Showdown, EAFL Finale in New York

The brilliancy of the USAFL season is that each week is filled with intriguing matchups; carnivals, full on games, rivalries, and perhaps first time meetings.

This Saturday to the north of the Big Apple in Yonkers, not one, but two important sets of clashes will take place, ones that will shape the road to Nationals 2018 in Racine.

The East-West Showdown women’s tournament, inaugurated in 2015, returns to New York as the Magpies welcome in the two-time defending champion San Francisco Iron Maidens, and a combination of players from the Boston Lady Demons, Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles and Philadelphia Hawks.  Then, the men will take to the ground as the EAFL competition wraps up with the Magpies men host Boston and the DC Eagles with the EAFL premiership on the line.

Begun as a friendly challenge laid down at the 2014 International Cup, the East-West Showdown was intended as a challenge between two teams that had consistently formed a solid group of players on the USA Freedom.  New York invited San Francisco to Yonkers for Labor Day weekend the following year, and the Maidens swept both the Magpies and the Boston/Baltimore-Washington combo.  In 2016, the Maidens were again victorious, defeating the Magpies and the Sacramento Lady Suns.

After a year off for IC17, the challenge is back on.  The Maidens have a 3-1 record on the year, and came up one game short at the Western Regional Championships, losing to Portland in the final game.  Bevin English, Meg Leone and company come to Tibbetts Brook Park looking for their third straight Showdown title. 

The local guests from Boston and Baltimore-Washington, however, will look to duplicate their triumph over New York in a very physically contested game that saw the “Lady Deegles” come out 13-1 winners and Eastern Regional Champions.  Exciting players like Alex Pike and Katie Rhee will be joined by players from Philadelphia, including their speedy captain, Erica Sacci.

New York’s side, however, will look to add to their 5-3 record on the year, coming off of EAFL wins at Baltimore and Columbus.  There is strength up and down the ground for Christina Licata’s side.  Veteran defender Drea Casillas partners with tall back Natalie Wolff and hard hitter Grace Kaplow, and speedy midfielders Emma Kading and Danielle Gallagher provide pace for the forwards.  The Showdown will also be good experience for their rookie class, as up and comers Joni Boal, Jess Taylor, and Lara Musser prepare for their first Nationals.

The goal for Licata and her charges isn’t just to get ready for Nationals, but to prove their meddle against the best team in the country.  Licata, who coaches the Freedom as well as the Magpies, will be quite familiar with the reigning champs.

“East/West Showdown is always a great time,” the fifth year coach told USAFL.com. "We're thrilled to be hosting the Maidens and East Coast teams for what will no doubt be an epic battle. Having seen many of the Maidens at the Freedom camp, I know it will be a tough side to beat and will undoubtedly be great preparation for Nationals. The Pies have a number of players putting on the black and white for the first time this weekend. We're excited to see how they go.”

Then there’s the men’s matchups.  When the revamped EAFL competition was unveiled late last year, the hope was that it would be competitive right through the final round.

And that is exactly what has happened.  Despite the early season weather wreaking havoc with matches and a couple of manpower-related forfeits, it’s been a thrilling return.

When all three matches have been played, either the Magpies, Demons, or the Columbus Cats will be premiers.

Entering the final set of games, Columbus is in first place on 16 points, having completed their schedule with a 3-1 record with additional four points awarded because of the cancellation of Round 1 due to rain.  New York and Philadelphia are equal second on 12 points, with the Magpies having the advantage on percentage.  Boston, Baltimore, and North Carolina all follow with eight points, and DC is currently in last on four thanks to the rainout.

New York will play DC first, then the Demons will battle the Eagles, followed by ‘Pies-Dees in the nightcap.  With DC already eliminated from premiership contention, that final game could decide who takes home the chocolates.

For Shane Lowry’s Magpies, the prospect is straightforward.  Win both games and they’re the EAFL Premiers for the seventh time, having won in 2006, and every year from 2009-2013.

Boston can only win their first title since 2005 on percentage, and they must go 2-0 to do it.  They already have a superior percentage than Columbus, and the best case scenario for the Demons would be for New York to lose both their games on the day.

The Eagles, who cannot win the premiership, will have hearty supporters from the west.  If DC manages to win both games on Saturday, and Boston defeats New York, then it’s the Cats who will be clear of everyone.  Columbus can still get up on percentage in the case of a tie, but they will be hoping New York gets thrashed in one – or both – of their games.

“The Magpies enter the final round fairly confident with their opportunity to take out the competition on home turf, needing two straight wins to do so, but also know that DC and Boston will do all they can to upset the party,” said Lowry.  “While [we] have the best chance at the title, Boston also can win it all with the correct combination of results, where two Demon victories will make it a go down to percentage... and who knows what can happen there.”

The ‘Pies will have a fully loaded side at the ready to take out the title, with midfielders Karl Schoenmaekers, Adam Franklin and Dan Lehane trying to replicate the dominant performance they had in their Round 3 showing against Baltimore.   Lowry is expecting big games from German national Mickey Hiebl and Swedish sensation Hampus Goransson, as well as returnees Marcus Jankie and Kane Pedler.

It’s been an adventurous return for the EAFL after a four-year absence.  Seven teams were scheduled to play a series of three-team mini-carnivals known as “pods” beginning on May 12, the result of which was a round robin. 

Round 1, to have been held in Washington and featured the Eagles, Tigers, and Cats, was canceled because of field conditions and bad weather forecast.  All three teams shared four points, the equivalent of two draws.

Round 4 in Columbus on July 28 was to feature the hometown Cats battling Boston and Philadelphia.  Neither the Hawks nor Demons had brought enough players to facilitate an official EAFL match, so the two traveling sides combined to play the Cats, who won by 100 points.  For EAFL purposes, the Cats were awarded two 50-0 victories, while the Boston-Philly game was canceled with no points awarded.

August 25th's Round 5 in Boston was to feature the Demons hosting Baltimore and North Carolina, but the Tigers didn't bring enough players to field a team.  Therefore, both the Dees and Dockers were awarded 50-0 wins.  The two full sides played a full, 4x20 match, though to keep the 2x20 format of the EAFL competition consistent, only the first half of that game counted for the league table; Boston won 60-27.

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