For the first time in 2016, the Empire are playing away from home as they visit the DC Breeze. How New York City will miss them. Luckily for the players, getting from the greatest city on earth down to the nation’s capital is easy enough.
So far this season, the Empire have certainly been tested at times but not throughout an entire game – from first pull, to the dying seconds. That all changes when they face the Breeze. Already the Breeze have played some remarkable ultimate, and it’s only week 6. They have two extremely close losses to the Toronto Rush – one an April 23rd 25-24 loss, and another loss on April 30th 24-23.
The most ideal result this weekend is obviously a blowout win over the Breeze. Or at least another mark in the win column. One of the biggest knocks on the team from a league-wide perspective so far this season, is that the Empire have been beating up on what are perceived to be the weaker opponents in their division. This in turn, has allowed their stats and win record to become artificially inflated (or so they say). A win erases this doubt – be it a huge win, or a close win, while down in DC.
A win this weekend also helps the Empire stay undefeated on the season, and perhaps improves their spot on the official AUDL power-rankings – which currently have the Empire at #9, behind teams with multiple losses on the season.
On the Breeze
Sean Keegan is new to the Empire, but he’s familiar with a lot of the faces that he and his teammates will be battling this weekend. Keegan is a veteran of the Washington D.C. ultimate community, having played for their club team Truck Stop, and various other squads. It will no doubt be a weird experience for him to play not just the familiar faces but the friends. But everyone on the team expressed their belief that it wouldn’t phase Keegan, who has been extremely effective with the Empire so far this season.
A lot was made up during the off-season of the Dallas Roughnecks loading up on star players in their first season. In Washington, they’ve quietly assembled a roster full of well-established ultimate names. To name a few… Markham Shofner, Jonathan Helton, Bob Liu, Jonathon Neeley, Tom Doi, Nicky Spiva, Brett Matzuka, Alan Kolick, Jeff Wodatch, and David Cranston are all on the DC roster. And that’s leaving some names off. The roster has USA WUGC players, club champions, college champions, and just about any other level of competition in ultimate – these guys have seen success. Luckily for the Empire, the word out of DC is that part of the coaching staff and players will be out of town for team USA duties. That doesn’t make their roster any less impressive, nor the challenge any less daunting.
But so far this season, they’ve had an inability to put games away. In his latest Tuesday Toss, Evan Lepler characterized it as a strategy issue, noting that with a lead late in their second loss in as many games to Toronto, the Breeze decided to play keep away with the disc. This led to them eventually losing the game to the Rush. No doubt DC also has some of the best minds in ultimate coaching them, with Alex ‘Dutchy’ Ghesquiere as their head coach, but that mistake could end up haunting them later in the season.
In short, strategy wise, for the Empire: ignore the names, do your job on O & D; if the Breeze make any mistake, it must be capitalized on; if Sean Keegan is hot, feed Sean Keegan the disc.
Getting to the Game
The seemingly non-stop rain that has been New York this week is delaying a bunch of flights and train travel between NYC and Washington DC and everywhere else in the world – but if you’re willing to brave it, Google has your back with a few cheap options still available. Driving is also an option, but that seems a little brash.
If you’re really interested, the DC Breeze have tickets available still, and their venue is one of the best in the league.
Games to Watch
Unfortunately, there are no ESPN3 Games of the Week this week. (This same Empire @ Breeze matchup though is featured in just a few weeks!) The weekend is still jammed back with games around the Eastern division that are worth paying attention to. First and foremost is the Friday PM game between the Montreal Royal and the Ottawa Outlaws – both trying to kickstart their season just 6 weeks in. Then on Saturday, the Royal are paid a visit by the Toronto Rush. It’s a busy weekend up in Canada, and if the Royal are able to bring themselves up to a 3-2 record (1-2 at the start of the weekend) they will look more impressive than at this time last season.