February 19, 2014 by Katie Raynolds in News with 2 comments
Lately, the Semi-Pro news cycle has been dominated by the signing of big-name Club players: the Thorne/Degirolamo duo signs with the DC Breeze, Beau Kittredge joins the San Jose Spiders, the Boston Whitecaps reload with a fearsome roster, half of Revolver signs with the SF Flamethrowers, and part of Ring of Fire joins the New York Empire. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the country, the Chicago Wildfire is quietly refocusing for their sophomore year in the AUDL.
In their inaugural 2013 season, Wildfire was big, and Wildfire was fast. Their team was stacked from top to bottom, pulling big players from the Indianapolis Alleycats such as Jonathan “Goose” Helton and Brodie Smith and strong playmakers from Machine like AJ Nelson and Geoff Serednesky. They also had fun: a group of players, experienced and skilled, that knew each other well and often relied on Machine-inspired strategy to win games.
The Wildfire was, if anything, over-reliant on its talent to win many of its games. The Madison Radicals repeatedly posed a problem for Chicago because they creatively used the unique aspects of the AUDL to their advantage. In the end, the Radicals used the AUDL’s double team rules to shut down the Wildfire in the Midwest Division Championship, ruining the team’s championship hopes.
Wildfire Captain Kevin Kelly hopes that that loss, and the buzz surrounding the new California AUDL teams, will drive Wildfire to refocus this year.
“Now everyone’s talking about San Francisco or San Jose and the incredible players they have,” he said, “and I think that’s going to be motivation because everyone’s talking about who’s going to play in Toronto…and Chicago is not in that discussion.”
Chicago is retaining over half of their previous roster for the 2014 season, and many of the new faces will be strong Machine players, including Walden Nelson. Nelson is a talented handler who’s joining the team as a captain in his first year. They have re-signed their own big name in Brodie Smith, who handled for Chicago last year when he wasn’t injured. Ron Kubalanza is officially shifting into the role of player-coach, and the captains hope that he’ll bring discipline and direction to the team, both of which Kelly says Kubalanza “has in spades.”
This influx of Machine players onto the Wildfire reflects a conscious decision from Machine. While the discussion of playing USAU Club versus playing semi-pro has now played itself out a few times, this decision nevertheless colors many elite players’ plans each year. Each Club team has approached semi-pro cooperation differently.
Seattle’s Sockeye has heavily discouraged their players from participation, Revolver players are already split between several teams, and other elite teams — like Denver’s Johnny Bravo — don’t have to make the choice at all.
For Machine, the presence of the Chicago Wildfire may be a unique advantage: as a relatively isolated club team in the Midwest, Machine’s core can play together and build chemistry throughout the AUDL season.
Wildfire captains Kevin Kelly and Walden Nelson hope to kill two birds with one stone by filling the Wildfire roster with Machine players — they will have a talented and focused team in the AUDL season, and they’ll hit the ground running come Club season. Some observers thought in-form spillover from the MLU season was a key factor in New York PoNY’s early season success last club season.
You’ll probably continue to read a lot of hype about AUDL teams across the country adding star players to their rosters, filling their armories with big weapons that will make a lot of noise. Windy City Wildfire proved last year that they already have the players who can make a lot of noise: this year they will want to make sure everybody’s listening.