The AUDL's unusual playoff structure should make for some exciting games down the stretch of the season. Who will make it to Toronto?
June 5, 2014 by Max Herrmannsfeldt in Preview with 3 comments
With the American Ultimate Disc League expanding to 17 teams, there is a new (and somewhat confusing) playoff format in place for 2014. The Midwest and the East, which each have 6 teams, will send 3 teams to the 8-team playoff, with the West sending 2. This will produce the following matchups for the first round:
- West #2 seed @ West #1 seed
- Midwest #3 seed @ Midwest #1 seed
- East #3 seed @ East #1 seed
- Midwest #2 seed vs. East #2 seed (location to be chosen by team with the better record)
The first round will be played during the weekend of July 19. The four winners will advance to the Championship Weekend in Toronto, on July 26 and 27.
- San Jose Spiders 7-1 (Remaining games: SF, Sea, @Van, @Sea, SLC, @SF)
- San Francisco FlameThrowers 7-1 (@SJ, Sea, @SLC, @SLC, Van, SJ)
- Vancouver Riptide 5-4 (SLC, SJ, @SF, Sea, @Sea)
As was expected coming into the season, the AUDL West will almost certainly come down to a battle between San Jose and San Francisco. Vancouver has proven to be the best of the rest, having only lost to the two Bay Area teams.
The Riptide gained a lot of respect this past weekend by playing both teams close in back-to-back road games, losing by one to the Spiders and four to the FlameThrowers. But a loss is a loss, and everything will have to go right in order for them to have a chance at making the Western Division playoffs. They’ll need to win out, including games against both the Spiders and the FlameThrowers – plus they’ll need help from one of those teams, possibly even in the point differential column.
The Spiders and FlameThrowers have two more regular season games against each other, which very well may decide home-field advantage in the game to go to the final four.
Spiders owner Andrew Zill thinks homefield in the playoffs could be huge. “The conditions for the two games are very different,” he said. “San Jose is calm and is great for the Spiders’ deep game. San Francisco is great with small ball and their windy San Francisco weather is perfect for that.”
In all likelihood, the inaugural Spiders-FlameThrowers rivalry has three more exciting games left. Fortunately for AUDL fans around the country, ESPN3 has an affinity for their matchups.
- Madison Radicals 7-2 (@Ind, Cin, Min, Chi, Det)
- Chicago Wildfire 7-3 (Det, @Mad, @Min, Cin)
- Indianapolis Alleycats 6-3 (@Min*, Mad, Cin, Cin, @Det)
- Minnesota Wind Chill 4-5 (Ind*, Cin, @Mad, Chi, Det)
*Game postponed due to lightning; Minnesota leads Indianapolis 11-7.
One season after upsetting Chicago in the semifinals, Madison has hopped in front in 2014. Although by overall record there seems to be a logjam at the top of the Midwest, the point differentials tell a different story. With Madison at +71, Chicago at +48, and Indianapolis at +11, it would seem as though more separation between the teams may appear as the season progresses. Of course, point differentials should not be viewed as a tell-all, due to scheduling, weather, and other factors; at the end of the day, playoff standings will be determined by the W’s and L’s.
The race in the Midwest looks like the most interesting one in all of semi-professional Ultimate this season, with the Wildfire and Alleycats barely out of 1st place. Both teams will get one more shot at the Radicals before the regular season comes to a close.
Yet with three playoff spots coming out of the Midwest, all three teams should feel good about their chances.
Seeding will be important, as it could be the difference between playing a Midwest rival and potentially playing at New York or Washington in the 1st round. The first and third place Midwest teams will play head to head in the first round; home field advantage for the matchup remains at stake. The teams will likely go all-in battling for that first round home field advantage.
But could slipping from first to second in the Midwest be a blessing in disguise? The AUDL East was regarded as the weakest division in semi-pro Ultimate last season, and a team like Indianapolis or Chicago might view a playoff game against New York or D.C. – even if that game is on the road – as the easier road to Toronto. We’ve seen teams in other professional sports jockey around and tank for playoff position before; the downside of falling into the third slot in the Midwest makes it unlikely, but maybe not impossible there.
With 5 games remaining, the Minnesota Wind Chill should not be counted out either. They currently lead Indianapolis by a score of 11-7 in their Week 8 game, which was postponed due to lightning. As of this writing, the remainder of the game has not yet been rescheduled. Including that game, Minnesota will get a chance to beat every team in the Midwest between now and the end of the regular season. If there are any slip-ups by the teams above them, the Wind Chill will be ready to steal that last playoff spot.
- Toronto Rush 7-0 (Roc, @Mon, NY, Phi, @Roc, Mon, @Phi)
- New York Empire 6-1 (Mon, @DC, @Tor, @Roc, DC, @DC, DC)
- DC Breeze 5-2 (Mon, NY, @Mon, @NY, NY, @Phi, @NY)
- Montreal Royal 3-4 (@NY, @DC, Tor, Phi, Phi, DC, @Tor)
The class of the AUDL is once again the Toronto Rush. The defending champions have continued their impressive winning streak, going 7-0 through the first half of the 2014 season after finishing 2013 at 18-0. Toronto’s roster is deep and cohesive, a scary combination for opponents. “They’re beatable, but we’ve got to play our absolute best against them to do so,” said DC Breeze captain Jon Pressimone.
Fortunately for the rest of the division, there is still half a season to go, leaving plenty of time for a shakeup in the East. Unlike 2013, when the 2nd place team in the division finished 5 games back, the other teams are hanging in there. New York and DC are both within striking distance, although they will play against each other in four of their last seven games.
Meanwhile, Toronto will play four of its remaining games against Rochester and Philadelphia, which have combined for a single victory in 2014. If New York and DC beat up on each other, the door would be left wide open for Toronto to waltz into the #1 seed out of the East. At best, only one of DC and New York can remain tight with Toronto, and the odds perhaps suggest that neither of them will.
The race for the 2nd and 3rd seeds would then be between New York and DC, with the Montreal Royal as the sleeper pick. The newcomers out of Montreal took a couple of games to get acclimated to the league, but they have shown the ability to hang with Toronto. They have also attracted record crowds to their games, which could definitely be a factor for their four consecutive home games down the stretch.