Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Blaze at Mid-Season

Staking Out the Middle Ground

IMs Emory Tate and Angelo Young have been crucial to the team's success.

It’s hard to believe, but after five matches in as many weeks, half of the USCL regular season is already over. So, as Ed Koch famously asked, how are we doing?

Pretty well, I’d say. Halfway through the season the Blaze are solidly in the middle of the league, quite an accomplishment for a first-year expansion team. Our won-lost record is at .500. In the latest “power ratings” by prominent blogger Bionic Lime, those being a composite measure based on team performance and the strength of the opponents it has faced, we are seventh in the league right now, smack in the middle. (League blogger-in-residence Arun Sharma ranks us eighth.) We started out in tenth place earlier in the year and rose briefly to 6th a few weeks ago.

We have lost two close matches, won one close one, romped to victory in another, and played one of the top teams in the league to a draw.

We’re in a four-way tie for third place in the Western Division, but because of our strong tiebreaks—game points and the average strength of our opponents—we’re technically in fourth place overall, second among the four teams with a 2.5/5 record. It’s my understanding that the top four teams in each division make the playoffs, and if I’m interpreting all of this correctly it means that if the season ended today, we’d qualify for postseason play. Just barely, of course, but we would make the cut.

Of course, the season doesn’t end today, so we’ll have to keep winning if we want to make the playoffs, and our remaining matches won’t be easy. We’ll face the best team in the league this year, the undefeated Queens Pioneers; the reigning champion Dallas Destiny; the very strong Miami Sharks; Arizona, a team that has beaten us already; and Tennessee, a team we beat so solidly on our first meeting that they will surely be focused on revenge. We’ll take it a week at a time.

As for expectations from the rest of the league, I think by and large we’ve surpassed them. The early tumult with our roster—in which two GMs we thought would be with us weren’t able to be—led some of the USCL wags to give up on the Blaze and assume we would flame out. We haven’t. On the contrary, we’ve done better in most of our matches than the forecasters predicted, and we now seem to have gained some respect. By the end of the year, I think we’ll have even more.

photo: (c) Betsy Dynako

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