August 17, 2021
By Evan Lepler
Here we are on the precipice of the playoffs, with eight teams officially locked into this year’s single-elimination postseason bracket. New York and Minnesota each won twice in Week 11, becoming the final two teams to secure their playoff spots, giving us a fascinating postseason field to contemplate in the build-up toward Championship Weekend.
We’ve still got one more week of regular season action—well, actually two if you count the anticipated “Week 13” makeup games between New York-Boston and DC-Tampa Bay—and home field advantage is still up-for-grabs in two of the three divisions as we head down the stretch. But after 11 weeks and 111 total games, including the six Canada Cup contests, we know that our 2021 champion will come from this final group of eight, all of whom have at least eight wins: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, DC, Minnesota, New York, Raleigh, and San Diego.
So then the real question becomes: Who is the favorite?
While all eight of these remaining contenders have had their moments, all have also experienced multiple losses. In this return-to-play season, maximizing potential has felt more difficult than ever, though perhaps that’s because we have more strong teams than ever, each ready and capable of knocking an opponent down a peg or two any given weekend. With so many teams that are realistically in the mix for a championship, it will all be about who can truly discover the best version of themselves when it matters the most.
“I can’t wait till we play our best ultimate because we still have to do that,” Raleigh Head Coach Mike DeNardis said. “At no point in our season have we played our best, like what I’ve seen in practice in stretches.”
“When both sides put it together, it’ll be a beautiful thing.”
Everyone except Dallas has at least one more regular season opportunity before the playoffs, and it will be interesting to watch teams try and tinker with subtle adjustments in order to find their perfect fits.
The Full Field Layout
The Week 11 headliner between Atlanta and Raleigh transpired amidst intermittent thunderstorms in North Carolina, and while the game was packed with wild drama, brilliant adjustments, and a crazy comeback, it was not exactly a glimmering pinnacle of high-level ultimate. The Hustle built a five-goal lead by the middle of the third mainly because of their D-line’s early efficiency, but it was not Atlanta’s crispest performance of the season. Far from it.
“We didn’t even play that well for the first three quarters,” said Hustle Head Coach Miranda Knowles.
The Flyers also recognized their shortcomings through the majority of the game, with DeNardis encouraging his team to embrace the ugly battle and keep grinding through it.
“Let’s be the better terrible team,” DeNardis told his players on the sideline during their second-half push.
After trailing 16-11 with 5:16 remaining in the third, the Flyers outscored the Hustle 9-2 over the final 17 minutes, including a 5-0 run to close the game in their 20-18 victory. Raleigh took its first lead of the night when Alex Davis connected with Elijah Long with 4:38 remaining, as the Hustle stunningly failed to score a single goal in the game’s last nine minutes.
“Credit to Raleigh, as they ratcheted up their defensive pressure in the fourth, especially around the handler space, and made our resets difficult,” said Atlanta Captain Austin Taylor.
The Flyers’ key adjustment came when they began playing a riskier defense to speed up the game. The Hustle particularly struggled late on several possessions that began on the sideline following pulls that were intentionally rolled out of bounds.
“The Flyers really took advantage and freaked us out with roll-out double teams and roll-out fake double teams, and the points just slipped through our fingers,” added Knowles. “My message to the team at the end was to look inward for criticism and outward for praise… Christian [Olsen] actually wrapped things up and helped light a little fire under us as we left—losing is much more motivational than winning, as long as you do the work.”
Sol Yanuck paced Raleigh with five assists and 604 total yards, while Allan Laviolette added seven scores (four goals, three assists) 456 yards for the Flyers. Elijah Long went 30-for-30 playing more offense than any other game this season, while Eric Taylor started the game on defense for the first time this season, crossing back and forth in his expanded role.
“Our offense has been in a pretty good rhythm since Eric got injured, albeit our matchups weren’t the playoff teams,” said DeNardis, explaining the decision to move Taylor over to D. “When we played in Boston, I felt like we had way too many mouths [to feed], and our D really needs a stopper. I think about Atlanta, DC, and New York specifically, and we have questions about specific players who aren’t answered so we wanted to try Eric on D a little more and give him some tough matchups. I think this attempt was pretty good. I think we’re gonna continue testing that theory and seeing if it works. We know he can integrate back into offense pretty easily.”
