Sunglasses At Night - Pregaming the 49th Parallel Cup Men

It is a long and winding road between now and the year 2017.

Three long years will simply ferment the simmering feelings of two talented footballing nations who feel that their trips to Melbourne for the International Cup last summer would be largely unfulfilled.  The USA finished 8th, their worst IC finish in history.  Canada finished fifth, their best ever result, but were on the wrong side of the percentage formula and missed out on a chance to play in the semi-finals.

But all of that is now on a discarded piece of paper somewhere in the desk drawer of footy history.  It is a new dawn, a new day.  A future so bright, you have to wear shades.  A new journey awaits on the road through time and back to the great sunburnt land, where the dream of playing at the mecca of Australian Rules Football once again lives in the hearts of the men who play it on foreign shores.

We begin anew.  Carna Revos, Carna Northwind, and game the heck on.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1st, 8:00pm USEDT (Live Link)

Tom Ellis has experienced just about every emotion and done everything you can do as a player in the American footy circuit.  He has won multiple national championships with his Denver Bulldogs, smashed the 150-game barrier in the process, and represented the Revos during their most successful period internationally.

So this new challenge for him should be relatively easy, or so you’d think.  Ellis is the first former player to be the Revolution head coach, taking over for Matt Bishop in late May.  With just two months’ preparation, however, he has brought together a talented group of men from across the nation with the hope of not only exceeding the past, but winning IC17 outright.

For now, he has brought together some of the best the USAFL clubs have to offer to try and win the Parallel Cup for the ninth time in ten meetings.  That reaping of talent extends to his coaching staff as well.  All five of his assistants are former Revos themselves, with over a century’s worth of playing and coaching experience between them.

On the field, Ellis’ team will also have the benefit of a wealth of national team experience.  Denver’s Andy Vanica and Louisville’s Eric “Sleepy” Floyd are just two Revos who are skilled and provide mentoring capability to the younger players on the field.

Athleticism is abound in the center of the ground for the US; Ryan McGettigan of Philadelphia, New York’s Mike “Magic” Murphy, and Sacramento’s Saleh Tyebjee each can beat the opposition with their speed, swiftness, and their ability to get to any ball in dispute.  All three players are also blessed with a good deal of footy smarts, a trait that permeates the team.  Tyebjee, who was selected to the All-World team at IC14, will use height will give him an advantage, something he’s used to became one of the best halfbacks in the USAFL.

In addition to the International experience, several Revos have played in Australia previously as part of football exchange programs.  Minnesota’s Andrew “Tiger” Werner was one of the first, and Columbus Jackaroo Clyde Simpson was a recent graduate of the program.  Both have improved immensely because of it, and the team has benefited from their growth.

In all, Ellis will be a keen observer of where the team is as he roadmaps for IC17.

“For the men this is a good first look,” the 47-year-old head coach said.  “It will be really good to see where the USA is at with talent.  Having an all ex-Revolution coaching staff is something I am very excited about.  We have all been right where these players are right now.  We also have a great core group of returning vets from past International Cups.

“I expect this weekend to be a tough grind it out game of footy.  We have a great respect for Canada and I pull for them to win anytime we are not playing them.”

Speaking of Canada, they will return 12 of the 30 players they took with them to Melbourne last summer for this weekend’s clash, but most importantly that dozen includes the leadership group.  “That continuity is something that has lacked for Northwind over the last 5-10 years,” said Northwind head coach Cody Royle, “so we've put considerable effort to rebuild that and creating a strong team culture - something that is tough when you only play once a year.”

Much like it is here in the USA, Canada’s footy system is spread out over a vast geographical landscape.  But, it’s growing steadily.  Ten years ago, only Toronto and Vancouver had programs.  Now, seven of the ten provinces are footballing outposts, including Nova Scotia’s Halifax Dockers and the St John’s Puffins from Newfoundland.

“We've brought in two new assistant coaches who I'm looking forward to working with,” Royle explained. “We now have national team coaches based in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and myself in Toronto, so we can work with the players no matter where they're based. We've also got our first player representing AFL Nova Scotia, which speaks volumes about AFL Canada's commitment to grow the sport across our country.

“We're excited for PC15 and think we made significant strides between PC13 and IC14 to close the gap between Canada and USA. Canada has not won the Parallel Cup on US soil so that's our aim this year.”

That aim will be led by captain Justin Settle, who now plies his trade for the Hamilton Wildcats of the Ontario AFL after spending time with the Fitzroy Stars in Australia.  Ottawa’s Nathan Strom went from footy newbie to World Team at IC14 in just a few short years, will look to be incredibly active in the middle.

Royle also pointed out that he expects a big game from young Jacob Martin from the OAFL’s Grand River Gargoyles.  “It feels like he's been around Northwind forever, but he’s only 21,” the coach described. “He is coming of age as a key lockdown defender.”

FRIDAY, JULY 31st, 6:00pm USEDT (Live Link)

Like their female counterparts, the Revolution and Northwind are stressing their development teams to help grow the next crop of players to go through to their senior sides.  For Ellis, this group is key to the future success of his program.  He stated that there were more than a couple players on this “Devo” side that could easily be playing up a level with the Revos.

Eric Politz, who like his Columbus teammate Clyde Simpson played a year in Australia, is this spark plug on this side.  Defensively, Denver Bulldog Peter Taylor has asserted himself as one of the best prospects to come up through his club’s system in a long time, and his prowess will be put to the test by the young Canadians.  Up front, Philadelphia Hawk Jon Ginsberg brings a fearless streak to the Devo side, as he known for his acceleration to get to balls that seem impossible.  Tulsa’s Andrew Sneed brings some of the toughness that his Buffaloes club is known for.

The squad will also have a distinct local flavor to it, with four members of the Ft. Lauderdale Fighting Squids – Tom Hecker, JJ Burke, Neil Cohen, and Darren Brunnemer – will get a shot at playing in the match as well.  Winners of the Eastern Regional Tournament back in April, the Squids’ foursome bring different attributes which will be of great use.

With all the new talent coming into this game, Ellis also called on two old friends and teammates to help mentor the group.  Once teammates for the old Lehigh Valley Crocodiles, Tampa Bay’s Dustin Jones and Philly’s Jon Loring help complete the roster and will lend their knowledge and years of service at the USAFL and Revo level to the next generation.

“On the Devo side we have brought back a couple of long time Revolution players with Dustin Jones and John Loring,” Ellis said of the duo.  “Their experience and leadership with that squad is priceless.  Both those players were young boys when we first played Canada back in 2000.  Now they are men with families and a wealth of footy experience behind them.  

“It shows you what the American Revolution means to players.  I am humbled and honored to have them play.”

Both the USA and Canada will look for victory in Florida after their 2013 encounter in Edmonton ended in a 20-20 draw.

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