Revos, Freedom Learn IC17 Foes

Has it really been three years since the last International Cup?  Since nearly a thousand players from all over the world gathered in the center of the Australian Football universe for the triennial tug-of-war for international footy supremacy?

Yea, it has been.

But everything that comes around, comes around again.  It seems like yesterday when the 2017 AFL International Cup seemed as distant as the host country itself from American shores.  But time does its thing, whirring dates closer and closer, and from years to months to now weeks out, the USA Revolution and USA Freedom are geared and ready to represent their country, make some memories, and hopefully bring back some hardware along the way.

On Tuesday, July 18, after what seemed like an interminable (but understandable) wait, the AFL released the schedule of matches.  All told, there will be 18 men’s teams, the same as 2014, and eight women’s teams, up from seven three years ago.

The tournament officially launches on Saturday, August 5, at Government House in Melbourne.  From there, the clubs will march to the MCG and take part in the Parade of Nations ahead of the Carlton-Essendon match scheduled for that day.

Round 1, Round 4, and the minor placing matches of Round 5 will take place at Royal Park, a stone’s throw away from both the Melbourne Zoo and Carlton’s training ground at Ikon Park.  Round 2 is the School Round, a new addition to the IC, and will see matches at local institutions around the greater Melbourne area, with some matches as far away as Ballarat.  The third round is the Community round, where matches will be played as curtain raisers to matches in regional leagues.

The Men’s Division 1 and Women’s Division Grand Finals will be held at Melbourne’s two AFL venues, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Etihad Stadium, ahead of AFL Premiership Round 22 matches.  If that isn’t a big juicy carrot, I don’t know what is.

As of this writing, the AFL is planning on streaming the Royal Park matches, as well as the Grand Finals.  The USAFL is working on live broadcasting the remainder of the games either via video or audio, so stay tuned for more details.

The USA Liberty women’s development team is also making the journey to Melbourne to play local sides, more info on that when it becomes available.

For now, though, let’s break down the schedule for both of the competing IC17 clubs bringing with them the hopes of a nation to Australia in just a couple of weeks’ time.

USA REVOLUTION

MEN’S DIVISION ONE:
One group of ten teams: Canada, Fiji, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, United States.  Each team plays four matches and are ranked first by W-D-L record, then by percentage.  The first and second placed teams play in the Grand Final at the MCG.  The rest play for placing in Round 5: 3v4, 5v6, 7v8, 9v10.

OVERVIEW: For the first time since the expansion of the competition in 2008, the International Cup men’s draw is divided into two divisions.  Gone are opening round mismatches of 200-point margins between established teams and developing nations that dominated and diluted the competition. 

The top ten teams from IC14 (excluding Tonga, who are not participating) are all together with just two teams at the top of the table after Round 4 headed to the G.  That basically means that in order to get to the big game at the end, a team has to play four perfect games of footy, and that certainly is the case with the Revolution.  While they have the confidence to do better than their eighth place showing in 2014, they’d love to improve on their best finish ever, a third in 2005, by advancing to their first Grand Final.

Round 1: USA Revolution v Canada Northwind, McAllister Oval, Royal Park, Melbourne
Local Time: Sunday, August 6 at 1pm, US Time: Saturday, August 5 at 11pm EDT/8pm PDT

It seems a little odd that the USA and Canada will fly literally to the other side of the world to play each other in their opening game of IC17, but that’s the way the schedule has been decreed.  The Revos have defeated Canada in fourteen out of the fifteen games in which they have met going back to 1999, including 3-0 at the International Cup.  But this is arguably the best team that Canada has brought to Melbourne, led by crafty Quebec Saints’ Ronan Shaughnessy, Ottawa Swans’ big ruckman Jordan Harcombe, and Burnaby Eagles marksman Jim Oertel.  Canada finished in fifth three years ago, their best finish ever, and have an eye on getting to the MCG for the first time, just as the Revos do.

Round 2: USA Revolution v South Africa Lions, Wesley College, Glen Waverley
Local Time: Wednesday, August 9 at 12:30pm, US Time: Tuesday, August 8 at 10:30pm EDT/7:30pm PDT

The newly introduced School Round sees the Revos and Lions tangle in the second half of a doubleheader with the Freedom at Wesley College, located to the east of Melbourne.  South Africa has come a long way since the USA trounced them by 128 points in IC02.  The Revos lead the all-time series 3-1, and the last time they played, the Revos ran out 38 point winners at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.  Their best finish at the IC was third in 2008; they’re coming off a fourth place finish in 2014, when they fell to Ireland in the semi.  The Lions are an athletic bunch, led by captain Tshoboko Boagi and vice-captain Aubrey Velele.

Round 3: USA Revolution v Papua New Guinea Mosquitoes, Montrose Reserve, Montrose
Local Time: Saturday, August 12 at Noon, US Time: Friday, August 11 at 10pm EDT/7pm PDT

For the second consecutive IC, the Revos will play their Community Round game at Montrose, and just like in IC14, this will be their toughest test.  Defending men’s IC champions PNG have won both previous meetings against the USA, by just one point in 2005, and by 42 in the 2011 semifinal.  This game may prove to be a determining factor for both teams as to whether or not they’ll be playing at the MCG a week later.  The Mozzies are a fast, athletic team, and are dangerous around the goals.  John Ikupu, Gideon Simon, and Amua Pirika all earned All-World Team honors three years ago.  PNG have made the finals in all of the five previous ICs, the US will need a great effort to derail that statistic.