Entering the last week of the regular season, the Flyers still could potentially earn a home playoff game, which they would do if they can beat DC by two this Saturday and the Empire either win both of their Boston games or lose both of their Boston games. If Raleigh beat the Breeze, the Empire split their matchups with the Glory, and DC and Atlanta both won their remaining games, an improbable but mighty realistic four-way tie for first place would ensue, with all four teams at 9-3. In this scenario, Atlanta would host Raleigh in the 1-4 matchup while DC would host New York in the 2-3. Suffice to say, there’s nothing simple about the landscape of possibilities and permutations that remain in the Atlantic.
Among the quartet of contenders, though, Raleigh is the only team that has not been defeated by multiple goals all season, as the Flyers three losses have all come by one, with two of them requiring overtime. And even if they did not play their best for much of the night, DeNardis hoped that Saturday’s comeback would be a stepping stone result heading toward the postseason.
“I was happy we gutted it out,” said Denardis. “I said in the locker room afterwards we displayed a ton of grit, and that gets you places when things are not going well.”
When the Flyers scored with 23 seconds left to take their largest lead of the game and ultimately won 20-18, it snapped a personal streak of four consecutive primetime broadcasts that were decided by one. That string included Minnesota’s one-goal escape over Indy, 17-16 on July 31, the Flyers one-goal win and one-goal loss against Boston and New York, respectively, and then the Empire’s slim survival this past Friday night in Philly, where New York snuck away with a 20-19 triumph against the feisty Phoenix in an exciting and bizarre battle.
The somewhat bizarre angle had New York scoring exactly half of its goals for the entire game just in the second quarter, erupting for a 10-spot in those 12 minutes that transformed a 4-3 first quarter deficit into a 13-9 halftime lead. But Ben Jagt, who appeared to be cruising toward another MVP with six scores at halftime, sloppily endured four throwaways in the second half, which helped trigger the Philly comeback.
Down 19-18 late in the fourth, the Phoenix had the disc with a chance to tie, but Sean Mott’s errant throw while trapped on the sideline landed incomplete, and Jagt’s fourth assist of the game gave the Empire a 20-18 lead with 30 seconds left, which became a one-goal win in the closing moments.
For the first time all season, though, the Empire were not done after their opening game of the weekend. New York still had to return home on Saturday for a showdown with Pittsburgh, who was coming off a 26-20 loss in Boston on Friday night. Up in New England, the Thunderbirds had fallen behind 5-1 and 11-4 and never recovered, but pesky Pitt put up a tougher fight one night later against New York.
Ten minutes into the game, it sure looked like the rout was on, as the Empire stormed to a 6-1 lead thanks to Jeff Babbitt bookends and Sam Feder’s stat-stuffing performance, contributing a goal, an assist, and a block on the game’s first seven points. But Pittsburgh responded immediately, launching their own 6-2 spurt to surge back within one, and it was 8-7 Empire with five minutes left in the second quarter.
Over the final 29 minutes, however, New York’s offense was only broken once, with Jagt and Ryan Osgar both heavily involved in the downfield attack. Combined, the former University of Minnesota teammates churned for 1,165 yards, with 11 assists and four goals against the Thunderbirds. Babbitt and Feder each finished with two blocks, as New York prevailed 20-16 to officially sew up their playoff berth.
The Empire could still finish anywhere from first to fourth, depending upon their results against the Glory. Boston and New York will meet in their first AUDL showdown this Friday night in our final “Free Friday Frisbee” showcase of the regular season.
Seven On The Line
- In the previous two weekends, Detroit held a halftime lead against both Madison and Chicago before the Radicals and Union outscored the Mechanix by a combined 16-4 in the third quarter, extending Detroit’s losing streak without much fourth quarter drama. It was a similar story on Saturday in Grand Rapids, though the Minnesota Wind Chill did not wait until halftime to make their move.
