Oakland Implodes, LA to the Playoffs
July 25, 2023 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
The final week before the playoffs closed out a season full of fun. After looking like they were going to confidently march into the playoffs, Oakland suffered two heartbreaking defeats in Southern California and lost their playoff spot on a tiebreaker to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, out east Atlanta took full control of the South Division with yet another victory over Carolina. Boston closed out their season one game ahead of Philadelphia to clinch their first-ever playoff appearance. In the Central, Chicago held on to the last playoff spot and will do battle with Indianapolis and Minnesota to see who will end up in the Twin Cities at Championship Weekend. Before we turn our attention to the playoffs, let’s look back at the wild results out west.
Spiders’ SoCal Sojourn Turns South
The San Diego Growlers and Los Angeles Aviators have a lot in common. They share many alumni as players, quite a few of whom also play on the same SoCal Condors club team. They also both scored last minute goals to beat the Oakland Spiders this weekend, knocking the Bay Area squad out of the playoffs and sending LA in their place.
The Aviators notched their win on a special Friday night. Rather than playing at their typical home venue in Los Angeles, the regular season finale was scheduled in Santa Barbara. San Marcos High School is just an hour or so’s drive north of LA and home to many Aviators players, including The Sultan, Michael Kiyoi, who teaches at the school. With a loud crowd supporting Kiyoi and the rest of the team, Los Angeles found the grit necessary to come from behind and set themselves up for a win. Oakland raced out to a 5-1 lead and maintained a solid cushion until midway through the third quarter when a four goal Aviators run tied the game at 16. Neither team led by more than a single goal from then on. Los Angeles scored a break with just two seconds left on the clock after Lukas Ambrose notched his league leading 24th block of the season and Brandon Van Deusen found Marcel Osborne for LA’s first lead of the game. Mitchell Steiner blocked Oakland’s last-ditch effort (a reasonable short-field shot after LA launched the pull out of bounds) and at that point the Aviators ha done everything they possibly could to advance to the playoffs-but they needed some help from their friends a few hours south.
PLEASE test me with the game on the line https://t.co/2nmqSPKy2d
— Mitchell Steiner 🔰 (@TheKrieg122) July 22, 2023
Now tied in the win column with Oakland, the Aviators hoped for a Growlers win that would give the Spiders and Aviators identical 7-5 records. The script flipped for Saturday’s game, as the Spiders found themselves in a four goal hole to San Diego at the end of the first quarter, but they clawed back to tie the game midway through the fourth. But once again, their opponents scored with two seconds left and the Spiders’ last second chance was denied. Former Aviator and noted “big game” player Jeff Silverman totaled three blocks. Travis Dunn led the way with seven assists and two goals. Though the Growlers have just three wins on the season (and lost to hapless Portland), they were able to muster a memorable performance to alter the playoff landscape. Last week in this column I wrote that Oakland had all but clinched a playoff spot, needing just one win among their two games this weekend. This week, that “but” happened and Oakland will be forced to watch the rest of the season from their AUDL.TV log ins.
After a promising season that saw the integration of new stars like Walker Frankenberg, Dexter Clyburn, and Mac Hecht, and a signature win over Colorado, Oakland must be frustrated with the ending. They survived close games against LA, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland over the course of the season to put themselves in position to make their first playoff appearance since 2017. With such a young team, the Spiders are poised to continue their upward trajectory. Though experiencing heartbreak now, they’ll surely come back with a vengeance next season.
For their part, the Aviators did just enough to get into the big dance. They’re already ahead of the Pawel Janas timeline; during his tenure playing for Chicago, it took three years to make the playoffs and an additional season to make Championship Weekend. Los Angeles returned to the playoffs in Janas’ first year with the team, and now that they’re in, anything can happen. Janas helms a talented offense that pulls the most from the likes of Van Deusen and Sam Cook. Sean McDougall is having a throwback season, leading the league in plus/minus. On the defensive side, Ambrose is enjoying a stellar rookie campaign, finishing first in the league in blocks and playing with the kind of flair and swagger that helps a team like Los Angeles step up and perform its best in high-pressure moments.
This week, the Aviators will fly over to Colorado for their reentry into the playoff fracas. After a season full of surprises, they might just have one more in store for us.
Have a question about the AUDL? Send it in to [email protected] with AUDL Mailbag in the subject line. You can also message me on Twitter at @ StallSeven
Now that the playoffs are set, any surprises? – Theresa in Discord
While I wouldn’t say that there are any crazy surprises,1 there are definitely some results that didn’t match the most agreed upon preseason predictions. Many saw Colorado as the presumptive favorite out West, but Salt Lake handily took them down in two games this season; the Summit nearly finished third in the division! They still might beat the Shred in the playoffs, but the level-up from Salt Lake was noticeable and unexpected in relation to a slight decline from Colorado. Similarly, nobody is shocked that Atlanta made the playoffs or even that they won the division, but their back-to-back convincing wins over Carolina has them entering the playoffs as a bona fide Championship Weekend threat–a spot most had reserved for the Flyers. Out East, the surprise is Boston edging out Philadelphia for the final playoff spot. I’m excited to see the talent that Boston assembled actually play together long enough to clinch some impressive wins, including two over the Phoenix. The surprise isn’t so much that Boston won–the team is incredibly talented–but rather that they committed to the AUDL for enough of the season for their talent to have an impact. We’ll see if Boston can scare DC at all in the playoffs the way Philadelphia did last season…now that would be a surprise.
News and Notes
- Atlanta downed Carolina once again and will roll into their division championship game with lots of positive momentum.
- DC won the final regular season game of Daryl Stanley’s illustrious coaching career, taking down old nemesis Toronto by ten goals. The Breeze host Boston in the East Division playoffs.
- New York finished its regular season with a win over Montreal, clinching a second straight undefeated regular season. The Empire haven’t lost since the 2021 title game.
- All four opening round playoff games will be played on Saturday the 29th. Three of the hosts are using their regular home stadium, but Indianapolis is playing at a local high school rather than their typical indoor stadium.
|1||New York Empire||-||1|
|2||Salt Lake Shred||-||2|
|10||Minnesota Wind Chill||+1||11|
|11||Los Angeles Aviators||+1||12|
|19||San Diego Growlers||+2||21|
A category I’d reserve for something like Toronto winning the East or Detroit winning a game ↩