They’ve been in the playoffs three of the last four seasons, and they hope this is their year to finally break through and win it all.
If that sounds a little like the Nationals, or the Wizards, think again. The DC Breeze, the District’s semi-pro Frisbee team, doesn’t have the glamour of some of the city’s marquee teams. But that matters little to the dedicated athletes and fans of D.C.’s American Ultimate Disc League franchise.
The AUDL — with 23 teams across the U.S. and Canada competing in a game that looks and plays a little like soccer — is real, and so are the Washington team’s championship aspirations as this year’s regular season winds down and the playoffs loom.
“I really believe we have a chance to win the whole thing this year,” said Matthew ‘Rowan’ McDonnell, who has played for the Breeze since 2016. “We genuinely believe we can beat anybody in this league.”
When he’s not playing the “hybrid” position for the Breeze — hybrid is like a point forward in basketball — the 29-year-old athlete is coaching youngsters or delivering sandwiches around town on his bike.
He was a teen when he discovered and fell in love with the game, which is played on football and soccer fields and generally follows some of the same contours of those sports, with offense, defense, catches and interceptions.
“I used to play basketball all the time, but I switched to Frisbee. It requires endurance, athleticism and more. Disc is life, man,” said McDonnell.
McDonnell is in the midst of his best season, with career highs in goals, assists and completion percentage — yep, like any sport worth following, ultimate is loaded with stats.
Newcomers to the sport who show up at Breeze home games — they play seven a year at Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium — can request an informational handout that explains AUDL officiating signals and ultimate terminology.
The game’s passing element is similar to football. Players must advance the disc across the field in order to score. The main difference is players can’t run with the disc in their possession. They have to pass to a teammate within seven seconds to continue making progress.
This is where the entertainment begins as players attempt to make athletic catches while opposing players try to disrupt their efforts. This back-and-forth affair continues until a victor emerges.
McDonnell, a prolific scorer, believes the Breeze’s system is the foundation of his success.
“My scoring total is a reflection upon our offensive system. Coach asked me to take more deep cuts and be active around the endzone as we get closer,” said McDonnell. “My position comes with a lot of goals, I’m not sure if I am doing anything special.”
AUDL players aren’t generally paid a salary, but they get a slice of the ticket sales and an ownership interest in the team. Most players make $700 or less per season, but the best players can make as much as $1,400.
But McDonnell says it’s not about the money — he just loves the game.
“In my free time I coach Frisbee camps and encourage more people to play,” said McDonnell. “My goal is to make ultimate Frisbee grow, especially in the Washington, D.C., area.”
The AUDL was founded in 2010 and held its inaugural season in 2012 with eight teams. Since then, the AUDL has expanded to 23 teams; 20 in the United States and three in Canada.
The Breeze was founded in 2013 and played at several different locations, including the University of Maryland Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex, before settling on Cardinal stadium.
The Breeze wrap up the regular season at home this Saturday against the New York Empire (7-5). They are currently tied with the Empire for second in the East and have the opportunity to clinch a home playoff game with a win. The Breeze is looking to make a deeper run into the postseason after exiting in the division finals the past two years.
At home, playing in front an enthusiastic crowd that can sometimes number in the hundreds, the Breeze have been formidable: 5-1 this season. After the game ends, fans line up to shake players’ hands and show their team spirit before retiring with the team to the post-game festivities at Murphy’s Grill.
Ray Grage, an ultimate fan, explained why he and dozens of other regulars are in the stands every time the Breeze take the field. “The game is appealing to the eye,” he said. “It’s easy to watch and play, so you feel like you’re apart of it.”