With two heavyweights and three tough to predict teams, it’s difficult to predict the exact final order of the standings in the West. But with the Bay Area teams a step above the competition, count on seeing them fighting in the playoffs for the only spot to Toronto on July 19.
Salt Lake Lions – Offseason Grade: C
Key Players: Trevor Harper, Hugh Carey, David Brooks
The Lions enter the 2014 season as maybe the biggest unknown in the league. They’re from an area better known for high school Ultimate than club or college, and is a ten hour drive from their nearest competition. Though they weren’t able to bring on the kind of superstar players some of their West Conference rivals were, there is some talent on this Salt Lake team.
Trevor Harper is a former Machine player that captained the Powderhogs in 2013. He’ll be playing the role of O-Line handle for Salt Lake. Hugh Carey is a D-Line cutter that played for the Mental Toss Flycoons during their championship run in 2008 and later for Rhino. David Brooks founded and captained Plex before moving to Utah. He’s captain of the Lions team, and will play a large role in running the Salt Lake offense.
The Lions have done a laudable job assembling the best team they could in Utah. However, there are some major roadblocks ahead. First, Salt Lake doesn’t have the Ultimate pedigree of their counterparts in the Bay Area, Seattle, and Vancouver. Second, and more importantly, the schedule does no favors for the Lions. 10 of their 14 games take place over two game weekends. Last season in the AUDL teams struggled mightily on two game road trips, and there’s no reason to think that will change this year. And they have two separate two game homestands over one weekend. Playing an opponent back-to-back will make it very difficult to win both games. With such a rough schedule, and games against the Bay Area teams likely out of reach, it’ll be tough for Salt Lake to win more than a few games.
Salt Lake Projected Record: 3-11, Fifth in the West
Vancouver Riptide – Offseason Grade: C+
Key Players: Will Vu, Richie Tam, Tim Lavis
Given how much talent is on the Nighthawks roster in the MLU, people are right to be skeptical about the Riptide. They don’t have nearly as many known quantities as their MLU counterparts. For all of the suggestions that Salt Lake is an “unknown team,” and that gives them an advantage, the same could probably be said for the Riptide.
Tim Lavis is their player/coach, and is much more well known in Australia than he is here. Lavis has played has represented Australia internationally many times, including in 2012 when Australia nearly brought down Revolver in the quarterfinals of WUGC in Japan. He’s coaching a very young team, mostly from club teams Richie and Friends and the Blackfish. The roster is littered with players that have represented Canada internationally at the U-23 or U-19 level. This is a roster that will be more cohesive than many of their Western counterparts. With such a young roster, expect a team that improves more as the season goes on. And perhaps more importantly, this is a roster that should continue to improve from season to season if the teams has staying power and gets enough buy in from its players.
The Riptide should start stronger than anticipated, though they have a tough opening weekend in traveling to Salt Lake for a two game series. A split is expected, but they could separate themselves from the bottom of the conference very quickly by taking both games. It would be a major feat to take two back-to-back games against the same team on the road, and keep them in the playoff conversation for a while. Vancouver has to play the Salt Lake and Seattle four times each, but the San Jose and San Francisco only three times. That schedule combined with an underrated roster should help Vancouver finish third in the West.
Vancouver Projected Record: 5-9, Third in the West
San Jose Spiders – Offseason Grade: A
Key Players: Beau Kittredge, Ashlin Joye, Kurt Gibson, Eli Kerns
Nobody had a better offseason than San Jose. To give perspective on just how good the players they brought on are, consider the recent Skyd Fantasy Draft. Every player in the world was available. Of the first four taken, three are on the Spiders roster. Among the 124 other players drafted, two others are playing for the Spiders as well. Beau Kittredge and Ashlin Joye instantly made this team a contender, and San Jose managed to surround them with talent. Kurt Gibson is one of the best players in the world, and he will make a huge difference for San Jose, especially once the playoffs arrive. As one of the best handlers in the game, having a target like Kittredge and another great handler in Joye will make San Jose very difficult to match up with. Eli Kerns is a former NexGen standout that’s familiar with many players on the roster from his time with the Polar Bears. Mark Elbogen is coming off a club season with the Condors where he was able to help lead the team to a surprise appearance at the Club Championships.
