Of the 11 DI league games this weekend, one had the possibility of being a headliner.
Sure Baltimore-Chesapeake at Raleigh is of interest because Baltimore is trying to hold onto 1st place in the Mid-Atlantic, and Norfolk, 2nd with a game in hand, is at PAC.
Or there's Metropolis, trying to rebound from a shock loss to the Chicago Griffins as they visit Palmer, while the Griffins tackle Columbus and the KC Blues are at the Chicago Lions. Not to mention Milwaukee hosting Cincinnati. All of the Midwest games have a bearing on the chase for 1st place.
But really the headliner is New York Athletic Club at Old Blue. Old Blue is in 1st place, and NYAC in 3rd, although the AC's status is in part because they have a game in hand - unlike Old Blue they haven't lost yet.
So this is certainly a massive game, and interesting also as it's coupled with Boston taking on 1-5 Middlesex.
What frustrates both teams about this so-called massive game is that neither team will be able to field its best squad. The USA National Team is getting ready for its November test matches, and as a result Head Coach Mike Tolkin has asked that Eagles from both teams not play.
This is a standard request that has been submitted by many national team coaches (senior Eagles and even age-grade teams) over the years, but that doesn't mean the clubs involved have to like it. In fact, looking ahead to the major games in the Northeast, featuring the top three clubs, three of the five will have international conflicts (Saturday's NYAC at Old Blue, Nov. 16's NYAC at Boston, and March 29's Boston at NYAC).
This weekend, the AC meets Old Blue without Toby L'Estrange and Mike Petri, and Blake Burdette is limited to half a game. Old Blue is without Adam Siddall for the same reason.
Injuries have also hit both teams hard. Old Blue is without arguably their most dangerous forward on offense, Jordan Badia-Bellinger. The former Claremont Colleges All American broke is ankle last week and is out for about five months. That's a huge blow to them. NYAC, meanwhile, saw Justin Hundley, who had filled in for Petri at scrumhalf and L'Estrange at flyhalf, both admirably, break his hand. Brian Doyle and James Denise are out with long-term injuries, while hard-running inside center Shawn Verma is also out.
The matchup, then, is not ideal.
For Old Blue, the key will be the scrum, where they've done well this season. The team as a whole has improved its play after getting a bit of a shock against Boston.
"We won some games despite not playing well," said assistant coach Stephen Lewis. "Then we lost to Boston. Since then we've had more consistency in selections and the performances have improved."
James Bird will fill in at flyhalf for Old Blue in place of Siddall, and much will be asked of Dom Wareing in terms of leadership.
For the AC, the halfback combo is an important one. Matt Cavataro is a smart, capable scrumhalf out of Iona College who has played B side most of the season. He makes his first A-side start against one of the best teams in the league. At flyhalf, Dave Neville is a #10 who kicks more than L'Estrange, but perhaps that's a good thing. Cian Farrell is a shifty center who steps in for Verma. Much will be expected for USA hopeful (but not an Eagle yet) Chris Chapman.
"The top players have to show up," said assistant coach Matt Persanis. "We need a central leadership core to play well, and if we can hold our own in the scrums and the lineouts, we should be OK."
Neil McMillan captains AC, with Al McFarland at No. 8 and Tom Coolican back in at hooker. They are crucial for the AC. Old Blue is primed to take advantage of the situation, but everyone agrees, the game could have been so very different had it been held last week.
Boston (6-0) @ Middlesex (1-5)
Wolfhounds (2-6) @ Mystic (2-5)
NYAC (6-0) @ Old Blue (6-1)
Balt.-Chesapeake (5-2) @ Raleigh Vipers (2-5)
Maryland Exiles (3-3) @ Pitt Harlequins (3-3)
Norfolk Blues (5-1) @ PAC (5-3)
NOVA (0-7) @ Schuylkiill River (4-3)
KC Blues (5-2) @ Chicago Lions (2-5-1)
Metropolis (7-1) @ Palmer (3-4)
Chicago Griffins (3-4-1) @ Columbus (5-3)
Cincinnati (0-8) @ Milwaukee (5-3)