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1. Toronto Rush
The Rush have continued their unbeaten streak, with wins over the Empire and Dragons the last two weeks. The Dragons gave them a little more trouble than expected, the Rush only led by one in the fourth before pulling away to win 28-21. The Rush were playing without Mark Lloyd, their leader in D’s and goals, but this was still a game they were expected to win with more authority. They’ve got a bye week then a big game against the Philadelphia Phoenix in Toronto on June 1. Though the Phoenix haven’t exactly dominated since then, they’re still the team that’s come closest to beating Toronto. It’ll be interesting to see whether they can play with them.
The Wildfire are in great position to finish at the top of the Midwest. They only have one more two game weekend this season, against Detroit then Cincinnati on June 22-23. Those are two teams they should be able to beat even under those circumstances, especially given that week 5 saw the Wildfire go on the road in Minnesota and Madison, winning both times. Brodie Smith led the team in Assists in the Minnesota game with eight, and though he didn’t play the next day in Madison the Wildfire got a big win, 16-15. Brodie’s knee injury is a big question mark for this team, but there’s also enough talent on the roster to beat any team in the Midwest without Brodie, as evidenced by the win over the Radicals in Madison. We won’t get to see those two teams play against each other until June 29, when hopefully both will be healthy and Madison will be playing with their full roster, Wisconsin Hodags included.
The Radicals have clearly established themselves as one of the top two teams in the Midwest, and top three in the league. The difference between the #3 and #4 team in the AUDL is significant. Madison may have lost to the Wildfire by one point at home, but it wasn’t too long ago that they beat the Wildfire by one point on the road. The key moving forward for this Madison team is whether they challenge the Wildfire for the top spot, or whether they’re content finishing second in the conference. With only one more game against Windy City it’ll be tough to move up. And unlike the Wildfire, the Radicals have a more challenging road schedule remaining. They travel to Minnesota on June 7, and have two remaining two game weekends this season. The first is against Cincinnati and Indianapolis June 15-16, the second against Chicago and Detroit, June 29-30. So I don’t see the Radicals moving up in the standings, but I also don’t think it matters much. They’ll get their shot against Chicago in the playoffs. That’s what’s important.
Though the Empire are third in the Eastern Conference, I have them ahead of the Phoenix here. First, two of their losses are against the Rush, the best team in the AUDL. Their other loss was on the road against Rochester, in overtime. Though they still should have won, New York was playing with a depleted roster. Yes, the Empire will have to get used to life without Jack Marsh for a while, but they’re equipped for it. They beat the Breeze 25-11 earlier this season, and the next day the Phoenix only beat the Breeze 23-18. And the 24-16 win over New Jersey is more confidence inspiring than the Phoenix’s 18-17 squeaker over DC. I think that the Empire are more talented and playing better than the Phoenix, which gives them the nod for the #4 spot.
The Phoenix are coming off a come from behind victory over the DC Breeze, a team that was stomped by both Toronto and New York. At the same time though, this is the team that came so close to defeating the Rush in week 2. So it’s tough to peg just where they’re at, which is only compounded by the fact that they’ve only played four games, the fewest in the league. Though they have a nice 3-1 record right now, they’re the team in the East that may soon fall into a four way battle for third place. They have two games each of the next four weekends, an absolutely brutal stretch in their schedule. If they can go 4-4 in that stretch they’ll be just fine, but that’s easier said than done. At the end of the day a .500 record will most likely be enough for that final playoff spot, and I see the Phoenix making it.
Cameron Brock’s unexpected quick return makes a big difference for this team, and I’m sure they’re more focused on qualifying for the playoffs than ever now. This weekend they’re playing back-to-back games in Cincinnati. After coming off a 28-21 win (playing without Jared Payne) against the Revolution they have to be confident. But winning back-to-back games against any team is difficult, doing it on the road is even tougher. The ‘Cats can survive a split, but a sweep would make them the clear favorites for that final playoff spot in the Midwest. If you believe the Wind Chill are the ‘Cats biggest threat for that spot (and I do), the games to circle are July 6 and July 13. The two teams play before then, on June 23 in Minnesota, but that game is the back end of a two game road trip, so it’s unlikely the ‘Cats win it. On July 6 the Wind Chill visit Indianapolis for the second game of their own road trip, and on July 13 the AlleyCats play Minnesota on the front end of a two game road trip on the last weekend of the regular season. If the AlleyCats can win those two games, they’ll most likely make the playoffs.
