2018 Season Previews - Men East

Everything old is new again, and there are all sorts of new things to be excited about from the teams of the East Coast.

2017 saw Baltimore-Washington eclipse New York as the region’s preeminent team, only to have the Magpies get the last laugh at Nationals.  Now what was one club in the capital region is now two, separated by roughly 30 miles of interstate and a desire to get back to the top.

There will now be footy in Maine, where first light touches our country every morning, and where the Maine Cats will give the Boston Demons company in New England.

And, for the first time in five years, the region will have its own competition.  The revamped EAFL, a series of three-way 2x20 “pods” arranged in a round robin format between seven teams: Baltimore, Boston, Columbus, DC, New York, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.   This is the start of what hopefully will be a larger competition with more teams beginning next year, but this is a very crucial step.

The new comp, and Regionals in Philadelphia, will be the intermediate goal, with Nationals right behind.  And for a region with plenty of Aussies, it is the local American recruits that will be the difference makers for these sides in 2018.

With the expansion of the Baltimore-Washington Eagles into two separate clubs, the Charm City gets its own football team for the first time in twenty years, when the Baltimore Bombers challenged the Washington Eagles in 1998.  And they’ll hit the ground running as they’ll have a lot of key contributors from last year’s BWE side that won the Eastern Regionals competed well in Division 1 at Nationals.

This playing group will have experience playing together, however, as they faced off with the DC Eagles in a metro series during the course of last year and came out on top.  Much of the strength of their triumph came on their physical strength, and they’ve already been in the gym through the winter to keep that up.

Despite his team going 0-3 at Nationals, one of the biggest contributors at San Diego last year was big Ben Crenca, the former University of Vermont basketball center.  Crenca will anchor things in the middle and be difficult to control, and he’ll be flanked by their two most consistent players, Paul LaSheid and Brent Bates.  Ian Payne, who lit up defenses in the Eastern Regional, returns to the forward line and hopes to spur the offensive end of things for the Dockers, with Dean Vigus and Bryn Hansen providing pace.

Baltimore will challenge the top of the EAFL ladder in the new competition, and they’ll face North Carolina this weekend in a tough kick off down the shore in Wilmington, NC.   They are one of the hardest working sides in the region, and they’ll be digging like the Dickens (or possibly Poe considering that it’s Baltimore) to get back to D1 status.

Projected Nationals Seeding: High Seed, Division 3

Beantown’s footy team has been a modicum of inconsistency over the past three seasons, and their Jekyll-and-Hyde like identity was on display in 2017, having gone 6-6 during the regular year.  Along the way was a split with arch-nemesis New York, regional foe Quebec, and thorn-in-the-craw Baltimore-Washington.  They would go 0-3 at Nationals in D2, and played well despite being dealt a tough hand.

Last season saw the men’s side take a bit of a step back to refocus on its future, and enter 2018 with optimism and good recruiting.  Tom Ivester comes across from Sacramento to join the likes of Mike Sheppard, Ross Druckenmiller, and Will Calvert-Jones to help lead the side.  Jeremy Humm returns; Hummer has led from the front since joining the club in 2016, and veterans like Matt Wood and Michael Matera have been great in support of him and the rest of the side.

Early recruiting in 2018 has been very positive for a team that has added good young players to its repertoire in the near recent past.  John “Stretch” Newton and Aaron ten Buuren have been two of those pickups, and they’ve helped a team known in the past for its bruising play take on a sleeker look.

It may be another year or two before they’re swimming with the big fishes of the EAFL, and of Division 2, but if they get onto a positive run during the season, they’ll take sides by surprise.  The shortened format of EAFL, Regionals, and Nationals, should do them good, as their speed should keep them in ballgames.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Low Seed, Division 2

The battling birds of the beltway now fly solo, but like their neighbors up the Balto-Wash Parkway, the DC Eagles will be riding with the optimism of starting a new club and the success of last year’s run to Division 1.

