For a few brief minutes at Northeast Regionals, it looked like the club open division was about to collapse on itself. On the heels of big plays and a lucky break or two, GOAT was working with a 14-11 lead against Boston Ironside – the widely agreed upon Club Championships front runner. When the dust settled, Boston walked away with a 16-14 victory and another Northeast Regional title. Now, as we prepare for Open Nationals, the question arises: how dangerous is the #1 seed?
In the wake of the GOAT scare it seems pertinent to question Ironside’s consistency. In looking at their closest games this regular season we see at 17-16 win over PoNY at the Boston Invite, a 12-11 loss to Rhino at ECC, a 13-11 win over Revolver at ECC and, of course, the 16-14 win over GOAT. While GOAT, PoNY and Rhino are surely quality opponents, Revolver looks to be the only Club Championships contender among these teams. Juxtaposed with a 15-5 win over Doublewide, a 14-9 win over Sockeye and a 13-8 win over Truck Stop, these close calls seem out of place. What is the difference between Ironside’s dominance over Doublewide and Sockeye and its near wins over PoNY and GOAT? Is the team susceptible to lapses? Are the players unsure of themselves? Should we wonder whether they will suddenly seize up in Sarasota?
Or should we instead look at the bigger picture? Even when faced with a tight game in the Boston Invite finals, Ironside got the job done, breaking late in the game and finally winning on offense. At Regionals, they looked across the line at 14-11 and – rather than seeing the other two bids open to Nationals – took what was theirs with a 5-0 run. When asked whether the most recent game against GOAT brought up recurring errors in play coach Josh McCarthy was not convinced, saying “games just unfold differently and this one unfolded differently than the others.” Rather than highlighting a trend of shortcomings, Ironside’s close victories over the course of the season are an indication that the team can step up and pull out wins in a number of different situations.
Predicting Boston’s performance at the Championships is no easy task but one advantage Ironside has over its competitors is its depth. Club Championships is a grueling tournament: a finalist plays at least eight games against the top competition in the country over the course of the four days. Late this season we have seen a rotation of upwards of 17 players on Ironside’s defensive line. The skill and experience of the defense—top to bottom—is impressive, meaning that Boston has the ability to make life very difficult for the opposing offense in the late rounds of the tournament. In the Regional finals, Ironside forced multiple turnovers on GOAT’s first O points. Despite not scoring on their first five early possessions, the D line ran off four breaks at the end of the game. Coach McCarthy said, “I’d love to convert the first point or the first opportunity that we get a turn, but if we don’t, you know, the fact that we’re able to continue to get turns does pay dividends down the road.” Having so many playmakers will make Boston dangerous in Sarasota simply because it will have the legs to work with throughout the course of the tournament.
While it might seem like their performance against GOAT says otherwise, there are a number of less glamorous takeaways from that game. Speaking generally, these takeaways help to answer the original question of how dangerous Boston will be at Club Championships. The Ironside team that is heading to Florida has some put some very important pieces together. They know how to grind and they know how to win. When asked about the potential benefits of a closer Regional final Coach McCarthy said, “Who’s to say whether or not this is going to help us, I mean, we’ve still got to go out and win games, but it’s nice to know when it’s 10-10 we’ve been there.” Boston will start their Club Championships run in an oddly poetic way, facing Portland Rhino, the only team that has defeated them this season. Over the course of the tournament their mettle will constantly be tested and their experience with winning at all costs will take them far.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire – Ultiphotos.com