Seven Of The Best Games To Watch

February 7, 2023
By Ian Toner

The wait is over. The 2023 AUDL schedule is here. Evan Lepler broke down the Game of the Week matchups, and now it’s time to delve into even more big-game tilts packing divisional and league title potential.

Philadelphia Phoenix at DC Breeze | Week 2

The Philadelphia Phoenix gave the East Division fits in 2022, pushing both league champion New York and divisional runner-up DC to the brink at various points in the regular season. In fact, the Breeze only snuck away with regular season victories against Philadelphia thanks to buzzer-beating heroics in consecutive weeks.

The DC Breeze ended Philadelphia’s 2022 campaign with a more convincing 23-18 triumph in the opening round of the playoffs. Week 2 will mark the first face-off between the divisional foes since the Breeze extinguished the hotbirds’ late season surge.

“People like to call this a rivalry, but they always win,” Philadelphia’s 2022 All-Star Sean Mott said. “That will change this season.”

How will DC integrate and deploy key additions like Andrew Roy, Cole Jurek and Joe Merrill in a pressure-packed early season test?

Will Darryl Stanley and company have any answer for monstrous downfield threat Greg Martin, who torched the Breeze for six goals on two separate occasions in 2022?

How will 2022 All-Star and former MVP Rowan McDonnell, who has heaped praise on Phoenix defender Paul Owens, navigate that matchup with another offseason of film study under his belt?

“I think we can get them to cough it up a couple times unlike we did in the playoffs, and our offensive unit has to play better defense when we turn it because they will make us pay if we don’t,” Mott added.

Colorado Summit at Los Angeles Aviators | Week 2

Sure, Colorado’s average margin of victory over Los Angeles in 2022 came in at 7.5 goals across two wins. But since then, Los Angeles has gained one of the league’s most prolific passers with the ability to change the shape and pace of its offense: former Chicago Union captain Pawel Janas.

Janas has deep ties to the Colorado community, having burst onto the youth scene with Colorado Cutthroat, won a collegiate national championship with Colorado Mamabird in 2014 and competed with the Johnny Bravo club team in 2015. Janas even flew to Colorado for Summit tryouts before the 2022 season.

“There is nothing sweeter than beating up on old friends,” Janas said when asked about his first matchup against the Summit as an Aviator. “I’m looking forward to becoming the sharpest thorn in their side for the next six years. They don’t know what’s coming.”

For those who forgot, Janas and his Union squad embarrassed the Summit at Championship Weekend XI in August. Squaring off against 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Cody Spicer on many points, Janas still completed 97 percent of his passes and amassed 509 total yards in Chicago’s 19-14 victory that clinched its first title game appearance.

What’s more, Los Angeles also gained two-way standout Daniel Brunker, who finished 2022 tied for fifth on the Summit in blocks (with nine) and lit up the Aviators for five scores in his lone appearance against them. The Aviator-Summit spectacle will mark his first professional showdown against his former professional and Mamabird teammates.

Minnesota Wind Chill at Chicago Union | Week 5

The Wind Chill have been nipping at the Union’s heels for the past two seasons. In the 2021 and 2022 regular seasons, the divisional foes met three times, with Chicago winning each regular season series 2-1. Minnesota suffered heartbreaking losses in the 2021 and 2022 Central Division championship games on Chicago’s turf after glimpses of playoff power and regular season brilliance. (Insert your Minnesota sports curse joke of choice here.)

“It’s been Chicago’s division the past two seasons and they have our number, honestly,” 2022 All-Star Game MVP Abe Coffin said. “We need to bring our A game from the opening pull each game against them if we want to dethrone them and make it to Championship Weekend,” which is outside Minneapolis in August.

The Union and Wind Chill attacks should look different in 2023, opening the door for new contributors to make names for themselves and veterans to assume central roles in this burgeoning rivalry.

Janas is no longer Chicago’s QB1, but Jack Shanahan and 2022 All-Star Ross Barker should have a great new partner on the Union offense in Andrew Sjogren, who led the East-Central All-Stars with five goals while representing Detroit at Providence Park. Minnesota’s offense will take the field without DC-bound Roy and Jurek, but as of press time, we know Canadian cutter (and the Wind Chill’s 2022 goal leader) Quinn Snider and Coffin are back for 2023.

“We need to have a quick start to the season, and it’s important for us to come out strong,” Minnesota coach Ben Feldman said. “Our lines and groups will look different. I’d expect seven or eight of our active 20 from 2022 to be different, and with Roy moving on to DC, it’ll make sense for Abe to play offense more frequently. We get to play Chicago three times again this season, and we’re excited.”

