Dallas is the favorite, but New York is red-hot.
August 10, 2018 by Chris McGlynn in Preview with 0 comments
Seeing the Dallas Roughnecks back at Championship Weekend is no surprise. But their opponent, the New York Empire, had to scrap and claw just to make the postseason before getting the defining win in their franchise’s history over the Toronto Rush on the road in the Divisional final. Let’s take a look at their compelling semifinals matchup.
How They Got Here
Despite falling in a surprise upset to Toronto at Championship Weekend last year, the Roughnecks seemed poised to return to Championship Weekend — if they could get past Raleigh. They did so, thanks to a big second-half comeback, and now the 2018 Roughnecks are the odds-on favorites to bring the title home for the second time in three years. Another stellar regular season saw the Texas team claim its second division title, with the lone loss coming against the Flyers. After their playoff win, Dallas sits at 14-1. The South Division champs ride into a matchup with New York looking to take care of another challenger.
For the New York Empire, this spot at Championship Weekend seemed improbable if not impossible at points this year. Before the season, the Empire was a trendy pick to win the division after adding Beau Kittredge and Marques Brownlee. But New York was just 4-5 through nine games, and questions began to surface about whether the team would even make the playoffs. The Empire won six of its final seven regular season games to clinch the final playoff spot in the East before winning two road playoff games at D.C. and Toronto. Now, New York has the chance to take down a second one-loss team in a row. Despite entering the weekend as the fourth seed, it would be lazy to paint the Empire as David and the Roughnecks as Goliath. Seeding means nothing come the final four. Let’s break down how this game might be won.
When Dallas Is On Offense
For Dallas, Jay Froude is the star of the show. He finished third in the league in +/-, led the team in goals, and finished second in assists during the regular season. He has developed into a superstar this year in the league. The supporting cast around Froude is deep and talented as well, if not quite packed with the same big names as in years past. Brandon Malacek, Dalton Smith, Matt Jackson, and Dillon Larberg each had at least 25 assists during the regular season. Smith, Richardson, and Thomas Slack carried the scoring load for much of the year as well. Chris LaRocque has also been a valuable addition this season, offering versatility and consistency on both offense and defense.
New York will counter with one of the best defensive units the league has to offer. The Empire were fifth in scoring defense this season, behind only Madison, Dallas, Raleigh and, surprisingly, Tampa Bay. The Drost brothers, Mike and Ryan, both continue to be strong presences on the New York D-line. Marques Brownlee and Jeff Babbitt also create tough downfield matchups for any offense. This group doesn’t always generate a ton of blocks as much as it puts offenses in uncomfortable positions. There are only so many times the offense can wriggle out before taking a more difficult option downfield. If New York does force a turnover, Matt Weintraub and Matt LeMar can be expected to run the offense looking to convert the break.
When New York is on Offense
The offseason hype centered around the additions of Kittredge and Brownlee to an already solid team. At the center of it all, though, has been Ben Jagt. The former Minnesota star finished sixth in the league in +/-, leading New York in both goals and assists. He’s been easily the team’s most impressive player, and Dallas’ game plan will surely hinge on limiting his impact. Expect Harper Garvey to touch the disc a lot as part of this offense. It is easy to say those players carried New York, but the Empire has depth in terms of scoring options. Matt Stevens and Ben Katz finished with 36 and 35 goals, respectively, to pace the team behind Jagt. Former Rutgers teammates Josh Alorro and Jibran Mieser have shone at times during the regular season as well. Look out for Babbitt to cross over at times to make it tough for defenses to match up.
Dallas has plenty of defensive playmakers to answer. Dillon Larberg has been a key defender with a nose for the disc: he is second in the league in blocks. Dallas is unafraid to play through its stars but has plenty of depth to lean on. Joel Clutton and Zach Marbach have both grown into crucial players for the Roughnecks D-line. Clutton is tied for second on the team for blocks with Froude. Marbach played the second most defensive points for Dallas this year behind only Larberg. He is reliable and enters the weekend with a solid 14g, 7a, 13b stat line. The team features a ton of athleticism across the board, and they may be the most talented unit New York has faced all season.
Players to Keep an Eye on
Jay Froude has been dominant this season on both sides of the disc. He is the focal point for Dallas whenever it is on offense and can step in on defense if needed. Froude’s role on the offense is fairly fluid. He will attack deep, come underneath to launch a long huck, or run quick handler movement if you force him to. There is no stopping Froude, only containing him.
