Written by Quinn Nadu, Iconic PB | NXLPaintball.com
After a long journey that started all the way back in March 2021, the National Xball League season has all come down to this moment. Twenty teams started out the season, battling it out in the professional paintball division, and after four hard fought events we are down to the World Cup Finals.
Four major programs are still all in contention for the coveted Season Championship; Impact, Dynasty, Infamous, and Heat. But, that is not all that is at stake. Even more importantly, the World Cup Championship still hangs in the balance and the rest of the pro field; Red Legion, XFactor, Revo, MLKings, Damage, and Aftermath, are all ready to steal away the title for their franchises.
The Finals Draw
Wildcard and Quarter Finals Games
Damage vs Revo, goes on to play Dynasty
After both teams had strong showings throughout the prelims, this is one of the most interesting matchups of the weekend thus far. Both teams tend to favor a more calculated and reactionary style of play. These are well-experienced programs that love a slow burn game, and when they clash head-to-head tomorrow morning it should be a battle of patience and poise.
The key players for this matchup have to be Chris Schehr for Baltimore, and Bryan Smith for Tampa Bay. Chris has been one of the main sources of offense for Revo and he has the potential to make holes in Tampa Bay’s guard and open up the field for the rest of the Revo squad. For Bryan Smith, he has been a critical counter-punch weapon for Tampa Bay the entire weekend. His presence along the backline for Damage, combined with his ability to quickly fill and attack through the snake has made him crucial to their success. Especially since teams already need to dedicate so much just to get Keith Brown off the field.
The winner will go on to play San Diego Dynasty, a team that no one wants to draw in the quarter finals. They are perhaps the best defensive team in the league, and they are firing on all cylinders. Brandon Short has played well for Dynasty in his return, and after an injury to Dalton Vanderbyl, Marcello Margott has been pushed into more of an offensive role and he hasn’t missed a beat. This team still runs through their vaunted “Blue Wall” defense, but with the inspired offensive play from Alex Fraige and Mike Urena, this team will be hard to beat.
The Expert’s Pick: “Damage finds a way to hold off a late Revo charge and wins 4-3 to face Dynasty in the quarter finals. Dynasty beats Damage and earns a berth in the top 4.”
Aftermath vs MLKings, goes on to play Infamous
The MLKings came into the World Cup with the potential of relegation and losing their pro spot. Veterans Kyle Barry and Greg Montalvo responded with inspired play on their way to a 3-1 record in the prelims and their franchises first ever playoff appearance. Luis Betancourt has been exactly what the MLKings were missing all season, a reliable and aggressive snake attacker. He is picking apart teams from the 50 snake, and with Kyle Barry closing out games alongside his teammates, the MLKings look like they finally figured out the right recipe for success. They are assertive on the field so far at the World Cup and teams have struggled to slow down their attack.
Aftermath couldn’t be any different than their wildcard opponent. Most young teams in the NXL like to play fast and aggressive, Aftermath prefers a slow and grinding style where they capitalize on mistakes by opponents and gaps in their guard. Coach Jerry Van Cleve has likely been watching Betancourt all weekend long and Aftermath will make it a goal to get him off the field early. I could see this game turning into a back-and-forth slug fest where even the smallest mistake may make the difference.
Whoever is able to come out victorious will have to face a determined Los Angeles Infamous team coming off one of their best events of the year. Infamous is a complete team any way you look at them; they have an elite defensive posture that is supplemented by the aggressive and constant attack of Greg Siewers and Harrison Frye. Aftermath or the MLKings may both struggle to find success against them in the quarter finals, especially with how well Cody Mickowski and Kali Rudolph have been playing.
The Expert’s Pick: “The MLKings shock the paintball World and beat Aftermath by a large margin, 6-3. Infamous should then be able to easily handle the MLKings and score another win on their way to the finals.” .
XFactor vs. Impact
When it comes to historically great matchups in the NXL, these two teams certainly have a strong track record of providing some of the best games of the season when they meet up on Sunday. XFactor has been underperforming this season, but they are playing very strong thus far, and they have to be feeling good after an 8-7 win over Houston Heat to close out the preliminaries at 3-1 overall. XFactor is one of the few teams in the league with the firepower to go toe-to-toe with Impact. Billy Bernacchia is going to be absolutely critical for XFactor in this battle, where he will go head-to-head against one of the best snake players of all-time, Alex Goldman.
Goldman is coming off one of the best single seasons by a player ever, and his incredible high-IQ play as the first snake attacker has been unsolvable by any player or coach in the league this season. He is difficult to isolate and get off the field, but a strong and assertive snake side push from Billy Bernacchia and Shon Saucedo could potentially overwhelm the stoic Impact snake player. Impact has also gotten strong play from dorito side attacker, Brandon Cornell this event. The pressure he has been applying may be too much for the young, but still incredibly talented Jesse Stephens of Xfactor on the dorito side. But, Archie Montemayor is always lurking on the backline ready to fill the gaps and counterpunch.
The Expert’s Pick: “Contrary to how aggressive the field has been, this match will play incredibly slow. These are two of the most decorated and experienced teams in history and they will be careful about making even the smallest mistake. I think Xfactor finds a way to win behind a potential swan song performance from Archie Montemayor and Raney Stanczak by a score of 4-2.”
Houston Heat vs. Moscow Red Legion
This matchup could get out of hand quickly. Both of these teams have some of the best offensive arsenals in the league and are led by two of the most brilliant paintball coaches in the games history; Todd Martinez of Heat, and Max Preobrazhenskiy of Red Legion. Neither of these programs are the sort of teams that will be content sitting back and rolling their markers. When the final buzzer sounds, this match could be one of the best offensive showings of the weekend.
Tyler Harmon has played, arguably, one of the best single events of any player in recent memory. He has been a critical gun off the break for Heat and countless times thus far, he has been forced into low body situations and pulled off multiple 1v2s and 1v1s to keep Heat ahead. Quite simply, he is elite and any victory for Heat goes through Harmon. Todd Martinez has been experimenting all weekend with his lineups, but the likely starting five he goes with will be Mishka Kniazev, Konstantin Federov, Tyler Harmon, Chad George, and Ryan Moorhead.
On the other side of the field, the Red Legion has finally arrived! After a long up-and-down season for the most decorated non-US team in paintball history, Moscow is playing like the well oiled machine they are. Malloy and Smotrov have been elite weapons thus far, and the steady closing presence from the ageless veteran, Sergey Solnyshkov, should provide a staunch opposition to Houston. Leonid Smotrov looks confident, and when he is playing well, Red Legion plays well.
The Expert’s Pick: “This matchup should be quite the show for fans. Malloy and Sergey will both be huge for the Russian Legion, but Tyler Harmon and Chad George will prove too much for the Red Legion to handle. I think Heat wins this one 5-4 after a late comeback attempt from Moscow.
The War Has Yet to be Won.
No matter how you look at it, fans of the NXL are in for one of the best playoffs in NXL history. Will the veteran rosters come out on top, or will a young program like the MLKings or Aftermath surprise the entire paintball world and make a run to the finals? Tune in to GoSports.com tomorrow all day long, as you won't want to miss one second of the final exciting moments of the 2021 NXL Season. With the Season Title in the balance, truly everything will be left on the field.