I actually think the Wind Chill are a better team than the AlleyCats. That was made clear when they won in Indianapolis 34-25. I just think Minnesota is less likely to make the playoffs because of the hole they’ve dug themselves and a more difficult schedule. As gratifying as their 20-6 win (called at halftime because of weather) over Detroit must have been, it also must have been bittersweet too. After all, that game showed they were clearly better than Detroit, and they lost to Detroit 16-22 just two weeks ago. Part of that was coming off a game the night before, and part of it was also a short roster. But that could have been, should have been, win might end up making the difference. The Wind Chill need to finish 8-8 to make the playoffs. They’re 2-5, and have two away games left in Chicago, along with a home game and an away game against Madison. They have to win at home against Madison, and run the table against the Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The key is going to be that July 6 game in Indy. They play in Chicago the day before, and unless they absolutely need that win, if I were the Wind Chill I’d be tempted to pull a Greg Popovich and sit the starters to save them for the next day. Maybe they can avoid having to make that sort of the decision if they can beat the Radicals in Madison Friday night.
The Detroit Mechanix had a bad weekend, but the Revolution had a pretty bad one too. They lost in Indianapolis by seven, which is excusable if they can sweep them this weekend in Cincinnati. But two of Cincinnati’s three wins have come against a Detroit team that looked like a minor league team compared to Minnesota and Madison this weekend. So those Detroit wins aren’t looking nearly as impressive now. Their other win came at home against an opponent on the second game of a back to back, and was only by one point. After their miniseries with Indianapolis this weekend the Revolution go on a two game road trip to Madison and Minnesota, and have to hope for better results than the Mechanix got. But they could be entering the final five games of the season 4-7, and their last three games take place on the road. That’s why I think the Revolution need a sweep this weekend to make the playoffs.
Things did not go well for the Mechanix this weekend. A 10 point loss to Madison, and a 14 point loss to Minnesota that the weather mercifully ended at halftime. And after their 10-17 loss to the Revolution the weekend before (admittedly without a lot of their O-Line players) this hasn’t been a kind stretch for the Mechanix. The truth of the matter is, the Mechanix had a soft schedule to start the year. They had a home game against Indianapolis, which they lost 24-30. They had a home win over a Radicals team that played the night before in Chicago. They had a home win over a Wind Chill team that played the night before in Madison. They did beat the Revolution on the road the next day, but followed it up with two losses to them since then. The truth of the matter is, the Mechanix are 3-5 and have four games left scheduled against the Wildfire. They might be able to split the games in Detroit, but even then they’d have to run the table to make the playoffs. And this weekend showed they’re not capable of that.
TJ Burns has been a workhorse so far for the Dragons, leading the team in goals and D’s, while still throwing the second most assists. In Rochester Saturday he scored three goals against the Toronto Rush, a game where the Dragons were competitive until the Rush pulled away in the final quarter. The Dragons have played well at home so far this season, though not well enough to balance out their very poor start on the road. Their home away splits are really something. At home they’re 2-1 with a -.33 average goal differential. On the road they’re 0-4 with a -9.5 average goal differential. And that’s after playing the Rush at home without having played them in Toronto yet. If the Dragons hope to make the playoffs, they have to win games on the road. This weekend they’re playing in DC and Philadelphia. A split would keep them on life support in the playoff race. A sweep would put them right in the thick of it. But the last time Rochester went on a DC-Philadelphia road trip they finished 0-2, with a 14-26 loss to the Phoenix. They can’t afford to come up empty again, and a victory in Philadelphia would go a long way to getting Rochester to the playoffs.
11. DC Breeze
The Breeze had their most impressive victory of the season in week 5, beating the Hammerheads 18-13 in DC. That was the first win in a three game homestand, but the Breeze couldn’t follow it up with another victory against the Phoenix on Saturday.
The Breeze led 13-10 before allowing a 6-0 run from the Phoenix, who ended up winning 18-17. The Breeze were playing without Justin Solis and Glenn Poole, who lead the team in goals and assists respectively. So the Breeze played tough even without two of their biggest playmakers, but after coming up just short against the Phoenix twice, and this time at home, the Breeze have dug themselves into a hole. They play the Dragons in DC, a must win game for both teams. The next week they travel to New Jersey and New York, and will probably be looking for a split along with a more respectable game against the Empire than their first effort.
The Hammerheads were expected to contend for the playoffs, especially after their 21-19 preseason win over the Phoenix. After a 29-13 thumping of the Dragons in week 2, they seemed like a good bet. Since then they’ve gone on a five game losing streak, dropping games to both Rochester and DC, the teams that were supposed to be the cellar dwellers. Their next three games are all must wins if they hope to make it to the playoffs. They host the Phoenix this Saturday, the Breeze the following week, then travel to Rochester. The team definitely has the talent to do it, it just remains to be seen whether that talent can actually translate to wins.