Round 4: USA Revolution v Les Coqs de France, McAllister Oval, Royal Park, Melbourne
Local Time: Tuesday, August 15 at 9:30am, US Time: Monday, August 14 at 7:30pm EDT/4:30pm PDT

This will be first ever meeting between the two countries in Aussie Rules, and if the Revos manage to go 3-0 to this point, will be the difference between playing at the MCG and playing for a lower spot on the totem pole.  Les Coqs will make their third IC appearance, and having finished 14th and 11th in their previous tournaments, are an improving side.  They’ll return a number of players from their 2014 squad, including backmen Anthony Bernad and Julien Gil, midfielder Simon Mondin, and forward Raphael Ubeda.  Fitness and injuries will play a role in how this game plays out in this fourth game in nine days.

Round 5 (Finals): USA Revolution v TBD, Royal Park, Melbourne OR Melbourne Cricket Ground
Local Time: Friday, August 18 or Saturday, August 19

The top two teams after four rounds of footy will head to the MCG on the morning of August 19 to play for the International Cup Division 1 Premiership.  That game will be held as a curtain raiser to the Cats and Magpies AFL match.  If the Revos make it that far, it’ll be their first appearance in the IC Grand Final.  Otherwise, they’ll play in a consolation placement game at Royal Park on Friday to wrap up their IC experience.  Tom Ellis and company are hoping for the former of the two scenarios.

USA FREEDOM

WOMEN’S DIVISION: Two pools of four teams each.  Pool A: [Canada, Great Britain, Fiji, Pakistan], Pool B: [Ireland, United States, Papua New Guinea, European Crusaders].  Teams play the other teams in their group once. Top two teams in each group advance to the semi-finals [1A v 2B, 1B v 2A] with the winners advancing to the Grand Final at Etihad Stadium, losers play for third place.  Bottom two teams in each group go to consolation semi-finals [3A v 4B, 3B v 4A], winners play for fifth place, losers play for seventh place.

OVERVIEW: The eight team field is the largest women’s competition since it was inaugurated at IC11, an addition of three non-reserve sides from three years ago.  With the increasing popularity and participation rates in women’s footy in Australia and around the world, and the appearance of AFLW, this year’s women’s division hopes to garner a great deal of intrigue and attention.

Like the Revos, the Freedom would like to crack the Grand Final for the first time, after finishing in third at IC11 and IC14. They will be happy not to see their old foes Canada in their group, but there aren’t many scenarios that don’t see them go through the Northern Lights to get to the title.  As for pool play, the USA plays three teams who they didn’t play in 2014, one because of the schedule, one who sat out, and one new entry.

Round 1: USA Freedom v Ireland Banshees, Ransford Oval, Royal Park, Melbourne
Local Time: Sunday, August 6 at 2pm, US Time: Saturday, August 5 at 11:59pm EDT/9pm PDT

The quirk of the seven team format at IC14 meant that the Freedom didn’t play the eventual runners up in the opening phase of the tournament.  (The Liberty did fall by 64 points to the Banshees, however.)  Ireland took out the Freedom 36-15 in their only meeting back in IC11, en route to the inaugural women’s IC flag.  The Banshees return a number of players from IC14, led by Ulster Kookaburras’ Emma Kelly, playing in her third Cup.  The Pat Leavy-coached side will pose a very early test for the Freedom, and one would think that a win would set them up for a spot in the semis.

Round 2: USA Freedom v Papua New Guinea Flames, Wesley College, Glen Waverley
Local Time: Wednesday, August 9 at 10:45am, US Time: Tuesday, August 8 at 8:45pm EDT/5:45pm PDT

PNG’s women’s team returns to the IC after missing 2014, and it is expected to be a very improved side that will meet the Freedom in the first game of the School Round twin-bill.  The two teams met twice in 2011, with the Freedom winning 41-6 in the round-robin phase, then getting up for a 27-8 victory eight days later to clinch third place.  Whereas the 2011 Flames were a young, inexperienced bunch, inspirational coach Jonathan Ila will have a more mature side this year that relies on speed to move the footy.

Round 3: USA Freedom v European Crusaders, Melbourne University Oval, Melbourne
Local Time: Sunday, August 13 at Noon, US Time: Saturday, August 12 at 10pm EDT/7pm PDT

Historic University Oval is the scene for the Freedom’s final group game, a setting that will be familiar to Katie Klatt, who plays for the Melbourne Uni Mugars.  The Crusaders are bit of an unknown quantity; they won the 2013 9-a-side Euro Cup, but struggled in the 18-a-side European Championships last summer with what seemed to be an understaffed side.  The Crusaders have players from eight nations among their ranks, and the Freedom ladies will see a familiar name on the opposing roster: Amanda King of the Boston Lady Demons, who is a dual American-Swedish citizen.  Aside from Kingy, Frenchwoman Coline Duquet is among the players to watch for the composite side.

Round 4 (Semi-Finals): USA Freedom v TBD, Royal Park, Melbourne
Local Time: Tuesday, August 15 at 1pm or 2:45pm, US Time: Monday, August 14 at 11pm or 12:45am EDT/8pm or 9:45pm PDT

The eight women’s sides will get all of one day’s rest in between the final round of games and the semi-final round, which means that fitness will be vital the fate of the four teams who play for a spot at the Grand Final at Etihad Stadium.  Should the Freedom finish in the top two from Group B, they’ll either have to go through defending champion Canada, determined newcomers Great Britain, plucky Fiji, or intriguing debutantes Pakistan to get to the Docklands.  Otherwise, they’ll be playing for a spot in the consolation final.

Round 5 (Finals): USA Freedom v TBD, Royal Park, Melbourne or Etihad Stadium
Local Time: Friday, August 18 or Saturday, August 19

The third-, fifth-, and seventh-place matches will he held on Friday at Royal Park.  The Freedom’s goal, however, will be to play Saturday afternoon at Etihad Stadium, which will host the women’s Grand Final for the first time.  The Grand Final will be a curtain-raiser to the Hawthorn-Carlton match that evening.