April 19, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
The AUDL’s only regular season rematch between last year’s finalists feels like the dot punctuating the bottom of a question mark.
The Toronto Rush are the same team as the 2017 powerhouse, with a few additions around the edges. Another year of development for Toronto’s youth core – combined with an intense off-season workout plan that has players claiming to be in the best physical condition of their lives – could be more important than any single player pickup for the Rush.
And yet the Rush played sloppily in their first two games. The offence, in particular, was an eyesore. In the first games, the Rush completed 86.38% of their passes after posting a solid 92.39% in 2017. No team in 2017 finished with a throwing percentage as low as 86%. Much of the Rush’s struggles were due to the windy conditions of both games, but the team made countless unforced errors.
The team looked much better with Jay Boychuck on the field. He is certainly fast and willing to run forever, but his timing could be his greatest asset. Boychuck has high-level anticipation at slipping away when his defender’s head begins to turn, providing important continuation options as soon as the Rush find daylight on an offensive play. Boychuck will likely start for the Toronto offence again against San Francisco, though Coach Sachin Raina will also throw Ben Burelle into the same position for the offence. Burelle missed the team’s first road trip, but his skills mimic those of Boychuck. Burelle managed to lead his team in scoring in championship weekend in 2017 due to his offensive repertoire. Having both options will be a godsend for the Rush offence.
The Rush were able to triumph over the Empire and Phoenix behind the strength of their defence, but the team will need to score quickly and efficiently to keep pace with the FlameThrowers. They learned that lesson in the finals, when not even 29 points were enough to capture the championship.
The Rush know what the issues are, and they will quickly work to eliminate their early-season issues. “We weren’t clicking at all. We didn’t have our typical pull plays going. We weren’t hitting many deep throws. There’s a lot of improvement [to make],” said veteran handler Thomson McKnight.
I’m almost definitely making a mountain out of a molehill for the Rush. They finished a difficult road trip with a 2-0 record, so any complaints have to be tempered. Not even Sachin can yell at his team for an undefeated record (although, for the record, Sachin did lose his voice yelling at his team in the process of capturing that record). Regardless, if Toronto wants to maintain its perfect start to the season, it must improve. A finals rematch will be the team’s first chance to fix its problems.
We know as little about San Francisco after two games as we did coming into the season. After losing practically a full line’s worth of superstars, the FlameThrowers were written off by many coming into the season. Ultiworld’s first power rankings even listed San Francisco as 13th out of 23rd. Stars like Antoine Davis and Marcelo Sanchez remained, but the team needed to find far more contributors.
Fast forward two weeks, and what has changed or stayed the same? For starters, the team still has a goal differential of 0. It’s clear that Antoine Davis has metamorphosed into one of the best and least guardable offensive players in the league. He’s as fast and strong as ever, but his decision-making as a cutter has improved dramatically. He’s also made himself into a very capable thrower, and Toronto will have its hands full guarding him. Who will Toronto throw at Davis? The athletic Mike MacKenzie would make sense, but he won’t join the Rush on the road trip. Bretton Tan is more used to defending handlers, and the monstrous Mark Lloyd is better employed on teams’ largest cutting threats. My bet is on Marijo Zlatic or Bomber Powell getting the first crack at Davis in single coverage.
One change has been that San Francisco has struck gold in rookie handler Elliott Chartock. He’s been the bedrock of the FlameThrowers offence, averaging nearly 50 completions and only 1 turnover a game. Toronto’s athletic and physical defence can fluster even the most composed of throwers, and the team will try to rattle Chartock. Whether his success has been a flash in the pan, or if he’s already one of the league’s most capable possession handlers at only 23 years old, will be a question Toronto will look to solve.
The game will tip at 6:30 PM PDT (9:30 PM EDT) at Laney College in Oakland. There are still tickets.
To help set the stage for the game, Josh Greenough, the coach of the San Francisco FlameThrowers, was kind enough to offer his time. The discussion below is only lightly edited.
Louis Zatzman: Rematch of last year's finals and Stadium broadcast - this is clearly a feature game of the regular season for the AUDL. Does it feel different from an ordinary regular season game to the team? Do you prepare differently?
Josh Greenough: This game against Toronto will be a great chance for a playoff style game where the team will get a big showcase and serious competitive atmosphere. We have only had two games against San Jose so it will be nice to play somebody else new. We will have a new combination of 20 players on the field, and we will learn a lot about how our looser strategies fit against a mature & well practiced team. Toronto has world class all-stars, and it will be fun to watch some of our players match-up against them for the first time
Louis: So you guys are 1-1 with an even point differential, having played a tough Spiders team twice. If offered that record a few weeks ago, would you have taken it? Are you happy?
Josh: We are always happy to have a scenario where we have played well, learned, and also have a chance to win. As a coach I would say that many people showed flashes of how high their personal ceiling is, and it is very exciting to see. The flip side is that there are plenty of moments to point to where we didn't play our best game, which means people are more hungry than happy.
Louis: Obviously, your stars have been stars. Marcelo's been a wunderkind, and Antoine Davis has been one of the most impressive offensive players in the league on this young season. Let's talk Elliott Chartock, though. Lead handler with ... 2 throwaways on almost 100 attempts? When did you decided to give the reins to a rookie, and when did you know he would be so unflappable? How do you think Toronto will try to flap him?
Josh: Elliot was a key player on the U24 team this summer and you are seeing the steady hand in the games. We were looking for our new Jordan Marcy and it is safe to say after two games we have found him. The game slows down for a great handler, so you know that they are unflappable with how they scan the field. I wish I could say that it was known early, but his first intro to the team was week 1 warm-ups because he was traveling in the pre-season. Given how new we are as a group I usually have no idea what we are going to do some days, so good luck to Toronto game planning for us.
Louis: Captain Lior Givel has been quietly terrific. The team has looked so much more fluid and successful with him on the field, both offensively and defensively. Why?
Josh: He is a flat out baller, and this has been building for a few years. Three years ago we didn't have the spot to get him enough reps, and he played with San Jose. We were lucky to have him come back to us last year. He was a key player on match-ups last year, and then helped drive the D-line offence on turns. This year it is a natural progression for him to be a captain and part of the engine that makes the team go.
San Francisco (2 games played):
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders:|
|Marcelo Sanchez – 10
Elliott Chartock – 8
|Antoine Davis – 9
Lior Givel – 7
Marcelo Sanchez – 8
Toronto (2 games played):
|Assist Leaders:||Goal Leaders|
|Adrian Yearwood – 5
Andrew Carroll – 4
Mark Lloyd – 4
Jeff Lindquist – 4
|Jay Boychuck – 7|
The line: Tor (-2.5) vs SF (+2.5), per AUDL Pick ‘EM.