Playing Baltimore in the five-game Denis Ryan Cup will be a good litmus test to see where Dannie Seow and friends are as a competitive entity, as well the EAFL matches.  President Antoun Issa stated that his goal is to take out the regional comps this year, after the BWEagles did the deed last year.  The highlight of the season will be two long road trips: to Malmo, Sweden for the second edition of the Arctic Cup, and then to Seattle to face the Grizzlies and Portland Steelheads.  For a team that will most like be on the D2/D3 cusp, a good turnout to go long distance should produce some pretty good clashes.

DC will be smarting from the loss of Brian Salant and Jared Kirkwood to injury, but there is still a lot of talent on the ground.  Sam Rowley’s prowess in the forward line during the season was so dominant that he could’ve planted a flag in the forward line and claimed it as an independent country.  American veteran and former Denver Bulldog Robert Strange was a consistent performer on defense last season, and Revolution gun Jay Levesque is still at his mischievous best.

Though the Dockers have a slight edge from the two legacy BWE sides, the new DC Eagles are going to be a competitive team and Issa and company are good at recruiting.  Their height is going to trouble teams, and wins such as the one over New York at home may spur them on to a resurgence.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Middle Seed, Division 3

The team with the funny name is now the only USAFL club in the Sunshine State, which has made it difficult for them to get games in during the course of the regular season.  Such was the case last year, though they did stay in shape and send a handful of players west to Nationals to play alongside Quebec’s B-side.  There was the typical flair and flourish that both clubs are known for, but it wasn’t enough in an 0-3 finish.

The Squids have been hard at work training in the off season, which bodes well for the season.  A new club in Orlando may be on the horizon, which would help the Squids get some league games this season.  They look to be back in Divvy 4 again, but should provide a good group of players to whomever they are with.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Division 4

Portland, Maine, is one of my favorite places in the world.  No, seriously, it’s got beautiful nature within easy driving distance, amazing people, and probably the best food scene on the East Coast.  Yes, better than you, New York.

Maine also now has a footy team, led and founded by former Revo and Nashville Kangaroo Tim Fulwider.  They were founded about a year ago and finally joined the USAFL last week.  Already they have about a half-dozen full time committed players and have been recruiting heavily around in Portland and the surrounds.

It may be a year or so before they fully get off the ground and play full on games, but for now, they’re welcome in Boston, the Halifax Dockers, and Sydney Giants for their first ever event on May 12.  They’ll most likely be pairing up with the Demons during the year, including the Regionals, but with a fertile ground with which to reap footy talent, the there is a lot of optimism for the Downeasters.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Division 4

New York, New York, it’s a helluva town… the subway’s up and the Magpies are… down?  Not quite, but the Magpies weren’t the world-beaters they were in years past in 2017.

On the surface, a 7-3 record for the 2010 and 2014 D1 champions doesn’t seem too much cause for concern.  But they struggled on the road, including a triple-digit defeat at Baltimore-Washington, who bypassed them as Eastern Regional champs.  However, Mike Murphy and crew would get revenge on the Eagles at Nationals, the high point in a weekend that saw them fall by just one point to the runners-up from Los Angeles.

New York’s Australian contingent has always been one of the strongest; this year that will be tested.  Established Magpies Jim Poulach and Toby Carrington have hung up their boots, though Kane Pedley and Luke Casey-Lee have come on to try and fill the gap.

However, if there’s one thing that’s certain from years of trending the USAFL, it’s that the top teams are always separated by how good their American players are.  Murphy, Eddy Heppt, and Hampus Goransson will get some compatriots with experience as Cody Oliver (Denver) and Nick Bowman (Cleveland) come on board.

This will be a testing season for new player-coach Shane Lowry, as his team gets ready at their new digs in Brooklyn.  In spite of everything, they’d be the favorite to win the EAFL season and a good bet to get back to Nationals, but the real challenge will be to win on the road consistently.  Lowry has been around his club a while, though, and knowing his team should help prepare them for another run.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Middle Seed, Division 1

2017 was Tiger Time.  The AFL’s Richmond FC won their first flag in 37 years, and their American cousins went through the regular campaign six-from-six. 

