July 26, 2013 by Charlie Eisenhood in Preview with 1 comments
The stadium may be planted in the party atmosphere of Wildwood, but the game tonight between the Philadelphia Phoenix and the New York Empire will be all business.
The two tri-state area teams will meet at 7 PM tonight [watch the livestream right here on Ultiworld] for a chance to meet the #1 seed Toronto Rush in Chicago in the Eastern Division Finals.
Although New York will be the clear favorite, having swept the Phoenix during the regular season, Philadelphia knows they can hang with the Empire after their huge 4th quarter comeback in their first meeting.
Empire coach Tom Gibbons sees that result as more of a mental failure of his team than a sign that Philly is on their level.
“What I’ve been telling my guys all season is that, deep down, we don’t really believe that Philly can beat us,” he said, adding later, “What we’ve been focusing on is playing our game. I think all of our guys know that we’re better.”
Philadelphia sees the gap between the teams as much smaller, and pointed out that two of their three games in the regular season were close.
“We only need to shift a couple aspects of the game just a little bit to get it to fall our way,” said Phoenix coach Brandon Redden.
The Empire will have a new star on the field for this game. Jack Marsh, the Empire’s best all-around player, missed all three games against the Phoenix in the regular season, but will be on the starting offensive line tonight.
Gibbons had high praise for Marsh, saying that his “value above replacement,” a statistical term used to denote how much a player adds to the team as compared to an average player, is off the charts.
“We put him in and that gives us more flexibility to put Husayn [Carnegie] on defense, to put Billy Katz on defense,” said Gibbons.
Carnegie has been a playmaker for the Empire all season and should see heavy playing time tonight against the Phoenix.
Philadelphia is more top-heavy than New York, but their stars Matt Esser and David Brandolph have carried them to wins all year. Brandolph runs the offense behind the disc and is often looking downfield to Esser, a big target.
The Empire will look to slow those two players down. They want to stop the majority of Esser’s cuts and stifle the rest of the cutters.
“The more touches Brando gets, the better off we are,” said Gibbons. “That means they’re not moving the disc to the cutters downfield.”
New York has built big leads against the Phoenix in each of their games, but hasn’t always sustained them throughout the game, most notably in their first matchup when New York nearly blew a six point fourth quarter lead.
“A big thing for us across the board is team focus,” said Gibbons. “A part of it, I think, is being New Yorkers and being easily distracted…We’ve got to play all four quarters.”
The Phoenix also recognize they need to avoid getting into a big hole. They have had trouble starting games because of the youth and inexperience of their roster, said Redden. However, he explained, they have felt good about their defense and feel that the game will come down to the finer points — attacking the disc and setting good marks, among other things.
“Nobody individually beats us, really…,” he said. “We did a good job of containing all of them and making them work hard as a team.”
Playing in Wildwood, New Jersey, which is hosting the Wildwood beach tournament this weekend, should be an an interesting component of the game. Neither team has played at a neutral site this season.
The winner of tonight’s game will travel to Chicago next weekend to face the Toronto Rush in the AUDL Championship weekend.