Last year, most Eastern Conference teams were a step below the teams in the Midwest. With three teams getting significantly better, and a new exciting expansion team that could be a contender in Montreal, that is no longer the case. With all the improvement in the East this year, the Conference might even send two teams to Toronto for Championship Weekend in July.
DC Breeze – Offseason Grade: A
Adding: Tyler Degirolamo, Alex Thorne, Brett Matzuka
Subtracting: Glenn Poole, Isaac Julien
Returning: Daniel Selwyn, TJ Ryan
The Breeze had an offseason that didn’t seem possible. Last year they went 4-12. They were turnover prone, and didn’t generate many Ds. It was hard to draw many positives from their season. Their wins came against a now defunct franchise and a Rochester team that wasn’t close to full strength. While it’s true they played Philadelphia close a number of times, they never managed to get a win out of it. But a new investor in the team decided he wanted a winner, and was focused on making it happen.
One of the biggest keys to turning the ship around was bringing on Alex Ghesquiere to coach. Ghesquiere is one of the most respected coaches in the game today having coached for Revolver, Scandal, and Team USA. All three ended up winning at least one title. He gave the Breeze instant credibility. While names like Degirolamo, Thorne, and Matzuka headline the roster, what’s impressive is how much stronger the team is top to bottom. Players like Jonathan Neeley, Chris Kocher, Ben Feng, Mark Lin, Tyler Kunsa, Josh Norris, and Francisco Hazera have all played at high levels. All could have been a marquee player on this Breeze team last year. After having over 100 players try out, DC was able to be selective and build a contender. Make no mistake, this Breeze team is a very different squad from last year.
That’s not to say there wasn’t any talent on the team last season. Daniel Selwyn was a Skyd 2nd All-AUDL player, notching an impressive 64 assists and 27 Ds. In limited playing time TJ Ryan scored 29 goals and threw 10 assists, scoring on 30% of the points he played. The key for the returning players is that now they can afford to be role players. Last season they were asked to do too much, and it showed. Jon Pressimone caught 40 goals, but only had a 82% completion rate, in part because a stagnant offense meant too many hucks for a player whose repertoire doesn’t feature long throws. Selwyn in particular should benefit from his new teammates. While his gaudy assist numbers will go down, he will become a much more efficient player with so many more options.
The Breeze have an interesting schedule, only playing Toronto twice and not at all after May 24. A team they will get very familiar with in the later part of the season is New York, who they play four times in their final six games. DC has assembled a team with top end talent and depth. Anything less than an appearance in Toronto for championship weekend would be a disappointment, but there is some serious competition in the East.
DC Projected Record: 9-5, Second in the East
Montreal Royal – Offseason Grade: B-
Key Players: Jean Levy-Champagne, Kevin Groulx
Montreal is coming into a conference full of returning teams as a bit of an unknown. The team is largely composed of players from Odyssee and Mephisto, and features a few U-23 players from Team Canada. Odyssee had a very up and down season in the Mixed Division last year, and wasn’t a very deep team. One thing to note about this Montreal team is that while it does have some young talent, it does skew older. That means it’s a veteran group used to playing together, but those road trips are going to be tougher, particularly since Montreal is so far from most of the division.
But if there is one team that could beat Toronto during the regular season, it might be Montreal. Montreal is more familiar with Toronto than the rest of the division, and has that veteran experience. Most importantly though, Montreal just have the most chances to beat Toronto. The Royal have to play the Rush four times during the season, only Rochester has to play Toronto that many times. DC, Philadelphia, and New York only play Toronto twice. Playing the defending champions so many times seriously hurts their playoff chances, especially since their competition to the South gets so little exposure to Toronto.
Montreal Projected Record: 6-8, Fourth in the East
New York Empire – Offseason Grade: B+
Adding: Noah Saul, Matt Bode, Justin Allen, Ryan Drost
Subtracting: Jack Marsh, Husayn Carnegie
Returning: Isaiah Bryant, Mike Drost, Seth Canetti
New York had an active offseason, bringing in out of state talent from North Carolina. Saul, Bode, Allen, and Jesse Lieberman will all be impact players for the Empire this season. Combining them with the return of most of the core from last season’s team should make this team even better. Of course, New York is losing its two most prolific players from last season.
Jack Marsh is a PoNY captain who was New York’s best player last year when he was on the field. He scored or assisted on 36% of the points he played, a very high percentage. But he also missed a large chunk o
f the season. New York got used to playing without him. Yes, New York was better with him on the field, but it won’t be a big adjustment to play without him, since the Empire are already accustomed to it. Husayn Carnegie played a big role for the Empire in 2013. He frequently took on the most difficult matchup on defense, and acted as a sparkplug on offense. The problem was that he took on too much of the offense, too often putting up low percentage throws. While great players are allowed to make mistakes, especially hucks in the AUDL, when their completion rate dips below 80% they’re forcing the issue too much. Carnegie was still always a plus player though, and his mistakes were common on the Empire last season.
For New York to advance as far as it did last season, they have to change their style of play, or at least change their personnel that are driving the risky options. While low percentage hucks were rampant throughout the East last year, New York was probably the guiltiest. When the Eastern Conference Finals came around, the Empire stuck to their guns. They stayed fairly even with Toronto for a time, but were never as deep and started forcing too many throws late in the game. That approach has to change.
