The final event of the National Xball league season is less than one week away, and after a hard fought season, the season title race is closer than ever. The Windy City Major was an exciting and dramatic event that drastically altered the Power Rankings for World Cup after the cinderella runs of LVL, NRG, and Uprising, as well as the complete dominance of Dynasty. Also at stake are the professional paintball lives of teams such as ac Dallas, the MLKings, and DMG. The World Cup should be nothing short of incredible with all that is at stake, and this should truly be a photo finish.
1. San Diego Dynasty (Previous Rank: 3)
Player to watch: Marcello Margott
After a dominant win at the Windy City Major behind an inspired performance by veteran, Alex Fraige, Dynasty is looking like they are peaking at just the right time. Dynasty has improved on every event this season, and with a fully healthy roster they should be primed to become repeat winners at the World Cup. Their near unbreakable blue wall composed of Marcello Margott, Ryan Greenspan, and Yosh Rau on the backline has been their strength throughout the year, and with the attack heating up this team may be the most balanced in the pro division. Look for Marcello Margott to be a key player for Dynasty; with a layout that appears to be so aggressive, Marcello will be critical for lane control and off-the-break strategy as he looks to continue his Defensive Player of the Year level of performance at Cup.
2. Edmonton Impact (Previous Rank: 1)
Player to watch: Alex Goldman
Impact is coming off one of their worst performances over the last 3 seasons with a 10th place finish at the Windy City Major. However, all season long they have been incredibly consistent with finals appearances in every other event they played this season. Alex Goldman is still having perhaps his best season ever and his ability to assert his will on opponents has been nothing short of incredible to watch. With the many options for this snake on the World Cup layout, Goldman should be effective and exciting to watch throughout the weekend. There are some questions around why the poor performance occurred in Chicago, but this is still an elite NXL team and
3. Los Angeles Infamous (Previous Rank: 5 )
Player to watch: Cody Mickowski
Infamous has been both exciting and at times, frustrating, during the 2021 NXL season. They have found ways to consistently finish near the top of the division, with multiple deep Sunday runs, but they always seem to fall just short of an event win. They have arguably one of the top coaches in the league in Travis Lemanski, and their veteran core of Thomas Taylor, Cody Mickowski, and Kali Rudolph will be key in another run at the finals for Infamous. For fans of fast paced and aggressive play, Infamous perhaps does that better than any other team in the league, especially when they utilize the vast versatility of the young Harrison Frye. Cody Mickowski has looked dominant all year, and the confidence this team shows in him is quite evident. With top attacker, Greg Siewers, playing in the final event of his illustrious career, will he walk off the pro field forever with one more win, or will they fall short as they have all season?
4. Houston Heat (Previous Rank: 2)
Player to watch: Tyler Harmon
Heat is coming off a bit of an odd event in Chicago; they were completely unbeatable in the prelims, but then came up short against an ailing and under-manned Baltimore Revo roster. The 2021 season has certainly been erratic for the powerhouse professional program, but if one thing is certain, it’s that this team is built to win World Cups. They have proven this time and time again, with two World Cup Championships over the last three seasons. Heat always comes to play at the World Cup and look to be the team that everyone needs to fear, as they are hungry for another win after an under-performing year. Tyler Harmon has shown incredible versatility this season after his transition from Dynasty to Heat, and he should be a key piece in any finals run we see from Houston. Todd Martinez has been showing he is still an elite strategist from the coaching pits and his staunch dedication to scouting has proven to be a key asset this season for Heat.
5. San Antonio X-Factor (Previous Rank: 8)
Player to watch: Shon Saucedo
After starting the first two events well below their potential, X-Factor came into the Windy City Major with something to prove. After adding two new players just before the event, they looked like a complete team. They have attackers at all levels of the field, and the elite guard that is held by Archie Montemayor, Raney Stanczak, and Demetri Ninios was a tall task for nearly every pro team to overcome in Chicago. Shon Saucedo, the team's newest addition, provided something we haven't seen in a long time for X-Factor, a reliable backup to Billy Bernacchia in the snake. His ability to attack through the snake side of the field freed up Billy to play a bit more aggressively and we saw an X-Factor team that was elite all event. This team should be able to bring it all together and end the year strong at the World Cup, especially behind the potential final event from one of the games biggest legends, Archie Montemayor, as we heard on the Play the Game Podcast from Archie himself.