Carolina Flyers at Austin Sol | Week 7

Austin’s surprising win over Carolina in 2022’s Week 6, while not without controversy, put the South Division and league on notice and helped catapult coach Steven Naji to a 2022 Coach of the Year award.

Carolina, who also bested the Sol 27-24 two weeks before that loss, earned the last laugh in 2022 with a 22-20 victory over Austin in the South Division Championship Game. But the Austin leadership core has long had 2023 circled as the season the franchise asserts itself with a Championship Weekend appearance. Naji has told Evan Lepler that the team is focused on capturing a league title in 2023, as well.

The Flyers and coach Mike DeNardis have other ideas.

“We’re excited to face all the tests laid in front of us for the 2023 season in and out of division,” DeNardis said. “Austin is very hungry and has immense talent, so we’re going to be at our best to take both games against them,” referencing the Week 3 and Week 7 matchups between the squads.

Colorado Summit at Salt Lake Shred | Week 8

The Salt Lake Shred served the Summit two of their stiffest tests in 2022. The Summit needed a fourth quarter comeback to best the Shred in the first AUDL game at the University of Denver’s Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, and the teams were tied in the final frame of the West Division Championship Game before Colorado pulled away in the fourth quarter.

We saw former Dallas teammates Jay Froude and Joel Clutton square off in the skies. We saw Cody Spicer and 2022 All-AUDL First Team selection and All-Star Jordan Kerr go toe to toe in crunch time in the playoffs. What can we expect from these West Division standard bearers in 2023?

Losing Joe Merrill, a premier finisher and Salt Lake’s top goal scorer in 2022, to DC will hurt the Shred offense, but the group has yet to reveal any 2023 signings. The Summit have already re-signed key core components like Jonathan Nethercutt, Quinn Finer, Spicer, Froude and Alex Atkins while adding Ultiworld Men’s Club Breakout Player of the Year and Team USA Under-24 selection Calvin Stoughton.

If 2022 is any kind of barometer, it wouldn’t be surprising for this matchup to be pivotal in determining home field advantage for the 2023 West Division Championship Game.

DC Breeze at New York Empire | Week 10

The Breeze and Empire have delivered countless classics over the years, and the New York-DC rivalry lived up to its billing in the 2022 East Division Championship Game. With a Championship Weekend berth at stake, DC mounted a remarkable fourth quarter comeback…only to lose when Jack Williams floated a prayer into 2022 All-Star Ben Jagt’s grasp as the final horn sounded.

It’s fair to say that DC gave New York its toughest challenge in 2022, as the Empire went on to trounce its Championship Weekend opponents by an average of seven goals. But the Breeze, as referenced above, are loading up heading into 2023. Roy, Jurek and Merrill provide a plethora of dynamic options for Stanley and Alex Crew to deploy, and signing season has yet to conclude.

And still, the Empire are…the Empire. New York has evolved into the league’s premier franchise, reaching Championship Weekend in each of the last four seasons, capturing two league titles and rostering the league MVP in each of the last three seasons. The Empire have cheat codes on both sides of the disc, as evidenced by Williams’ countless buzzer beaters and swapping titans like Jagt and Jeff Babbitt between lines.

DC has just a single win over New York since the start of the 2019 season, but expect McDonnell and the Breeze to be as motivated as ever to come at the kings in their final 2023 regular season tussle.

New York Empire at Colorado Summit | Week 12

How will the reigning champions defend their crown at altitude, in a city where the Summit have yet to lose?

We’ll find out when the Empire fly to Denver for the Summit’s second interdivisional game of 2023. (New York, of course, is no stranger to regular season interdivisional play, having bested the Flyers in instant classics in 2019 and 2021 with many of the same core stars like Jagt and Babbitt present.)

I know what you’re thinking: Colorado couldn’t hang at 2022 Championship Weekend, so how will the Summit actually give the Empire a game?

Let’s put 2022 Championship Weekend aside for just a second. The potential man-to-man matchups between these two rosters are tantalizing. Think of Spicer or Mathieu Agee sprinting to slow down reigning MVP Ryan Osgar. Imagine John Randolph or Marques Brownlee shuffling to limit touches for Nethercutt and Danny Landesman. Envision Jagt and Froude going step for step in the cutting lanes. Could small halftime tweaks from the accomplished minds of Charlie Hoppes, Anthony Nunez, Tim Kefalas or Mike Lun lead to game-deciding sequences down the stretch?

This Rocky Mountain rumble has the potential to wreak serious havoc on the East and West Division playoff races, too. Still, no matter their records come opening pull, the skill and explosiveness on both rosters make this matchup must-see TV.