needs four goals in Atlanta to move past Carolina’s Alex Davis for the regular season-scoring title, though it’s also possible that someone like Philadelphia’s Greg Martin, Salt Lake’s Joe Merrill, Colorado’s Quinn Finer, or Minnesota’s Quinn Snider could challenge for the crown too with a gigantic scoring output on the league’s final weekend. Brock led the AUDL in goals back in 2013 and 2014, but it’s been eight years since he’s finished at the top of the chart.
- It seems pretty certain that Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr will pace the league in assists for the regular season. He currently has 74 with one more game to play, meaning that Colorado’s Jonathan Nethercutt (58 assists with one game left) and Chicago’s Pawel Janas (54 assists with two games left) would require some insane numbers this weekend to even come close to Kerr.
Over the past two weeks, home teams have gone just 6-16. For the full season, home teams are 70-68.
Another sneaky storyline heading into the final weekend of the regular season: Is it possible that road teams could finish above .500 this year? Astoundingly, it is within reach, though I’ll add that it’s wildly unlikely, considering the Week 14 slate.
Powerhouse programs like DC, Austin, Salt Lake, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, Colorado, and Minnesota are all home this weekend. Those eight teams are all playoff bound—presuming the Sol don’t stumble—and their eight opponents enter the weekend with a combined record of 13-67. Yikes.
Even if Chicago wins in Madison, Indy wins in Atlanta, and Oakland wins in LA—none of which are sure things, obviously—It’s almost unfathomable to imagine the road teams having another winning weekend, collectively.
Still, there’s a bunch of quirky, meaningful, and secretive subplots as we near the regular season finish line. And Championship Weekend is exactly one month away.