Photo by Gaetan Dussault

Thursday Thoughts: Week 9

1. With New York stumbling, it feels like Montreal and Ottawa are ready to slug it out for the East’s final playoff spot.

The New York Empire (2-4) are mired in a three-game losing streak and have six of their final eight games on the road. That does not seem like a formula that will lead New York back to the playoffs in 2017. Their abundant talent and track record makes it impossible to completely rule it out, but a loss at the DC Breeze (5-2) this Saturday—who the Empire haven’t beaten since 2015—would drop the Empire to 2-5, and the East Division is too deep to count on running off six wins in seven games, mostly on the road, to storm into the postseason.

Consequently, the Montreal Royal (4-4) and Ottawa Outlaws (2-2) are bracing for their own three-round battle that could dramatically boost or dampen their respective playoff chances. The Royal and Outlaws kick off their season series tomorrow evening with a Friday night clash in Ottawa, and they will collide again eight days later in Montreal. On July 23, the final Sunday of the regular season, they will tangle once more at the home of the Royal.

While 15 of the league’s 24 teams have already played a least half of their games, Ottawa has only played an AUDL-low four times through the first nine weeks. The Outlaws sit at 2-2, a mysterious team that has only beaten the Philadelphia Phoenix (1-6) but has played Toronto and DC closely in a pair of losses. Over their final 10 games, they will have three apiece against Montreal and New York, along with two more against the Toronto Rush (5-2). It’s not an easy schedule by any means, with 10 games jammed into eight weekends, including three doubleheaders.

From a winning percentage standpoint, Montreal’s .500 mark is even with Ottawa, and the Royal have one game remaining against each of DC, Toronto, and New York along with the trio of contests with the Outlaws. Over the past two years, Montreal and Ottawa have met six times, with the Outlaws winning five. However, the Royal did prevail in the final matchup last year, a slim 21-20 victory on June 11.

On the field, the Royal have had a tough time defending Ottawa, evidenced by the Outlaws scoring 29.8 goals per game in their five wins over Montreal. But the past numbers may not be indicative of the current landscape, considering the numerous roster additions both franchises made in the offseason.

It’s hard to predict how the Royal-Outlaws season series will unfold, but each team likely views the matchup in the same light: a critical step on the road to the postseason. Odds are that neither squad will sweep the three-game season series, but taking two of three remains a must if those playoff goals are going to be met.

2. Dallas and Madison, the game of the century that never actually happened, finally arrives on Saturday. But the circumstances are much different than a year ago.

It was supposed to be a battle of unbeatens in the 2016 championship game, a pair of 16-0 juggernauts to culminate the grandest final four weekend the league had even seen. Of course, the Seattle Cascades did not cooperate with this vision. When Seattle’s breathtaking comeback abruptly halted Madison’s title quest, ultimate fans were denied the spectacle of the Roughnecks and the Radicals squaring off with everything on the line inside the Rads’ raucous house.

Just over 300 days later, the Dallas Roughnecks (7-2) and Madison Radicals (5-1) finally will unite at Breese Stevens Field on Saturday evening, the third interdivisional game of the season in the AUDL’s Cross Coast Challenge. Unlike a year ago, however, neither team is undefeated, and both are in an unfamiliar position chasing their respective division leaders, the Raleigh Flyers (7-1) and Minnesota Wind Chill (7-0).

It still should be an epic matchup, with Jimmy Mickle and Dylan Freechild leading the Roughnecks against Pat Shriwise, Peter Graffy, and the rest of the Radicals. Frankly, just listing the marquee names does not do justice to the depth of talent on both of these title contending rosters.

Dylan Freechild claimed AUDL Player of the Week honors in Week 6.

Peter Graffy claimed AUDL Player of the Week honors in Week 8.

One of the most entertaining subplots to watch will be the return of former Radicals Jay Froude and Abe Coffin, both of whom signed with Dallas in the offseason, to Breese Stevens Field. They were fan favorites in Madison, and it did not take them long to earn standout status on the stacked Roughnecks. Currently, Froude and Coffin are two of the top three goal scorers on Dallas, and Froude leads the league in plus/minus and Ds.

From Dallas’ perspective, this is probably a must-win if they are going to catch Raleigh for the top spot in the South. A Roughnecks loss this weekend would mean that the Flyers would have to falter twice in their last six games. Considering Raleigh has half of their remaining six games against Nashville, multiple losses does not seem likely. After this weekend, though, Dallas does have a friendly schedule, with three home games and a trip to Austin the rest of the way.

Madison, meanwhile, is kicking off a three-game stretch that likely will define the Radicals season. After hosting the Roughnecks, Madison is at Minnesota and the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (3-2) the next two weeks.

Most every team in the league would love to have the defending champs coming to their hometown, but Madison is the only team outside the South that gets this privilege during the regular season. It’s up to the Radicals to make it count.

The circumstances are quite different compared to last August, but Dallas and Madison are unquestionably two of the league’s most vibrant franchises. Watching them finally go head-to-head for four quarters should be a blast.

Keep your eyes on college players making their season debuts in the next couple weeks.

Starting this weekend, plenty of the stars from College Nationals will take their talents to the AUDL. The precise impacts are impossible to quantify, but there are a bunch of athletes that have the potential to become key contributors over the next couple of months.

For example, the Raleigh Flyers will be adding Jack Williams and J.D. Hastings from UNC-Wilmington. The New York Empire will add Ben Jagt from the University of Minnesota. The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds will gain a slew of University of Pittsburgh players, including San Van Dusen, Jack Slevin, and Dillon Tranquillo. Gold medalist and sophomore sensation Joe Freund was just announced today that he will be joining up with the DC Breeze. The Austin Sol will pick up UMass’s Brett Gramann. And the Madison Radicals will add receiving threat Ross Barker, who is fresh off an appearance on SportsCenter.

Ross Barker's buttery smooth Greatest came it at #5 on the SportsCenter Top 10 for

These are just a handful of names that will transition into professional pennant races in the coming weeks. It’s always intriguing to watch new players assimilate, especially with so much on the line in pursuit of playoff berths and beyond.

These are just a handful of names that will transition into professional pennant races in the coming weeks. It’s always intriguing to watch new players assimilate, especially with so much on the line in pursuit of playoff berths and beyond.