The rest of the team isn’t made up of scrubs either. San Jose has three other Revolver players, and contingents from the Polar Bears, Condors, and Mischief, all top caliber teams. All told, even in a league with a championship team coming off an undefeated season, the Spiders may still be the preseason favorite. The talent on this team isn’t the question. The main question is how often the best players in the world show up to play, and how much of the team will travel. With Revolver playing at the WUCC in Italy in August, it seems as like there’s plenty of potential for a repeat of last year, when several Dogfish players had to miss games for other commitments. The good news is that the team expects a full contingent for their games against San Francisco, along with home games and some key road trips. And without any games conflicting with the US Open, the Spiders seem to have a clear path. But the West probably has the strongest second team in the league, so even getting to Toronto for Championship Weekend is no given.
San Jose Projected Record: 12-2, First in the West
Seattle Raptors – Offseason Grade: C
Key Players: Matt King, Grant Zukowski
Seattle has an odd assortment of talent. They have Matt King, who played for Ring of Fire from 2012-2013, and Grant Zukowski, who played for Machine in Chicago and the Wildfire last season in the AUDL. Zukowski got a lot of playing time on that Wildfire team, playing 295 points with 323 throws and a 94.7% completion rate. He was one of their more reliable players. There are also contingents of players from Voodoo and the Mental Toss Flycoons. Then there are lesser known mixed players from teams like Giraffapus, Tugboat, and Ghetto Birds on the roster. Unlike many pro teams, the Raptors can’t be pigeonholed as a representation of just one or two club teams.
That does have its advantages. Drawing talent from a diverse set of teams could help them play at a higher level than many of them are used to. But it also has its downsides. While Vancouver will have familiarity at the beginning of the season, the Raptors will still be seeing how different pieces work together.
One thing is certain, expect a slow start from Seattle. They don’t play until April 19, when they play Vancouver on the road. Then, over the next three weeks they have four games, all against the Spiders or FlameThrowers. An 0-5 start is a real possibility for this team. They would no doubt rebound after that, but a poor start could take them out of the playoff conversation very quickly.
Seattle Projected Record: 4-10, Fourth in the West
San Francisco FlameThrowers Offseason Grade: A-
Key Players: Cassidy Rasmussen, Sam Kanner, Andrew Hagen, Chris Kosednar
The San Jose Spiders may have had the noisier offseason, but the FlameThrowers have attracted a wide array of talent. Seven players from last year’s Dogfish team in the MLU. Nine Revolver players total. The Polar Bears, Blackbird, Boost Mobile, and even Sockeye are represented on this roster. In that same Skyd fantasy draft, San Francisco had five players selected.
Though the Spiders are stronger at the top of the roster, the case could easily be made that San Francisco is the deeper team.
Rasmussen, Kanner, and Ryo Kawaoka are the player/coaches of the team, and will be assisted by another coach, Zeph Landau. Though Revolver has a particularly strong presence on this team’s roster, there are quite a few notable players outside the reigning club champions. Sam Chatterton-Kirchmeier played with Sockeye during its championship run, and more recently for Chain Lightning in Atlanta. Alex Nord was a teammate of his on Sockeye, and though Nord no longer plays in Seattle, he helped the Polar Bears reach the Club Championships Finals last year in the mixed division. Eli Janin is an Oregon Ego grad who’s one of the key handlers for Bay Area Mixed team Blackbird. Chris Kosednar is another Sockeye standout who recently moved to the Bay Area for work.
It’s safe to count on the FlameThrowers and Spiders having some closely contested matches throughout the season. The main question is how San Francisco will fare against the rest of the division when they’re on the road. The main weekends to watch for them are April 26-27 and June 21-22. That April weekend they make the Seattle-Vancouver road trip, and they’ll be playing a fresh Vancouver game that Sunday that could take them by surprise. And June 21-22 they go to Salt Lake for a two game series. That late in the season when they may have already clinched a playoff spot. So it may be possible for the FlameThrowers to drop a game to a Salt Lake team at home that will be hungry for a win.
But don’t be fooled. This FlameThrowers team is a championship contender. The talent gap between them and the Spiders is far smaller than the gap between them and the rest of the West. The July 19 playoff game for a spot to Toronto will likely be a Bay Area battle, and it should be a classic.
San Francisco Projected Record: 11-3, Second in the West