The DC Breeze head south for the first time in franchise history this weekend to play their first match ever against the South Division’s Raleigh Flyers, this Saturday night at 7pm ET.
For the inaugural AUDL Cross Coast Challenge game, the 2016 second place finishers of the East and the South division will square off in front of a raucous Flyers crowd and international broadcast audience. It will be the first ever matchup for the Breeze not against a fellow AUDL East Division team. For Raleigh, it will only be their second opponent out of the South. In fact, the two teams share no common opponent in their respective histories.
With a game that has many uncertainties, no history, high anticipation, an international audience, and two potent offenses, there is only one thing to expect: prepare for a shootout.
Both squads had two of the highest scoring offenses of the 2016 season, with D.C. averaging 24.9 goals per game and Raleigh holding at 23.0. The Flyers average 24 goals a game so far in 2017, while the Breeze scored 32 against Toronto in their opener. Neither squad is historically known for having a strong defensive unit, and both teams tend to rally around their offensive superstars.
After their Opening Day victory, the Breeze (1-0) are looking for their first ever 2-0 start. To do so, the team will need production from their depth chart with a plethora of players missing from the squad. The team will be missing key Game 1 performers in handler Markham Shofner and cutters Tyler Monroe and Jeff Wodatch, and long time veteran but AUDL rookie Keven Moldenhauer is day-to-day while recovering from a minor preseason injury. 2016 standouts Brad Scott and Nate Castine will miss their second straight games as they continue to rehab from from injuries.
The team will once again need big performances from Alan Kolick (three goals, five assists) and Max Cassell (four goals, four assists) if the offense wants to remain dominant. And look for veterans Matt Kerrigan and Jonathan Neeley to come roaring back with solid statistical games, for rookie Ryan Swift to follow up his fine debut against Toronto, and for incoming cutter Joe Richards to make his first appearance in Breeze Blue.
Obviously the biggest story-line of this matchup is the two-time AUDL MVP, Jonathan ‘Goose’ Helton. Last season he represented the Breeze for their best year to date. This past off-season he traveled down two states to join Raleigh, making it his fourth team across three of the four divisions. Helton is easily one of the best players in the league’s history, and last year he scored 17 goals and threw 24 assists for the Breeze in only eight games. Helton already has 10 assists and leads the team in goals with 10 as well. He is on the 28-player Raleigh roster for the weekend, but their 20-player active roster for the game has not yet been finalized.
Joining an already talented Flyers lineup with Jonathan Nethercutt, Justin Allen, Terrance Mitchell, Hunter Taylor, and Jack Williams, the Flyers are primed to compete against their division rivals and reigning AUDL Champs, the Dallas Roughnecks.
Some dominant matchups will take center stage when the D.C. D-line takes the field against Raleigh’s offense. Defenders Chuck Cantone, Delrico Johnson, and David Cranston will have their work cut out for them.
Raleigh (3-1) is coming off a 25-18 win over the Jacksonville Cannons, in which the squad recorded an astounding 21 blocks. D.C.’s O-line will have to be nearly perfect against a defensive unit that seems to be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Unlike many of the teams the Breeze face in the East, Raleigh runs a horizontal stack. The Flyers thrive off of hucks when they get pushed to the sideline, with many of those turning into scores. Allen and Nethercutt have to be defensive priorities for the visiting team simply because of their sheer athleticism and Nethercutt’s ability to put a disc wherever he wants to despite a solid mark.
Defensively the Flyers run a person-to-person scheme but are not afraid to mix it up. It is also typical for them to force opponents to throw toward the center of the field.
This is the first of four games in the Cross-Coast Challenge; all four games are pay-per-view and can be purchased here for $5/game or $10 for the full 4-game package. Saturday’s game will also be aired on Eleven Sports Network Sunday night at 8pm ET. The next game will be Saturday, May 6 when the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds visit the Seattle Cascades.
For those who do not believe this first game of the series is a true cross-coast matchup, let’s just say it’s the Chesapeake Bay Coast vs. the Atlantic Coast. So sure, it’s still a Cross Coast Challenge by our account.
All photos by Steve Helvin.