Contributed by: Brett Northey
In the few short years that Aussie Rules has been played in the United States, one thing has been consistent - change. Each season sees new formulas tried to speed the spread of the game, or at least consolidate the impressive gains so far. 2005 has seen the emergence of the Eastern AFL (possibly described as a merger of the NEAFL and SEAFL, or an expansion of the NEAFL). The East coast will be hoping this new league can go on to rival the successful Mid-American AFL (MAAFL). But for many of the western US sides, a two part regional tournament will be their focus in 2005, with trips to Denver and Canada on the cards.
This season the West coast has not consolidated into a league structure. Each region of the US faces different issues, and unfortunately that seems to have prevented the West coast sides from settling down. The 2004 extended Califonian AFL season collapsed, and despite much discussion, a replacement has not emerged this year. Perhaps the major drawback is in appearance to outsiders, as having no regular interstate league can detract from the image of the sport. However, despite this issue, the clubs are busy.
The Mojave Greens recently hosted the Golden Gate Roos, with the Roos then reciprocating. The Golden Gate side won both those matches, but the talented young athletes being unearthed in the Army side could enrich US Footy for years to come.
San Diego hosted Orange County on April 9th, defeating them by 40 points. The successful 9-a-side Wild West Shootout was held in Las Vegas on April 16th (won by OC). Several clubs have also been active in securing demonstration matches at big sporting events, most recently the Denver Bulldogs appearing at the Pepsi Centre Arena Football match. There was also the East versus West All-Stars match in Dallas that players from most teams would have attended. And some players will represent the US at the International Cup in Australia in August.
All clubs will have the US Nationals in mind. To be staged on 1st and 2nd October in Milwaukee, some clubs will be aiming for a great social weekend, whereas others will be deadly serious about lifting the trophy - none more so than current 3-in-a-row champions Denver.
The other major event for the West in 2005 will be the Western Regionals. In lieu of a premiership season, this two part series will allow all the western sides to compete against each other, and allow seedings to be determined for the Nationals. Round one will be held on June 4th and 5th, at Garland Park, Denver, Colorado. The sides expected to attend are:
Arizona Hawks Denver Bulldogs Golden Gate Roos Mojave Greens Orange County Bombers San Diego Lions Seattle Grizzlies
The matches will follow US Footy National Tournament Guidelines and teams will play 16 a side. It has been noted that it will not be a US Footy televised event. The second round of matches are likely to be in Vancouver on 22nd and 23rd July (with the first matches under lights on the Friday night). Seattle were going to host the event but are looking to share the tournament with their Canadian neighbours given Vancouver's superior facilities - a great field and changerooms. Given the solid growth of footy in Vancouver, hopefully a big weekend can be made of the event.
Note that Seattle in fact play in the North West Pacific AFL, which also features teams from western Canada. On the other hand the Golden Gate Roos concentrate on their own metro league, as do the Arizona Hawks. Hopefully this will also develop at the other clubs, providing a base from which to select and support their elite travelling sides. The western US sides are again investigating a new league, possibly for 2006. Hopefully something can be organised while the clubs still have momentum. If the new attempt fails, one wonders whether Denver will consider joining the MAAFL in future seasons - as a club that consistently travels much more than it has home games, the set-in-stone home and away format of the MAAFL could be attractive. It will also be interesting to watch how the USAFL-ASTN television contract unfolds. If it is successful, this may have a major impact on how all clubs plan for 2006.
Update 1st June 2005: This second round of the Western Regionals is being incorporated into a tournament called the West Coast Challenge, in Vancouver as discussed above. We haven't confirmed whether all the western US clubs have agreed to this tournament as yet. See the USAFL website for more details.
World Footy News