ELF: Undefeated Vienna Vikings host upstart Stuttgart Surge in semifinal battle

The European League of Football semifinals kick off on Saturday as the defending champion and undefeated Vienna Vikings host the Stuttgart Surge.

After winning the ELF championship in their first season in the league, the Vikings picked up where they left off in 2023, finishing with a dominant record of 12-0.  They have not lost a game in ELF competition since the last week of the 2022 season, and the team rested most of their starters in that one.  However, as impressive as an undefeated record is, the Vikings have looked relatively mortal in the second half of this season.  They blew out the winless Prague Lions in the last game of the regular season, but before that, each of their previous five games resulted in a one-score victory.  This included a 21-20 nailbiter over the lowly Fehervar Enthroners, which was a shocking result given the perceived disparity of talent between the two teams.  Of course, these close calls also showed us that the team knows what it takes to win and can be counted on to deliver under pressure.  Their perfect record earned them a first-round bye, so they should be well-rested ahead of Saturday’s game.

In the brief history of the ELF up until this season, if any team has had as little success as the Vikings have had success, it has been the Stuttgart Surge.  The team finished the inaugural 2021 ELF season at 2-8, and then went on to finish 0-12 in 2022.  However, they turned it all around in 2023, finishing with a 10-2 record and winning the Central Conference title.  They had opportunities to do the unthinkable and go from 0-12 last season to 12-0 this season, but a couple slip-ups against the Helvetic Guards and the Munich Ravens ruined those plans. 

Though each team had a highly successful season and finished with an impressive record, neither seems completely unstoppable, so this game on Saturday should likely be a close, hard-fought game with a championship appearance on the line.

Another interesting element in this game is the head coaching matchup.  Vikings head coach Chris Calaycay is a coaching legend in Europe, as he has been the head coach of the team since 2007.  He has led them to enormous success in both the Austrian Football League and the ELF, as his Vikings won the championship last year in their first season in the league.  On the other side, the man behind Stuttgart’s incredible turnaround is Jordan Neuman, who also has an outstanding resume as a coach in Europe.  The two coaches have a significant history together, as Neuman was Calaycay’s offensive coordinator from 2011-2013 in Vienna, where they had a ton of success.  Neuman went on to coach the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, and as both assistant coach and then head coach he was a key factor in turning them into the top team in the German Football League.  When he jumped to the Surge before this season, he brought many of his Unicorn players with him, along with his coachreason and culture.  The hire of Neuman is the main reason why the Surge transformed from a bottom-feeder to a powerhouse.

With a place in the league championship game on the line, this matchup between two great teams and two storied coaches is set to be a memorable one.  The game kicks off at 2:15 PM local time in Vienna.

A current student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carter played football in high school and has been a lifelong avid football fan.