The AUDL playoffs kick off tonight!
July 24, 2015 by Steven Wartinbee in Preview with 9 comments
The 2015 AUDL playoff bracket has been locked. We preview the first round below.
All times Eastern.
The first game of the weekend features #2 New York’s “faceless mob” away at the #3 in the East, the Montreal Royal. Of course, this should be a home game for the Empire, but scheduling issues forced both East playoff games to take place this weekend, so New York will be headed up north so they will be able to get over to Toronto if they win. (A number of top Empire players are playing with New York PoNY at Colorado Cup next weekend).
The Empire and Royal split their season series 1-1, with each team winning at home. That was the Empire’s only loss to a team other than Toronto during the regular season.
Despite the Empire’s attempts to blend the team into a cohesive unit, several individuals emerge from both squads as players to watch heading into the game.
For New York, the Drost brothers will be expected to perform the way they have been all season. Ryan (27D, 22G, 18A) and Mike (26D, 20G, 11A) form the heart of the Empire’s defense, although Ryan has split his time evenly on both sides of the disc when playing the Royal. Taylor Brooks has been the most consistent performer against Montreal, tallying 11 assists, 6 goals, and a block in their two regular season matchups. If the rest of the team fulfills their respective roles, big performances from these three will go a long way towards a New York win.
Montreal’s players who thrive against New York are none other than Yoland Cabot (8G, 7A) and Antoine Genest (8A, 3G, 2D). Kevin Groulx has been a defensive force in the series, notching 9 blocks over the two games against the Empire in 2015. Expect the Empire to rotate a number of defenders onto Cabot and Genest over the course of the game, in keeping with their win-as-a-team mentality.
Since their three point loss to Montreal at the end of May, the Empire are 7-1 with the only other loss coming at the hands of Toronto, in a game that was decided by only two goals. New York has consistently and handily defeated the bottom four teams in the East, something that cannot be said for Montreal. Close wins against DC and Rochester, and a pair of losses to the first-year Outlaws are scattered throughout the Royal’s 2015 regular season resume.
With both teams at full strength, the Empire is the stronger team. But playing on the road in Montreal — which has one of the biggest home field advantages in the sport — could prove to be a bit tricky.
While the game should be close, the Empire’s depth should likely provide the winning edge in the second half.
Prediction: New York Empire def. Montreal Royal
Midwest Divisional: #3 Chicago Wildfire v. #2 Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, 2 PM
Chicago and Pittsburgh are faced with likely the toughest route to Championship Weekend of any teams left in playoff contention. Travel to Madison and play a do-or-die game in the afternoon against a difficult team that you’ve already lost to in 2015; then, if you win, you earn the privilege of facing the rested overall #1 seed in the AUDL in the evening. The team that advances to play the Radicals will need contributions from every member of the roster if they’re to have a shot at a 2-0 day. Smart money is on Saturday being the end of the road for both teams traveling to Madison.
That said, if any team can come out and upset the Radicals after having played a game already, it’s the Thunderbirds. The only team to have tasted victory against Madison in 2015, Pittsburgh will enter the weekend with nothing but the same in mind. Both of their regular season games against Chicago have been shorthanded, with Degirolamo the most notable absence from those two games. Having already set a pair of regular season records (most assists and highest +/-), and tied another (most single-game assists) in 2015, despite only playing 11 of the team’s 14 games, TD will be looking to spearhead the Thunderbirds’ pursuit of Championship Weekend.
Chicago will be leaning heavily on stars AJ Nelson (32G, 8A, 6D), Jonathan “Goose” Helton (31A, 27G, 12D), and Brett Matzuka (36A, 16D, 657 completions at 96%). As has been the case throughout the season, expect Matzuka to every-other the D-line offense, while Goose, Nelson, Bob Liu, & co. take care of business on the O-line.
The big question for Chicago will be whether they can generate turns against the high-flying Thunderbirds offense, tied with the Rush for most goals scored in the 2015 AUDL season. With Ethan Beardsley and David Vatz 1st and 4th top goal scorers in the league, and Pat Earles firing an average of 7.5 assists per game, the Wildfire will be hard pressed to contain Pittsburgh’s elite offense. They will have to convert a very high percentage of their break opportunities to have a shot at a full-strength Pitt lineup, because there won’t be many given.
Prediction: #2 Pittsburgh Thunderbirds def. #3 Chicago Wildfire
West Divisional: #2 Seattle Cascades @ #3 San Francisco Flamethrowers, 9 PM
Despite being the #2 seed in the West, Seattle will travel down to the Bay area to challenge #3 San Francisco, with the winner facing the defending AUDL champions, the San Jose Spiders.
Again, scheduling and, in this case, travel concerns eliminate home field advantage for the #2 seed.
Not much separates these two teams; even seeding them required the tiebreaker of head-to-head point differential, which the Cascades won by +6. These teams have only met twice in 2015. The first San Francisco won by four, only to be soundly defeated 27-17 when they traveled to Seattle the following weekend. It is worth noting that the game in Seattle was on a Sunday after the Flamethrowers had edged a hotly contested tie against Vancouver the day before. This time around, both teams will be well rested, and can put their full effort forth in the first round, taking some small comfort in San Jose’s injury woes.
Nothing less than either team’s best will be enough to earn them a Sunday spot against the Spiders. For Seattle, stalwarts Reid Koss and Matt Rehder will be looking for staunch support from their teammates. Zane Rankin is one individual who fares particularly well against San Francisco, tallying nine assists in their two regular season games, alongside four goals and five blocks.
San Francisco will look to continue the domination with which they ended the regular season, after dismantling a shorthanded and injured San Jose squad in their last game. They will need the savvy on-field leadership of Eli Janin, who will be looking to deal damage to Seattle with his dangerous field vision and arsenal of throws. Rico Chialvo will anchor the team in the backfield, offering a level of consistency with both his resets and upfield assaults.
Evan Boucher will be a primary target in the endzone for San Francisco, while Lucas Dallman, Eli Kerns, and Henry Konker (who will likely draw the Rehder matchup) will all be called upon to come up big for the NorCal hosts. Profligacy in the red zone will be quickly punished, as Seattle and San Francisco will both look to move the disc quickly on the counter. While the Cascades may edge the Flamethrowers on paper, it’s tough to discount the form in which San Francisco come into the postseason: red hot.
Prediction: #3 San Francisco Flamethrowers def. #2 Seattle Cascades
Stay tuned for Divisional Final previews tomorrow after the conclusion of the opening round games.