The person feeding Froude and pacing the Dallas offense will definitely be Brandon Malacek. He had nearly 600 touches in 12 games this season, 80 more than anyone else on the team. Muffin is one of the few players to feature heavily on the 2016 championship team still running the show two years later. He is comfortable taking shots, but more than capable of playing small ball to give his players downfield more time to work.
Dillon Larberg does a little bit of everything for Dallas. He is the teams top puller and block-getter. He also finished third in assists for the Roughnecks this season as a primarily defensive player. Larberg will have the disc in his hands when Dallas earns a turnover and can spur runs of breaks for the defense. He will probably be involved in a few highlight plays as well, so keep an eye on #11.
If you don’t know that Ben Jagt is an MVP candidate, you haven’t been watching the New York Empire this season. Jagt is one of only three players in the league to lead a team in both goals and assists (the other two are Madison’s Peter Graffy and Philadelphia’s Sean Mott). Jagt is a nightmare to cover because of his combination of size and throws. A win for New York will likely mean that Jagt had another huge game.
Versatility has been the calling card of Ben Katz this season. He has played in all but one game and is comfortable stepping into whatever role is needed of him. He’s been a hugely underrated addition to New York this season and has played a big role of the improvement of their offense in the second half of this season. He has been initiating the offense lately and flourishing in the role Katz has an incredibly balanced 38g, 38a, 16b statline entering Championship Weekend. He is incredibly quick and a threat whenever the team enters the redzone.
In the playoffs, the longtime defensive standout Jeff Babbitt has been playing more offense than defense. Babbitt is certainly a strong offensive player. He is a dominant downfield cutter and a great asset if New York ever turns the disc over. However, he led the AUDL in blocks last season and leads the team in blocks this season. In the two playoff games so far for the Empire, Babbitt has seven goals and seven blocks. It will be worth watching to see how he is deployed against Dallas.
He may not be the same player that he was with the Roughnecks in their 2016 campaign, but Beau Kittredge cannot be overlooked in a big game: the guy just wins. He’s hoisted the AUDL trophy four years in a row (with three different teams) and sits at a perfect 14-0 in the AUDL postseason. Against Toronto, he had two goals and two assists, played more defense than offense, and finished 4th on the team in touches. And he only had one turnover. Do you want to bet against him?
This Empire squad has found different ways to win down the stretch. New York’s playoff games have both been memorable. The Empire played the Breeze in a massive rain storm featuring the first scoreless quarter in AUDL history and bested the Rush for the first in franchise history to earn its first ever trip to the final four. This team is battle tested and clearly unafraid of taking on top teams. Advantage: Empire.
New York has a reputation for grinding out wins and finishing strong in the second half. Dallas had a rare poor showing in the first half against Raleigh and could struggle to pull off more late game heroics against New York. Still, the Roughnecks offense can explode like it did in the second half against the Flyers. Both teams will be seeking a fast start. Early breaks could be the difference in the contest. Advantage: Neutral.
The Roughnecks have been on this stage. They’ve both won and lost huge games at Championship Weekend. New York’s last trip to the show came in 2015, when they were clearly the worst team in the Final Four. They also lacked consistency this season and got some help from Toronto playing their worst game of the season to get here. Advantage: Dallas.
The Roughnecks have emerged from the pressure cooker that is the South Division. While the East ended up being a lot stronger than many anticipated, it certainly didn’t approach the South’s depth of talent. While the Empire have landed some huge wins in the last few weeks, the Roughnecks have sharpened their tools against arguably the league’s most talented team (Raleigh) and one that would be the favorite to win the Championship if they were in Madison this weekend. Advantage: Dallas.
The Roughnecks have been here before. In their third season, they are one of the blue blood teams in the AUDL. They have only lost four games to this point in their franchise history, one that already includes a league title during their undefeated 2016 campaign. New York is clearly the challenger facing off against the champ. It got the Toronto monkey off its back last time out, showing it is capable of running with anyone in the league. Despite their two different paths to the semifinals, New York and Dallas both feel they have a shot at moving on. The Roughnecks seek another title and the Empire aims to play spoiler once again. The two will face off Saturday at 4 PM Eastern — you can watch the game on Stadium.