The Mechanix were up 5-4 early in the second quarter, but the Wind Chill scored eight of the next nine goals to build a 12-6 lead by halftime. Minnesota never led by fewer than five the rest of the way and scored the final three goals of the game to win 24-15. “The game was reminiscent of many of our games in the second half of the season,” said Detroit’s Andrew Sjogren, who leads the league with 47 goals and 3,733 receiving yards heading into the final weekend of the season. “We have been able to hang with teams in three of the four quarters, but one quarter gets away from us. The other team goes on a run, and we are unable to stop the bleeding.”
- The Wind Chill officially clinched their playoff berth with Saturday’s win over Detroit, but Minnesota still had to beat Indianapolis on Sunday in order to keep the pressure on Chicago for home-field advantage in the Central Division Title game. The AlleyCats led 14-13 at halftime, but the Wind Chill rallied to win the second half 10-5 en route to their 23-19 victory, sweeping their doubleheader road trip. “We had to adjust in a pretty big way after Indy had a lot of success against us with the deep ball in the first half,” said Minnesota’s Colin Berry, who recorded three assists and a block in Sunday’s win. Before the third quarter, Wind Chill Assistant Coach Max Longchamp told his team that 10 of Indy’s 14 goals had been set up by a long shot, but Minnesota’s focus changed that dynamic significantly down the stretch. “We made the collective adjustment to force their offense into longer points with more throws, and it paid off tremendously, as in the second half only one of Indy’s five goals was set up by an away shot,” said Nick Vogt, who contributed four goals, four assists, and one block in the Wind Chill’s pair of Week 11 wins. Team Captain Bryan Vohnoutka shifted back to O-line and delivered two gigantic games, finishing +8 in both contests with a combined 10 assists, six goals, and two blocks. By improving to 9-2, the Wind Chill have compelled Chicago to give its all against Detroit this weekend in order for the Union to lock up the top spot and home-field in the first round of the playoffs. Minnesota also has one final tuneup at home against Madison. “Now, our focus turns to denying Madison their 100th franchise win and prepping for our date with Chicago,” said Vogt.
- The New York Empire and Minnesota Wind Chill were not the only two teams to win multiple games this past weekend. North of the border, Montreal improved its winning streak to four straight by earning victories against Ottawa and Toronto, two wins that came by a total of three goals. On Thursday—yes, the Royal and Outlaws began their weekend with a Thursday night battle—Montreal built a lead as large as four and never trailed in the final three quarters in their 18-16 triumph. Two days later, Kevin Quinlan caught the go-ahead goal with 51 seconds left as the Royal edged the Rush 20-19 in Toronto. In the closing seconds, Jason Huynh’s red-zone dish intended for Iain Mackenzie landed incomplete, and the Rush experienced their third straight loss. As noted in Monday’s Honor Roll, Vincent Lemieux’s throwing precision was one of the main stories of Montreal’s success, as the third-year Royal went 81-for-82 with 686 throwing yards between the two games, dealing five assists against the Rush as Montreal seized control in the Canada Cup race. After an opening day loss, Montreal now sits at 4-1, two games ahead of 2-3 Ottawa and two-and-a-half games clear of 1-3 Toronto, as the Rush finally got in the win column courtesy of their 23-19 triumph on Sunday.
- It was fun watching Seattle and San Jose battle again this past Friday night, as the Spiders outscored the Cascades 6-2 in the fourth quarter to prevail 20-16.
Even though neither team had any remaining postseason ambition for this year, you would have been fooled without knowing that context when you saw how hard both teams fought throughout the four competitive quarters. While Seattle’s Manny Eckert tossed for 434 yards, tossing for over 300 for the sixth consecutive game, it was San Jose’s Keenan Laurence that delivered the night’s superior all-around performance, finishing +10 with five assists, four goals, one block, no turns, and a game-high 512 yards. The Spiders improved to 4-6—they have gone 3-1 vs. Seattle and 1-5 vs. the rest of the West—and San Jose will strive to finish their season with four consecutive wins as they embark on their last weekend of the season, Friday in San Diego and Saturday in Los Angeles.
