Contributed by: Brett Northey
The 2006 US Nationals are on this weekend in Las Vegas. As has been the case in recent years, there will be three mens divisions competing for national titles. Pleasingly there will also be a women's division to build on last year's successful inclusion of women's footy in the tournament. AFL celebrities have been organised and the AFL's head of Game Development will also attend. Staging the Nationals in Vegas has been a bold move by US Footy, and as usual there has been plenty of controversy, ranging from seedings to the inclusion of Canadian teams.
It's understood the USAFL board did not receive any nominations from clubs wishing to host this year's series. As the Nationals have grown it has been acknowledged that the load on the hosting club is enormous. There has also been plenty of talk about the hosts being jinxed thereafter. Although largely tongue in cheek, there is evidence to suggest the effort put into the organisation leaves the volunteers at the host club drained and the team struggles the following season (though 2005 hosts Milwaukee have bucked that trend, taking out the 2006 MAAFL premiership). In 2006 the USAFL decided to punt on Las Vegas and take responsibility for running the tournament themselves. Vegas does not currently have a fully-fledged club, but the Gamblers are a new start-up that will hopefully benefit from the extra exposure. The US Footy hieararchy is spread over the country, with several based in Milwaukee, so setting up the Nationals from far afield has no doubt been a major challenge.
Significant attendees will be the head of AFL Game Development David Matthews (who has attended previously), former Hawthorn coach and player Peter Schwab, and Brownlow medallist Robert "Dipper" DiPierdomenico, these days an AFL Auskick ambassador.
Stirring some controversy has been the inclusion of two Canadian sides - Vancouver and Calgary. Besides the obvious question - "is it US Nationals or North Amercian championships?", both are in the process of splitting in half to provide themselves with intra-city competition. It could be argued they are thus fielding merged sides, which is believed to be against US Footy rules for the higher divisions at Nationals, but as this split is in its infancy it would seem they are simply clubs that also separate in the style of US metro leagues. On the question of Canadian teams being in the US Nationals, at this early stage of the game's development it would seem like the more the merrier. If either club challenges for Division One status then perhaps it will need to be re-visited. There was also concern that with seemingly fixed quotas of 24 men's teams that US sides could have been pushed out, though the Canadian clubs have assured that they were only given the choice to attend if there were spots unfilled. Given that the stronger Ontario league has a very full season and a Canadian Nationals does not appear to be on the cards, the current arrangement seems best, and cross-pollination of ideas between the two countries must surely be a positive.
Vancouver took part in 2005 and their match with Minnesota Freeze will be interesting, given the Freeze won the division last year after the Cougars had travel difficulties. Many argued Vancouver could've won Division Three if not delayed. Minnesota are a fairly new club and on the improve, so this will loom as a spirited match with both promoted to Division Two.
Of course there is plenty of interest in Division One, with five times champion and reigning four-peat winners Denver not seeded top of their pool. No doubt there were good reasons (and San Diego and New York are strong challengers) but given the Bulldogs' domination of the Nationals it's hard to tip against them. There has been concern that some of the stronger MAAFL clubs such as Chicago and Nashville have chosen not to attend. It's believed this relates to the fairly demanding MAAFL season being the focus for many of their players, so the extra effort to get to Nationals is not considered worthwhile. This may become a bigger issue in the years ahead as regional leagues become stronger and clubs focus on winning their local premiership ahead of the lightning tournament that is Nationals.
Perhaps the major concern should be the lack of a juniors division. Although there is a juniors clinic, the US system is still struggling to get junior clubs going. As previously reported here, there are some positive signs in San Francisco, Chicago and areas such as Texas through US Footy Kids, but there is yet to be a groundswell of junior development across many regions. Certainly no easy task, but hopefully it isn't far off.
All the matches are on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th October, at Star Nursery Field, adjacent to (east of) the University of Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium (Google map link here - we're told the fields have been expanded and are greener than this image suggests). All games are subject to the 50-50 rule (Australian / non-Australian). Each team plays the other 3 teams in their pool. The top side from the two pools in each division play off for the division title. The pools for the tournament are as follows, with the order in each pool reflecting the seedings.
|Seed||Pool A||Pool B|
|1||San Diego||New York|
|4||Golden Gate||North Carolina|
|Seed||Pool A||Pool B|
|Seed||Pool A||Pool B|
|1||Baton Rouge||Golden Gate B|
|2||St Louis / Denver B||Las Vegas / Orange County|
|4||San Diego B||Atlanta / Milwaukee B|
|4||PCH (Pacific Coast Highway)|
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