Preview: Rivalry Weekend Big Matchups

June 6, 2024
By Sam Weiger

New York Empire at DC Breeze | Game of the Week
Saturday, June 8  - 7:00 PM/ET - Watch link

The East Division, which has been ruled by New York for years, has suddenly become the hottest topic in the UFA.

Shockwaves hit the East Division as both the Empire and Breeze were defeated by the Boston Glory. The East Division is now shrouded in mystery, with the top spot wide open. This game throws gasoline on the fire, a pivotal chapter with high stakes in the thrilling race for first place. 

New York’s offensive struggles are undeniable, but an often-overlooked factor is the D-line's regression from its past form.

The true source of New York’s defensive woes lies in their plummeting break percentage, signifying a lack of blocks and forced turnovers. 

The departures of Jeff Babbitt and Ben Katz were expected to sting, but it's the lack of adaptation that's truly concerning. 

Several D-liners are expected to miss this game, including Ryan Drost, Mike Drost, Bretton Tan, and possibly Josue Alorro (if he doesn’t recover from injury). This means that head coach Anthony Nuñez might shift some players around.

Following the loss to Hustle, Nuñez shuffled his lineup, and it proved effective in the win against Boston. Be on the lookout for any further adjustments, especially if they aim to strengthen the D-line. Those changes could be the key to victory in this upcoming game.

DC's D-line is also falling short of expectations, but their biggest hurdle has been converting break chances – a problem that has plagued them all season. Against the top-tier teams they’ve faced, Salt Lake and Boston, their D-line conversion rate sits at a measly 31.67 percent. 

With the D-line offense hitting a wall, all eyes turn to the explosive Breeze O-line attack. 

In DC's most impressive victory of the season (against Boston), Tyler Monroe made clutch plays down the stretch. If this game gets tight, he'll be the one to keep an eye on. Also watch out for Rookie of the Year candidate Elliot Bonnet, who's been on a tear the past three games. And don't forget Jacques Nissen, a two-time winner of the D-I Men's College Offensive Player of the Year award. He showed flashes of brilliance in his season debut last week.

One Big Number:
8 - The Empire have gone from boasting the second-highest average blocks per game (11.4) last year to a mere eight per game this season, placing them among the UFA's bottom five.

65.38 - DC' O-line conversion rate sits at a stellar 65.38 percent, far exceeding the rest of the league.

Colorado Summit at Salt Lake Shred
Saturday, June 8 - 9:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Can the Colorado Summit maintain their relevance?

Their last two losses have some wondering if the once-dominant Colorado squad is still a championship contender.

Their offense is becoming a major liability. One of their biggest concerns lies in converting red zone opportunities against elite opponents. While they boasted a top-five red zone conversion rate in 2023, they've fallen to the bottom of the league in 2024.

Colorado’s O-line has also been plagued by individual breakdowns. Last week, Noah Coolman had five throwaways on just 23 throws. The game before, Alex Atkins had eight costly turnovers against Salt Lake.

A repeat of recent O-line struggles will likely lead to a loss on Saturday, barring a surprisingly lackluster performance from Salt Lake.

Salt Lake, a UFA powerhouse over the past two seasons, always seems to play with an extra dose of intensity against the Summit. They've defeated Colorado in all three meetings since 2023, with the last victory their most decisive yet.

Shred handlers Luke Yorgason and Jacob Miller, who have more combined completions than any other UFA duo, are flying under the radar. But Miller has been particularly impressive. The fourth-year standout boasts an astonishing completion percentage of 98.83 percent (250 of 253 passes) – the highest in the UFA for players with over 200 completions.

One Big Number:
66.5 - This season, Colorado’s red zone conversion rate sits at just 66.5 percent against elite opponents. (Salt Lake and Atlanta)
2 - The Shred have lost just two of their last 22 games, with both losses coming to the Empire.

Austin Sol at Atlanta Hustle
Friday, June 7  - 8:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Austin’s last encounter with the Hustle was an instant classic. The Sol ultimately prevailed after a nip and tuck double-overtime battle, leaving Atlanta heartbroken despite their valiant effort. 

This game has likely been circled on Atlanta’s calendar for months.

You can bet Hustle captain Brett Hulsmeyer is eager to make amends after his devastating drop in the first overtime of their last meeting.

Hulsmeyer remains Atlanta's top performer, leading the league in plus/minus and spearheading their impressive 86.67 percent red zone conversion rate. This red zone dominance extends even to losses, with a near-perfect 95 percent conversion rate against Carolina this season.

Meanwhile, Austin’s offense has struggled. The Sol lack a clear QB1, with multiple players hovering around 20-30 completions a game. Coach Naji's preseason plan to expand the offensive roles of Joey Wylie and Matthew Armour hasn't materialized. A winless East Coast trip could raise serious questions for the Sol.

Austin's sputtering offense faces a major test against the Hustle. Atlanta’s stingy defense has already neutralized dangerous offenses like New York, Colorado, and Indianapolis. One defensively-skilled player to watch is Aidan Downey, the 2024 Callahan Award winner, who will be making his season debut for the Hustle.

Factor in Atlanta’s home-field advantage, and Austin's issues could be magnified. 

One Big Number:
- The Hustle have won nine of their last 10 home games, with the lone defeat coming to Austin.
15 - This season, Austin’s scoring average dips to just 15 goals per game when facing playoff-caliber teams.

Austin Sol at Carolina Flyers
Saturday, June 8 - 6:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Austin's grueling East Coast trip concludes with a clash against the red-hot Carolina Flyers. The Flyers are one of just two undefeated teams left in the UFA.

Unless Austin's offense finds its rhythm on their road trip, their defense will need to find a way to contain Carolina’s scoring machine. Carolina is the only team that has scored at least 20 goals in every game this year, and Allan Laviolette is one of the major reasons why. Laviolette has connected on all seven of his hucks, resulting in quick scores for the team.

The other key reason is Carolina’s ability to secure breaks, with fresh faces on the D-line making big plays. Drew Swanson is delivering as expected, and rookie Christian Belus has become a key contributor. Swanson and Belus had standout performances in Carolina’s win against Austin last week.

Last week's matchup was a nail-biter until the fourth quarter. Then, a flurry of Sol miscues and forced throws gifted the Flyers the victory. It is concerning that established figures like Mark Evans, Jake Radack, and Kyle Henke made these errors.

The road ahead looks bumpy for Austin. They've lost both games of the Atlanta-Carolina doubleheader in the past two years, and Carolina historically isn't a friendly venue for the Sol.

One Big Number:
8.5 - The Flyers average 8.5 breaks per game, surpassing every other team in the top eight of the UFA’s Week 6 Power Rankings.
7 - The Sol have yet to secure a victory in Carolina, dropping all seven of their previous matchups there.