There are some interesting statistical battles ahead as the regular season winds down, none more so than the goal-scoring department. Currently, Detroit’s Andrew Sjogren has 47 goals to lead the league, while Philly’s Greg Martin is second with 46. In Week 12, the Mechanix will host Chicago, while the Phoenix are at home for Boston. The other not-so-dark horse candidate to win the scoring title is New York’s Ben Jagt, the 2019 MVP, who currently has 40 goals and two games remaining in which to pad his stats.
Speaking of Jagt, the Empire star is unlikely to be caught in the plus/minus department. His +70 is 15 clear of the next best through 11 weeks, with Raleigh’s Anders Juengst (+55) sitting in second. Jagt’s teammate, Ryan Osgar, and Austin’s Eric Brodbeck are both +54, tied for third. In his MVP season, Jagt finished +90 in 12 games, a lofty but still-achievable threshold for him to possibly equal with a strong couple of games against Boston to finish his season. He already possesses two of the top three single-game plus/minuses of the season, producing +14 against Philly on July 9 and +13 in Tampa on July 13.
Will Chicago’s Pawel Janas lead the league in assists for the fourth straight season? Honestly, probably not. The Union’s self deprecating social media star has 45 with one game left, one shy of Tampa Bay’s Bobby Ley, who also has one game remaining assuming the Cannons game against the Breeze gets rescheduled. But look out for the Grey Duck duo in New York, as Osgar and Jagt are third and fourth on the assist chart with 44 and 43, respectively. And as has been mentioned multiple times already, the Empire still have two games remaining. My hunch is that Osgar surges into the top spot in the assist race, while Jagt likely moves past Sjogren and Martin for the goal-scoring crown, but those individual races are just another thing to keep an eye on heading into the final full regular season weekend.
Even though we know all eight playoff teams, there are still plenty of meaningful games this coming weekend. In the Atlantic Division, our Friday night DraftKings broadcast will feature the first ever meeting between Boston and New York, while our Fox Sports Game of the Week pits Raleigh and DC in a rematch of the Breeze’s one-goal win back in Week 2. In fact, the three all-time matchups between the Flyers and Breeze have all been decided by one or by two in overtime. Atlanta also journeys to Pittsburgh in a sneaky tricky game for the Hustle, who still cling to the hope of hosting a playoff game despite entering their finale mired in a two-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, far from the precipice of the playoffs, the Detroit Mechanix are down to their final chance for victory as they stare down the barrel of experiencing an incomprehensible and excruciating 50th consecutive loss. The Mechanix, 0-11 this year, have still not won since April 29, 2017, when they beat Chicago 23-14. This Saturday, exactly 1,575 days later, the Mechanix have their final chance to win this year. Otherwise, the skid will reach 50 and continue indefinitely into the spring of 2022.
To their credit, the Mechanix players have been far more competitive in the second half of the season and choose not to dwell on the franchise’s long history of losing.
“We only have six players remaining from the 2019 season,” said Sjogren, “and I am the only player still around from 2018. None of us have played even half of the games in the losing streak…It’s certainly tough to be sitting at 0-11. I’m a very competitive person and it drives me crazy that we haven’t been able to get over the hump and earn that elusive win. But for now, we simply need to take each game as an opportunity to get better. Eventually, those improvements will make the difference and we will see something new on the scoreboard.”
It’s hard to fathom Chicago losing this weekend when the Union still have home-field advantage at stake, but the Mechanix, like they have every week, will take the field determined to give it everything they have.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we could pull off an upset this weekend,” added Sjogren. “It will undoubtedly be a tough game and will require our best effort of the season, but our singular goal remains: ‘Beat the Streak.’ We have enough talent to compete; it’s just a matter of playing a clean game for the entire four quarters, which we have not done yet. We have continued to fine-tune our offense and defense, and we will be prepared to give Chicago a fight this weekend.”
In a vacuum, seeing a last-place team knock off a first-place division leader in a single-game feels far more likely than witnessing a multi-year 50-game losing streak. But considering the context of the moment, it sure feels like destiny that Detroit will enter their offseason with the unenviable reality that the streak will have reached half-a-hundred.
With all that said, let’s go Mechanix! I’m rooting for ya to finally get off the damn schneid!
(If it does indeed happen, I’ll take a large t-shirt, please.)