By Adrian King
Last weekend the Wildfire fell to the Indianapolis AlleyCats on the road. The outcome guaranteed several things, including:
1. Indy secured the Midwest division title and will enjoy home field advantage in the playoffs
2. Chicago will have to go through Indy to make it to Championship Weekend
In some respects, the result of Saturday’s game didn’t matter. A playoff spot was secured with Chicago’s win over Madison so seeding or home field advantage would have been gravy. And, it’s worth noting that Wildfire’s biggest wins have come on the road (Minnesota and Madison), so this is not a team constrained by location.
Two significant individual benchmarks were reached last weekend. First, Cameron Brock caught his 500th AUDL goal. To put this in perspective, the next highest scorer in the AUDL is Keenan Plew—who also plays for the AlleyCats—with 279. This speaks to the AlleyCat’s internal familiarity as well as their experience; they have some of the longest-tenured players in the league. Second, Pawel threw his 250th career goal. He must have eaten his Wheaties on Saturday because he notched 8 assists and caught two scores while maintaining a 97% completion rate.
In the preseason this commentator predicted that a lagging indicator of Wildfire’s success would be a stat sheet more diffuse than years past. More veteran experience combined with a fresh crop of talent would bring multidimensional offensive strategy and defensiveness effectiveness.
This has generally come true. The Wildfire’s offense is balanced and capable of scoring using a variety of player combinations and methods. A cutter pool of Pardo, Weis, Miller, Goff and Rehder is a headache for any opposing coach to strategize for. Jack Shanahan can handle, but also chew up yards downfield. Even Pawel, who is typically leashed to handler positions, slipped by the defense twice in Indy to catch huck goals.
On the defensive side, Wildfire has thrived from outstanding individual performances. But those breakouts can come from anywhere on the roster. This is a squad capable of stifling opponents and earning breaks against the best offenses.
This season the Midwest division has almost escaped the laws of transitivity, which makes for a nail-bitter finish. If the Thunderbirds lose both road games a likely three-way tie will throw the last playoff spot to the Minnesota Wind Chill, who have been patiently waiting in the bottom half of the standings for their reentrance to the limelight.
Pittsburgh, who recently flirted with disaster in a double-OT squeaker over Detroit has huge variance in their play. They can easily hang with the top teams in the Midwest and they can struggle to find consistency.
Chicago hosts the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds in a much-anticipated AUDL Game of the Week. Catch the action streaming on Stadium.
This Saturday will be Wildfire’s last opportunity to tighten any loose machinery before the playoffs. From there on out, it’s win-or-go-home.