It all comes down to this (kind of, but not really). During the off-season there were countless expectations for the DC Breeze and the New York Empire to contend with the four-time defending Eastern Division Champions. Until this season, the Toronto Rush had looked nearly unbeatable in the division, and surely unbeatable by any team south of the Canadian border. The Empire are attempting to prevent a tailspin in their 2017 campaign, while the Breeze have already knocked off the Rush once this year.
Sunday afternoon will be the final time Toronto (6-2) and DC (6-3) meet in the regular season. The series is tied at one game apiece, meaning that the winner at Hotchkiss Field this weekend will hold the tiebreaker come the end of the season. Sitting only a half-game behind and with the tiebreaker on the line, the Breeze are in a perfect position this weekend to make a huge statement.
Opening goal of the season, Breeze vs Toronto
Following a nail-biting contest against the Empire, DC is riding the momentum of a huge double overtime win. At the same time, the Breeze understand they still have much to work on to have realistic championship aspirations. Look no further than the last Saturday’s loss to the Philadelphia Phoenix. In addition it will be a full week’s of rest for the Breeze, whereas the Rush will be on their second doubleheader weekend of the year. The Rush will stop in Philadelphia Saturday for the final matchup of the year between those two squads before they continue south to DC.
Some new stars are taking the stage for DC as of late. As touched on in the weekly stats piece and in the AUDL’s Tuesday Toss, Nathan Prior‘s emergence is a huge addition to the team. However one cannot overlook the importance of some D-line rookies, David Bloodgood and Austin Bartenstein. Bloodgood (three goals, 10 assists, six blocks) has yet to miss a contest and Bartenstein has only missed one. The duo handle on the defensive unit and helped the squad generate six breaks against New York.
The Rush are not the same Toronto team that Breeze fans remember from Week 2. In DC’s home opener, the Breeze throttled the Rush 32-21. Right now the team is coming off of a five game winning streak. Players like Gord Harrison, Jeremy Norden, and Geoff Powell did not play in that opening contest. All three are listed in the 28-man roster for the weekend. And Breeze fans will not forget that in Week 7, Toronto got their revenge 26-20 up North.
Both Andrew Carroll (26 goals, 11 assists, nine blocks) and Jeff Lindquist (14 goals, 20 assists, two blocks) have the advantage when they are on offense. Against the Breeze this season, they have combined for 11 goals and 12 assists. Depending on how the Rush roster shakes out, there will be plenty more weapons offensively.
The home team in this series has won the last five games including last year’s division final, and this favors the Breeze. However, the Rush are a rapidly improving, 6-2 first place team.
It is unsure what exactly to expect in this contest, especially given that it is unclear which Rush players are able to make it down for their long trip, and also how they will react in the daytime heat on the tail end of a back-to-back weekend. DC’s offense must be more efficient than they were on Sunday. Prior will likely be tested unlike he has up to this point in the season, putting more pressure on Alan Kolick and Lloyd Blake. One of the biggest issues for the O-line will be to cut out the throwaways by the cutters. Both Max Cassell and Tyler Monroe have been dominant down the field for the Breeze with much success, but when they see a teammate streaking past them they sometimes take the higher profile, lower percentage shot instead of looking for a more sure option. This is not a recipe for success against Toronto.
How the Rush fare in their two games this weekend will be a strong determining factor on how the East will shape out. A DC win and two Toronto losses would give the Breeze a full game lead with no more games to play against Toronto or New York. If Toronto wins both, then DC will likely once again be battling for a second place finish in the end.
$10 Tickets are available online until 9am Sunday, and will also be available for $14 walk-up price at the gate. This is the second to last home game of the regular season and perhaps the last time to see the Rush. Full event details can be found here.