Offensive Outburst Propels Aviators Past Riptide
In the highest-scoring game in team history, the Los Angeles Aviators (5-5) defeated the Vancouver Riptide (6-5) 31-24 Saturday night. Bryan Nguyen (#12) led the offensive barrage with 8 goals, while Mark Elbogen (#8) and Eric Lissner (#43) each had 6 assists for Los Angeles.
In their first matchup of the season, Los Angeles needed a win to pull themselves into a tie with the Riptide in the AUDL West standings, and to start the 3-game season series off on the right foot. A loss would have dropped them two games behind Vancouver, making every game for the rest of the season a must-win. With the win, the Aviators record consecutive victories for the first time in franchise history, and reach a .500 record for the first time since being 1-1 earlier this year. With Vancouver’s 25-23 defeat of San Diego Sunday afternoon, the Riptide have a 1-win advantage in the standings, holding onto the 3rd position and last playoff spot in the division.
The first half of Saturday’s action was played evenly, including a furiously-paced second quarter. Elbogen started the scoring in the first with a huge sky over two Vancouver defenders that he continued to Allen Lai (#68) for the first goal.
Vancouver held on offense, then converted the first break point of the game just over three and a half minutes in. That 2-1 lead would be the only lead for the Riptide for the rest of the game. Elbogen had another highlight-reel grab reminiscent of last weekend in San Jose and San Francisco, this time for a score to give L.A. a 4-3 lead near the end of the first. With a 5-4 Aviator advantage to start the second quarter, Los Angeles and Vancouver opened the floodgates.
Over the course of the next 12 minutes, the two teams combined to score 21 goals. Of those 21 scores, only ONE of them took more than one minute to score from the previous addition to the scoreboard. Los Angeles used quick, efficient disc movement to average close to 40 seconds worth of possession on each scoring drive. Vancouver, on the other hand, used deep hucks over and over again to find the end zone. Of their ten goals in the second quarter, four of them took 17 seconds or less to convert.
Even with the close score (16-14 Los Angeles lead into halftime), there was a sense that L.A. was in control and beginning to pull away. The frustration of that reality began to manifest itself in physical ways from Vancouver. At one point, Aviator Michael Kiyoi (#1) had possession of the disc along the sideline and was fouled in the course of pivoting and looking for a receiver. The consequence for a contact foul while marking the player with the disc is for the offensive player to advance ten yards forward. As Kiyoi began taking his ten yards, the defensive player guarding him, Ben Burelle (#73) refused to allow that process to be an uneventful procession. Burelle bodied Kiyoi for the entire 10 yards, keeping his chest on him and pressuring him to the point of forcing Kiyoi slightly off-balance multiple times, forcing him to take an extra step or two to avoid being shoved completely away from the field. There’s gamesmanship, and there is excessive, unnecessary, unsportsmanlike conduct, and Burelle chose the latter in that circumstance.
In another situation, L.A.’s Hunter Corbett (#17) was playing close, physical defense against Vancouver’s William Vu (#1) in the dump set. As Vu made a cut upline, across the vision of his teammate with the disc, he executed a swim move worthy of an NFL defensive lineman. That type of physical contact, however, is reserved for football and not ultimate. The move caused Corbett to be thrown and stumble to stay upright. Vu received the pass and looked upfield for a new target. Quick to recover, Corbett left no room for comfort as he established his mark against Vu. While rounding Vu to get into position, Corbett’s leg made less-than-friendly contact with the back of Vu’s leg. Vu did not appreciate the gesture and made sure the referees knew about it before throwing and completing his pass, leading to a Vancouver goal. He immediately turned to address his displeasure to Corbett. Corbett referred to the initial physical contact made by Vu, reminding him that physicality is a two-way street. Vu was not satisfied and continued to jaw at Corbett. Corbett no longer cared to be bothered and moved towards the Aviators sideline. Zac Schakner (#22) had other ideas and, for the second weekend in a row, had no problem getting in the face of an over-excited, dispirited opponent. Vu was not entertained by the presence of a new nuisance, and was quick to body up with Schakner face to face. Beyond that, Vu gave Schakner a forceful shove to the chest. Knowing better than to escalate things further, Schakner turned around back towards his own sideline, and emitted a mischievous grin to inform all that there was nothing else to worry about.
That idea became painfully obvious midway through the third quarter. After starting the quarter with an easy offensive point, Los Angeles scored four consecutive break points. It took until the six-minute mark in the quarter for Vancouver to record its first point of the second half. By then the score was 21-15 Los Angeles, and the game was never again in any doubt. Los Angeles would go on to outscore Vancouver nine to four in third, beginning the fourth quarter with a 25-18 lead. One last futile display of aggression by Vancouver came on L.A.’s 21st goal, when Schakner found Trevor Smith (#13) for a leaping score. Smith had been pursued by a Vancouver defender, albeit with some distance in between them. Upon Smith’s landing, the defensive player decided to run straight into Smith, hitting him to the ground. It is possible the defender had no time to adjust and therefore no way to avoid the contact. However, it certainly seemed that a collision was easily avoidable had the defender offered only the slightest bit of effort to do so.
Despite those instances taking away from the focus of the game, the story proved to be the continued upward trajectory of the output of the Los Angeles offense. Before their May 21 victory over the San Diego Growlers earlier this season, the Aviators had scored more than 25 goals in a game only once in their first 18 games as a franchise. Including that win over San Diego, Los Angeles has scored at least 25 goals in 6 straight games. Mark Elbogen has totaled at least five goals or five assists in all but one of those games. Eric Lissner has contributed 15 goals and 15 assists over those six games. And while the eight goals scored by Nguyen is an anomaly in his production over the last two years, his ability to produce such a performance is no surprise to anybody in the organization. The actual surprise is that this type of game is not more common for him. But if the offense continues to thrive, the starting line of Nguyen, Elbogen, Lissner, Lai, Eli Friedman (#53), Steven Brooks (#6), and Brent George (#3) will all see their numbers climb.
The Aviators will make a second trip to the Pacific Northwest this coming weekend, this time taking on both Vancouver (Saturday at 7) and Seattle (Sunday at 3). With two of their four remaining games against the Riptide, the Aviators hold their destiny in their own hands. Wins in both of those matchups with Vancouver will guarantee Los Angeles the 3rd-place playoff spot in the division, regardless of what else happens around the league. The Riptide would be able to finish no better than 7-7, while the Aviators would finish no worse than 7-7, and Los Angeles would have the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. Should Vancouver win one of those games, the situation becomes slightly more convoluted. Doable, but tricky.
San Francisco still holds the top spot in the division at 9-3, but the FlameThrowers’ lead over the Seattle Cascades (8-4) has plummeted to just one game. Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Jose (4-7) all claw at each other, while San Diego (1-9) continues to have a disappointing season in the basement.
Be sure to come out for the Aviators’ next home game, on Saturday, July 2, for the third and final showdown with Vancouver. The playoff picture will be much clearer by then, and the team will need all the support it can get from the most important members of the team: THE FANS! First pull for that game is scheduled for 7:30. Don’t miss out on all the high-intensity action. TICKETS