Preview: Week 4 Big Matchups

May 16, 2024
By Sam Weiger

New York Empire at Boston Glory 
Friday, May 17  - 7:00 PM/ET - Watch link

The wait is over! Jeff Babbitt takes the field for his long-awaited revenge game against the New York Empire.

Babbitt was with the Empire for seven seasons before his unexpected departure this year, playing alongside two-time UFA MVP Ben Jagt for six of those seasons. Although they're both spending most of their time on the O-line this year, there's a chance we'll see them match up against each other in a showdown of all-time greats on Friday night.

It’s also a revenge game for Ben Katz, as he squares off against his former New York team after spending five years with them. 

Katz and Babbitt haven't just been versatile additions, they've been game-changers for Boston’s defense.

Can New York's offense, still grappling with the absence of Babbitt and 2022 UFA MVP Ryan Osgar, find its rhythm against Boston's stingy defense? After a lackluster performance in Atlanta, the Empire had a much-needed bye week to address issues. Head coach Anthony Nuñez suggested that significant adjustments would be made during their week off, hinting at a potential overhaul.

An important question looming over this game is whether Nuñez has addressed the O-line huck turnovers, which have been troubling this season. The absence of Osgar, who led the Empire with 35 hucks last season, plays a major role here. Who will fill the void left by Osgar? Jagt and Elliott Chartock have a history of executing deep throws with reasonable accuracy, and new addition Sean Keegan leads the team in hucks. However, both Chartock and Keegan will be unable to play on Friday night. While Jagt may not reach Osgar's level of accuracy, it's essential for the team to find someone who can compensate for his absence as a deep threat.

Another notable issue for New York is the D-line's struggle to convert their possessions.

Jagt's return to the O-line due to Babbitt's departure deals a significant blow to the D-line offense, and losing Katz on the D-line further complicates matters. Many expect Nuñez to keep John Randolph as the centerpiece of the D-line offense, but the real story unfolds in who else steps up. With Randolph out against Boston, the spotlight falls on a potential breakout performance from another D-liner.

In the midst of New York's challenges, there's a positive note. New York enters this contest potentially more rested than Boston, who is coming off a doubleheader. Additionally, the Glory must confront their history of never defeating New York in six career meetings.

But with arguably the most talented team in franchise history, Boston enters this matchup with their best shot yet at conquering the Empire.

In addition to Babbitt and Katz, Simon Carapella and Gustav Haflin have been meeting expectations for the Glory. Meanwhile, Tyler Chan has emerged as a dangerous receiving threat this year. After just four games this season, Chan has already exceeded his receiving yards and goals from the eight total games he played in 2023.

One Big Number:
15.16 - The Glory have maintained an impressive average of 15.16 goals conceded per game since the start of 2023.
7.5 - In their first two games of 2024, the Empire are averaging 7.5 huck turnovers per game, ranking second worst in the league.

Salt Lake Shred at Colorado Summit | Game of The Week
Saturday, May 18 - 9:00 PM/ET - Watch link

We’ve got a mouthwatering clash between a championship favorite and dark horse. Salt Lake is favored to not only win this game, but dominate the West Division. But will Colorado, who lost both encounters to them last year, look different this time around?

We’ll likely know immediately before the first pull. The biggest question mark for this game is Colorado's player positioning. The Summit shook things up in their season debut by switching four key players - Noah Coolman, Saeed Semrin, Alex Tatum, and Conor Tabor - who were previously defensive mainstays to the offensive line. Each of these fresh faces on the O-line, along with newcomer Dennis Bechis, were efficient scorers in the team’s opener.

The ability of these five players to supplement the typical output of Alex Atkins and Jonathan Nethercutt was exciting to watch. The Summit faced criticism for their lack of depth and overreliance on a few top players last season, and improvement in this area could be pivotal in big games like this one.

One factor promising a changed Summit this time is the presence of Semrin and towering 6’5” D-liner Kai Marshall, both absent in their games against Salt Lake last year. The fact that Colorado only managed four blocks per game against Salt Lake in 2023 underscores the significance of having tall players like Marshall on the field this weekend. 

Salt Lake's ability to limit turnovers against Colorado last year was partly attributed to standout performances from their biggest stars. Jordan Kerr and Will Selfridge made extraordinary grabs and throws in their clashes against Colorado last year. Aside from Kerr and Selfridge, Jacob Miller is another top player to keep an eye on this Saturday for the Shred. Miller nearly reached 1,100 total yards and completed 98 percent of his 85 passes in Salt Lake’s two wins over Colorado last year. With Grant Lindsley unavailable this weekend, Miller might find himself taking on a more prominent role as a thrower.

Two rising stars to keep tabs on for the Shred are youngsters Ben Field and Simon Dastrup. Field, a rookie, currently leads the team in goals and receiving yards this season. Field might be instrumental in bridging the gap left by Elijah Jaime's absence on Saturday night. Dastrup, who only played three games in his rookie season last year before a season-ending injury, is currently tied for the team lead in blocks this year. 

The player matchup to keep an eye on will feature BYU product Joe Merrill and Summit attacker Quinn Finer. The matchup between Merrill, a defensive stalwart known for his speed and blocking prowess, and Finer, a player with a strong throwing arm and quickness, promises to be a thrilling display. This will be Finer's season debut, so it will be intriguing to see how he performs.

Finer and the Summit fell short by a single goal in each of their two games against the Shred last year, so they will be hungry for payback. The last encounter was particularly agonizing, with a crucial red zone possession ending in failure mere seconds from the final whistle.

While revenge is a factor, the Summit know this game holds playoff weight. Colorado's upcoming gauntlet of opponents makes a win over Salt Lake crucial for their West title race, and Saturday’s home game against the Shred is a golden opportunity to capitalize. This is Colorado’s only home game against Salt Lake this season, and winning at Zions Bank Stadium is a tougher task, as the loyal army of "Shred Heads" creates a significant home-field advantage for their rivals. 

One Big Number:
- The Shred kept their turnovers in check against Colorado last year, averaging a mere 10.5 per game in their two matchups.
5 - Colorado’s new O-line additions (Coolman, Bechis, Semrin, Tatum, and Tabor) averaged five scores (assists + goals) each in Week 1. In all of 2023, these five players combined for a total of just 30 O-points played.