6. Baltimore Revo (Previous Rank: 13)
Player to watch: Chris Schehr
Revo may just have all the cards lining up for a dark horse run at a World Cup title. They were able to show resilience in Chicago with huge wins over major pro programs Heat and Impact, and they are about to get a huge boost. After losing star player Stephen Omara to injury last event, he will be back in the starting lineup for Baltimore and he will provide a huge boost to an already surging team. Frank Antetemaso also returns for Revo and should add an aggressive spark to the dorito side as well. The emergence of Chris Schehr as an elite attacker has proven to be key for Revo this year, and with a finally healthy roster, pro teams across the division should fear a Sunday matchup against Revo.
7. Moscow Red Legion (Previous Rank: 4)
Player to watch: Leonid Smotrov
For most fans and players watching Red Legion at Chicago, it was a bit of a confusing performance. As soon as the layout was posted, many fans speculated on a Russian win with how aggressive the field would play. The reality in Chicago was quite different, as the Red Legion posted a 1-3 record in the prelims and missed Sunday. The addition of Diego and Andres Gallego should take a bit of the attack burden off Smotrov and Malloy, but if the Red Legion wants to have a shot at the World Cup, they need to lean into their elite attackers. Leonid Smotrov has been a bit underwhelming this season for Moscow, but his elite ability is undeniable, and he is still easily one of the best players in the World. The Red Legion should come into this event hungry, but can they rekindle that aggressive and relentless style fans have come to love?
8. Tampa Bay Damage (Previous Rank: 9 )
Player to watch: Jason Edwards
Damage, quite simply, hasn’t looked great this season. After a strong opening performance in Florida, placing third, they haven't been able to finish in the top ten since and have struggled. The rumor is that the LJ Woodley experiment may be over in Tampa Bay, and this could mean a return to the core style of grinding play we saw for years from this Edward's brother led squad. Jason Edwards is the unquestioned leader, and he has a fierce drive to prove to the rest of the pro league that Damage still belongs in the games elite tier of teams. The World Cup snake looks like it will play very aggressive and Damage needs to unleash Keith Brown and allow him to dominate that side of the field. He is one of the game's best snake players and should perform well. Bryan “Agent” Smith has also been quietly having a great season and always seems to step it up to another level at the season's final event.
9. Los Angeles Ironmen (Previous Rank: 11 )
Player to watch: LJ Parrish
The Ironmen are an interesting team this season; they are loaded with young talent and led by veteran star players Nick Slowiak and John Jackson. However, they have yet to put up a decent event finish and have been average all season in their results. Nikki McEvers' seat may be heating up a bit, but a strong showing at the World Cup would help to secure her role as head coach long-term. This organization has one of the most historic reputations built on excellence, but years of mediocrity has been catching up to the Ironmen. They need another keystone win to build this young roster upon, and that is exactly what LJ Parrish can help them do at Cup. LJ is one of the league's fastest rising, star attackers and he needs to be utilized to his full ability. Fans got to see a small piece of that ability when he guested with Impact at the Golden State Minor event, can the Ironmen get the same level of performance out of him?
10. Seattle Thunder (Previous Rank: 6)
Player to watch: Corey Field
After posting two top 6 finishes to open the season, and looking like they finally had made their breakthrough to the upper tier of the pro league, Thunder regressed greatly in Chicago, posting a 16th place finish. They couldn’t seem to get anything going in the Windy City, and that was partially due to the injury sustained by the team's best player, Corey Field. His presence on the field is critical to Thunder’s success, and his return to the lineup for the World Cup will have a massive effect on their performance. This team is elite off the break, and their ability to control zones has been unmatched this year. Thunder has been able to endure years of poor play, but another disappointment at the World Cup would be a major setback for this rising program. Will they be able to return to form and make a run at the title?
