By: Jeph Novak
Fighting For First: The Wind Chill Host The Union
The Wind Chill currently sit atop the Central Division in sole possession of first place, though they took a blow that is threatening to topple their standing when they traveled to Chicago over the weekend. Now, the Union are traveling to Minnesota with a taste of frostbitten blood in their mouths, and they’re looking for more.
Chicago showed the entire league that they still deserve a spot as leaders in their division, narrowly escaping Madison with a win the day before they punished the Wind Chill’s offensive miscues and mistakes with a 16-12 win at home. Despite losing the league’s best thrower, the Union are still a powerhouse, with names like Sam Kaminsky, Ross Barker, and Andrew Sjogren haunting the Wind Chill in their sleep.
But in defense of Minnesota, their recent weekend trip was without a few notable players, and their offense lacked a familiar chemistry and outright strength that they’ve been used to so far in 2023. Abe Coffin suffered an injury in the Chill’s game against the Thunderbirds in week 4, and Jason Tschida was also absent, taking away two of the team’s primary handlers. Cutters and star receivers Quinn Snider and Marco Dregni were also notable absences, along with Paul Krenik and Will Brandt. With a slimmed down roster, the team looked to a cast of players who haven’t had a chance to put up the same numbers as their missing teammates.
Fill In the Gaps
Tristan van De Moortele had some of the most points played among the Wind Chill between the team’s two games against the Detroit Mechanix and the Chicago Union. He played a bigger role in the team’s offensive strategy, putting up a total of 5 assists, 5 goals, and 2,119 total yards over the weekend.
Moortele has already surpassed his 2022 assists and matched his goals from last year. When given the opportunity, he is able to make an impact on the team. If the Wind Chill find themselves short-handed again this weekend, they may very well look to Tristan to fill in some gaps, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him used right away after coming off a hot road trip. He can potentially jumpstart the team’s momentum at home and use the past weekend to navigate competitive Union waters.
Jordan Taylor also stepped up in the Chill’s weekend double header. Taylor has become a reliable receiver for the team in recent memory, and he certainly helped fill in the gaps over the weekend. While in seasons past he's been a defensive cutter, Taylor has seen more time playing offense so far in 2023. He's adjusted well so far, and the team can look to him as a consistent option to get open downfield or as a reset option against the Union's notorious sideline traps and double teams.
Where the team will need to improve significantly if they want to extinguish a hot Chicago Union team is on offense. The Chill were silenced offensively when they visited the Windy City, putting up a measly 33% offensive conversion rate, with a season-high 19 turnovers and just a 39% hold percentage. Offensive players like Michael Jordan and Colin Berry — couldn’t quite follow through in Chicago, each with atypically quiet games that left much to be desired in the way of a Minnesota offense.
These players will need to find a way to get open and work through an airtight Chicago defense if they want to come out victorious in the next matchup. That will be difficult, but every throw, every play, will become increasingly important as the game goes on.
Minimize Mistakes, Maximize Opportunities
Mistakes and break point opportunities often come at a premium in matchups between the Union and Wind Chill, forcing teams to manufacture turnovers and disrupt offensive rhythm. The Wind Chill can’t give the Union easy opportunities to steal extra points. The home team handlers will need to be a bit more patient on Saturday, selecting their cutters carefully, finding resets when necessary, and moving the disc efficiently. Chicago’s zone-to-person defense is tough on Minnesota, forcing high stall counts and creating chaos among handlers. Small ball may be the name of the game, and cutters will need to be ready deep in the event of a high-stall huck.
On the other side of the disc, the Wind Chill defense needs to be on point, taking advantage of every single break opportunity they're given. And they won't be given a lot, either. Chicago has given up the second-fewest turnovers in the league so far, despite having one of the worst offensive conversion rates this season.
Given this, the team will look to manufacturer turnovers and break opportunities another way. So far in 2023, the Union have not taken a lot of deep looks, and when they do, they aren't always finding their receivers' hands. In fact, they rank dead last in attempts and huck completions. Minnesota can take advantage of this by reversing the roles and applying strong handler pressure, forcing the Union to take some long shots and create some jump balls. Making the Union offense uncomfortable early on will make a huge difference in their established rhythm and the eventual outcome of the game.
Winner Takes First
In recent years, Minnesota-Chicago games have always been tight, and they consistently are important in determining a Central Division champion. After their recent winning weekend, Chicago has proven they are still strong, despite their foundation being shaken a bit.
The game on Saturday will be the second of three critical matchups between these two teams. Minnesota will need to win and even the season series if they want to solidify themselves as a team not to be reckoned with. Whoever wins on Saturday will emerge as the line team atop the Central Division as the season nears the halfway mark. The Wind Chill are strong contenders once again this season, and this game feels incredibly important to assert themselves as the top dog. While they are a young team, the Chill are strong and hungry, and this week they'll have an all-important home field advantage to propel them to a win.