ELF All-Stars down hodge-podge US Federation team in defensive affair

Just a week after their inaugural championship game became an instant classic, the European League of Football wrapped up their first season with an All-Star showcase designed to prove the supremacy of their brand of professionalized football to any remaining naysayers.

On paper, it was to be a matchup between a crew of hand-selected ELF all-stars, with just four imports on the roster, against the US Federation National Team. In practice, the representatives of Patrick Esume’s burgeoning project got the victory over a team bearing the stars and stripes that they felt would legitimize them, but not one that can be taken at face value.

The unsanctioned US all-star squad, assembled by Rudy Wyland, was far from the fearsome American force typical of international play. Travel restrictions resulted in a team made up predominantly of little known imports from smaller European clubs, reinforced by current ELF players who missed the All-Star cut. Indeed, at least half-a-dozen of those waving Betsy Ross’s flag on Sunday were not even Americans.

The result was a predictable 26-8 drubbing at the hands of the ELF standouts, with the only factor limiting that scoreline being the fact that league MVP Madre London and Offensive Player of the Year Jakeb Sullivan did not dress in the contest, leaving an all-European offense without their top runner or passer. The defense stepped up in their absence, punctuating a relatively dull affair with a pair of scores the other way.

After a scoreless first ten minutes, it was on that side of the ball that the ELF dominance began. With Graz Giants quarterback Conor Miller under center for the USA, ELF Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Kitchens flew off the left edge for a strip sack and Brit Adedayo Odeleye recovered. Almost immediately, homegrown Cologne Centurions’ quarterback Jan Weinreich took advantage and threaded the ball over two defenders to a streaking Remi Bertellin for a 26-yard touchdown, taking a 6-0 lead after a failed extra point. That situation wouldn’t get any better on the next drive, as the Americans had nowhere to go except three-and-out. Kitchens continued to show exactly what he did all year in Leipzig, busting through again to block the Wyatt Herbst punt deep in the USA end and set up a 28-yard Phillip Friis Andersen chip shot to extend the margin to nine.

The caliber of defense being played by the Euros didn’t diminish in the second quarter and Frankfurt Galaxy linebacker Sebastian Silva Gomez shot through the line to stuff American Charles Arnold short on fourth-and-one early in the frame. A big sack from Louisberg College product Quin Walker on Salieu Ceesay limited the result to a 48-yard Andersen field goal, but the defense would soon get their own score. On a simple swing pass from Miller, Hamburg’s Daniel Laporte came out of nowhere to cut out the legs of Lennies McFerren III and cause him to lose control of the football in the air. His Sea Devils teammate Evans Yeboah recovered that loose ball and got back to his feet, bulldozing past receiver Seantavius Jones and a helpless Miller as he rumbled 35 yards to pay dirt.

That takeaway was a harbinger, as both sides spent the better part of the second and third quarters rapidly trading turnovers but failing to capitalize. Dutch corner Roedion Henrique intercepted Miller as he tried to spark the Americans after the touchdown, only for Ceesay to give it right back with an errant pass deflected by Jakub Mazan to USA DB Davarus Shores. Kitchens ended the half with another strip sack of Miller and the ELF squad opened the third with a bad exchange between Weinreich and Offensive Rookie of the Year Gerard Ameln that allowed big Andre Revere Sr to pounce on a loose football. Fittingly, Miller dropped the ball himself almost immediately when under pressured from Odeleye on the ensuing drive and Frenchman Vincent Buffet got it right back in Euro hands.

The exchange of turnovers would be a wash, but Miller finally got the USA offense going with a toe-tapping throw to Seantavius Jones later in the same frame. Triston McCathern backed it up with a big run on a pitch to the left and then it fittingly was Jones — an ELF star himself for the Berlin Thunder and playing in his own home stadium — who was open again for a 17-yard strike over the middle to get the Americans on the board. McCathern powered in to add two, but the brief explosion of offense would not be a sign of things to come.

Both sides fell silent once again, before the final score was added late in the fourth quarter. The turnover generating Sea Devils were at it once again, as defensive en Berend Grube got in Miller’s face to tip a pass and Daniel Laporte caught the deflection, skipping 22 yards untouched down the sideline for the pick six. Leipzig standouts Kitchens and Buffet added a couple of late sacks and the contest was over, with a resounding 26-8 win for the ELF All-Stars.

While the friendly contest served as an amusing end to the season, the reason why All-Star games are slowly going the way of the dinosaurs was readily apparent. This was sloppy football, and while full credit is deserved by the defenses, it was a poor way to showcase the handful of dynamic offensive weapons the ELF did have to offer.

It will likely still amount to a marketing success, but for those who follow the sport internationally, it will feel cheap. While the league will blame the current global situation for the deficits of the USA team and they won’t be wrong, it is also true that this entire project was conceived in a way where a high profile Euro victory was all but assured. That was no secret to anyone who knew of the US Federations’ performance in the 2017 World Games.

Fun and friendly this first ever All-Star game may have been, but it was a thinly veiled attempt to buy prestige on the cheap. The football that resulted shows the ELF got what they paid for.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.