Wins over Baltimore-Washington and Philadelphia on the road, coupled with their D2 Eastern Regional victory at home signaled that the Tiges were a force to be reckoned with in Divvy 3 at Nationals.  But unlike their Punt Road counterparts, there would be no premiership; they went 0-3, including a three-point loss to Baton Rouge and a two-pointer to San Diego.  It was a disappointing finish to a season where they had hoped to make it back to the D3 Grand Final for the second year in a row.

North Carolina will fly out of the gates like throughbreds this year, opening their season this weekend in the Carolina Cup match against Baltimore in Wilmington (this reporter prefers the name Clash at the Calabash, but that’s just me).  Jacob Aulner, a good ballwinner with a deadly precise kick comes over from Golden Gate to join veterans Shane Bradley, Peter Capozziello, Paul Duncan, and USA Revolution half-back Erik Hanson.

The new EAFL competition format should suit the Tigers well, though they’ll still have trouble with a team like New York, this well-disciplined side should be competitive and are a good outside shot, depending on the draw, for the D3 Final in Racine.

Projected Nationals Seeding: High Seed, Division 3

Like Atlanta, the Philadelphia sports seen saw some life-breath flow through them in 2017, with the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and Villanova triumphing from March Madness.  And it this great run from the city’s teams all started with the Philadelphia Hawks.

Jon Loring’s team posted a 4-5 record; their most regular season wins since 2005, when they lost in the Division 2 Grand Final.  Most impressive were back-to-back wins in their last two games, at Baltimore-Washington and at Boston.  They had never defeated the Demons in Boston before that point, and they went into Nationals with some steam into a crowded D3 field.  An opening win over Nashville soon faded after two heavy defeats to Columbus and eventual premiers Seattle.

But the success of last year, and the potential of this year, must be credited to President Ray Cascella and the leadership group.  Their recruiting game has been strong, and it’s been the same way this year.  One thing they need is height; but there was a ton of experience there, from Loring to best-and-fairest Pat Miller to Revo mainstay Ryan McGettigan. 

Aussie Matt Beer looks to make more of an impact this year, his speed and athleticism harkens memories of Loring back when he first started playing for the Lehigh Valley Crocs.  Defenders Chris Casey and Bradd Gower stepped things up last year alongside Miller, and they’ll be the key again this year if the Hawks want to move to that next level.

The Hawks have traditionally been better at the tournament format than the full game, though they proved that record wrong last year with three full game wins.  Thus, if they can keep up that form, the pod format of the EAFL will suit them, and they can count themselves in as a fairly robust competitor for D3 in Racine.

Projected Nationals Seeding: High Seed, Division 3

Since their first go at the USAFL Nationals in 2014, Les Saints have brought a unique brand of football to the table.  They sadly haven’t brought any poutine or smoked meat to the table though… that’s a bummer.

With a background in just about every football imaginable, Quebec’s athleticism has helped them to two of the last three Division 2 titles, including last year’s sweep.  Led by Northwind gun Morgan Whyte and D2 Roos Medal winner Patrick Eefting, the Saints knocked off pretty stiff competition and then took out heavily fancied Orange County to claim the flag.

Much like the D1 champion Golden Gate Roos, the Saints’ concentrate on their local metro competition during the season, though they will host Boston and then travel to New York for the balance of their USAFL schedule.  And for a team that doesn’t play 18-a-side terribly often, boy oh boy they’re good at it.

AFL Quebec founder Luke Anderson returns from a three year stint in Singapore, and he’ll take the ground alongside the likes of Whyte, Eefting, Phil Manassa, and stalwart Ronan Shaughnessy.  The Saints play tough but clean, and they like to spread play to wilt their opponents into mistakes.

The last time Quebec was up in D1, they went 0-3.  They’re perhaps just a step below the top American sides, but they’re competitors, and hard ones at that.

Projected Nationals Seeding: Low Seed, Division 1

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