Tom Gibbons is back to coach the squad this year, and in the opener New York has a unique opportunity. On Sunday the Empire host Toronto, who will have played the day before. Last season in their opening weekend road trip the Rush destroyed DC, before needing a last minute comeback to beat the Phoenix the next day. New York’s best shot at unseating the Rush comes during Week 1. While it’s unfortunate because the Empire will still be learning to play together, they won’t have another opportunity like it for the rest of the season, since they only play Toronto twice.
New York Projected Record: 8-6, Third in the East
Philadelphia Phoenix Offseason Grade: D
Adding: Schuyler Redding, Tom Allen, Jimmy Zuraw
Subtracting: David Brandolph, Matt Esser, Zach Thurston
Returning: Kyle Wolf, David Hampson
Nobody in the AUDL lost more in the offseason than the Phoenix. Brandolph and Esser were both 1st Team Skyd All-AUDL players, and Brandolph was the Conference MVP. He was the quarterback for the team, often getting every other throw. And Esser was his favorite target. Esser was a two way player that was almost as likely to rip a successful huck as he was to come down with one. Brandolph had 12 goals and 70 assists. Esser had 47 goals and 38 assists. Only one other player on the team had at least 25 goals or 25 assists. No team relied on two players the way Philadelphia relied on Brandolph and Esser.
But the team is bringing back a capable group of veterans. After dealing with an injury last season Kyle Wolf will see more playing time in 2014. Expect him to become a leader on the team, and rack up some assists. Dave Hampson is back, and he’s a big target that had 32 goals last year. Expect that number to increase this season. The team is also adding Schuyler Redding from the Spinners, Jimmy Zuraw from UNC Darkside, along with Tom Allen and a host of other players from the Heva Havas.
Don’t expect any one player to step up and fill the void left by either Brandolph or Esser. While there will undoubtedly players that surprise on this year’s Phoenix team, the offense will have more of a by committee approach.
Philadelphia has a tough road ahead. Only nine players are returning from 2013. While that may be an acceptable number for a team that performed poorly and is trying to reconstruct their roster, it’s not what you want to see from a playoff team. Considering how reliant this team was on now departed players, it’s almost impossible to see a playoff run in store for them. Finishing as high as fourth would be a significant achievement.
Philadelphia Projected Record: 2-12, Sixth in the East
Rochester Dragons Offseason Grade: C-
Adding: Gabe Hage (Empire)
Subtracting: Dave Wheeler, CJ Collicchio
Returning: Timothy Burns, Dave Ferraro, Joe Thompson
The Rochester Dragons had a difficult time in 2013. Because they had so many players unavailable the first few weeks, they quickly found themselves in an 0-4 hole. After that they righted the ship, finishing the season 6-6. But the damage had been done. The Dragons were never really in the playoff race after that 0-4 start.
The Dragons are bringing back most of their talent from 2013. TJ Burns was huge for them last year, with 48 goals and 29 assists he scored on nearly a quarter of the points he played. Joe Thompson is back, one of the very few Dragons with a completion rate over 90% Last year he made 350 throws for 27 assists. All in all the Dragons are returning 18 players from last season, though a few of those returners saw very little playing time last season.
There was a lot to like about 2013 for Rochester, despite their poor start. Nobody played the Rush better than the Dragons did. They had wins over New York and Philadelphia. If they had played the whole season the way they did after Week 2, they might have made the playoffs.
But, 2014 isn’t 2013. This is a new Eastern Conference. Almost every team has upgraded. Meanwhile, Rochester’s offseason was mostly stagnant. They do have improved depth this year, so they should be able to avoid any road trip disasters that they experienced in the first two weeks of last season. But they lost Dave Wheeler, who was their second best player last season. They have to play Toronto four times again this season, and New Jersey is no longer on the schedule. Wins are going to be harder to come by. The Dragons are undoubtedly capable of upsetting the higher ranked teams in the conference, but it’s doubtful that they’re capable of making a playoff run.
Rochester Projected Record: 4-10, Fifth in the East
Toronto Rush Offseason Grade: B+
Adding: Anatoly Vasilyev, Remi Ojo, Karl Loiseau
Subtracting: Calum Mackenzie, Dan Dantzig
Returning: Mark Lloyd, Jeff Lindquist, Cameron Harris, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Adrian Yearwood
Toronto went 16-0 during the regular season last year, then won the East and the AUDL Championship with authority. They were always the best team on the field, and they seldom faltered. This offseason they got even better, bringing in more players from GOAT, including Anatoly Vasilyev. Vasilyev is a GOAT veteran, and is their go to D-Line handler. He adds a new element to this team. But the best part about Toronto’s offseason wasn’t their new additions. It’s that the team is hardly losing anyone. 20 players are returning from last year’s championship team.
Their closest call last season was in Week 1, against a then unknown Phoenix team. Their biggest challenge during the regular season in 2014 once again comes in Week 1. It’s the only time they have to travel to New York or DC the whole season. If they can make it through Week 1 unscathed, there’s a good chance they’ll run the table in the East once again.
The main question facing Toronto isn’t whether they’ll finish at the top of the East. Even in a much improved conference, it seems like a foregone conclusion that they will. The question is whether or not they are still the best team in the AUDL. With the Spiders (and FlameThrowers) now in the league, it’s a legitimate question. While the Spiders undoubtedly have more star power, they lack the cohesion and AUDL experience that Toronto has. If they were playing tomorrow, the smart money would be on Toronto. But if they do end up squaring off, which is by no means a given, it won’t be until July. But it’s still too hard to bet against a team that hasn’t lost an AUDL game, and just got better. It may lose a game during the regular season, but Toronto is still the team to beat this year.
Toronto Projected Record: 13-1, First in the East