11. San Diego Aftermath (Previous Rank: 7)
Player to watch: Joe Barrett
While we have seen a rapid improvement from Aftermath this season, they are still a fairly inexperienced team in the pro division. This has been evident by their inconsistent performance thus far this year; they have posted a top four finish, as well as finished outside the top ten twice. However, that inexperience is fading quickly and coach Mike Hinman has been nothing short of brilliant this year. He has found a way to bring this core of young players together and rally them behind their charismatic and talented leader, Joe Barrett. Joe should be a critical piece behind a deep Sunday run by San Diego, and his ability to stand guard and close games has been critical, alongside strong performances from Thomas Kim and Josh Hallberg. This team could play the spoiler for many top programs, but can this young team overcome the veterans of the pro league?
12. NRG Elite (Previous Rank: 16)
Player to watch: Jared Lackey
NRG Elite was one of the bigger surprises of the Windy City Open, but their great performance was overshadowed a bit by LVL. This could lead to teams underestimating NRG, and that would be a big mistake as they are just starting to peak at the perfect time. Beyond the great performance in Chicago lies a team that is learning to play well together and developing the level of poise needed to succeed in the pro division. Jared Lackey and Zak Giger have played well for them, and they have found an identity built on a controlled but aggressive style. Another strong performance at Cup and the conversation may start to change rapidly on the previously lower tier team. Can they build on the successes in Chicago and prove they belong?
13. Columbus LVL (Previous Rank: 19)
Player to watch: Dany Schonauer
One of the biggest jumps in the rankings we have seen all year, Columbus LVL has finally truly arrived in the pro division. Their coming out party in Chicago was the storyline of the event and if they are able to just simply sustain the wild aggression they showed at the Windy City Major, they just may very well be on to something special. The first two events of the season saw LVL play a bit too conservative and they may have been questioning themselves; the most recent event showed they can be fearless and assertive behind players like Dany Schonauer, Sam Silberg, and Justin Politi. Dave Pando is cooking up something great in Columbus, can he and head coach Robbie Goldsmith continue to get the most out of this young but talented roster?
14. New York Xtreme (Previous Rank: 10)
Player to watch: Will Hennessy/Jerry Caro
After a very promising showing in Philadelphia, NYX was beginning to look like they had finally found their winning recipe to become a top team. However, a regression in Chicago and general struggle to close matches may be raising some questions on whether they have the right ingredients or not to truly be a top professional paintball team. They are loaded with talent from top to bottom, but have yet to bring it all together. As always, this team runs through their superstar player, Haris Hussain, and if he is able to heat up quickly, the rest of New York’s elite attack should rally behind him. The key to their success or failure may be found through Willy Hennessy and Jerry Caro. Both of these players have shown elite flashes of talent, can both of them play at their best and help hoist NYX into the top of the pro division?
15. ac Diesel (Previous Rank: 12)
Player to watch: Grayson Gladstone
After opening the season with a 6th place finish in Florida, ac Diesel has been on a slow regression all season long. They have struggled to field the same roster each event and that appears to be causing a bit of struggle for them. Mark Johnson is still one of the league's best leaders, and his counterpunch ability combined with the fast style of Diesel should play very well on the aggressive World Cup layout. Former Dynasty player, Grayson Gladstone, was added to the roster a few weeks ago and he should fit in well with this team. He is an aggressive attacker who consistently makes his spots and he should provide a spark on either side of the field for ac. However, Diesel still needs to prove they can put all their weapons to good use and give a solid placing at the final event of the season.
16. Seattle Uprising (Previous Rank: 17)
Player to watch: Alex Gray
Seattle Uprising joined LVL and NRG as the biggest surprise teams of the Windy City Open when they snuck into Sunday at 2-2, and then were able to defeat the Ironmen to advance into the top 8. It may have been the result of a bit of an easy schedule, but it would be foolish to doubt this team at the World Cup. No matter how their season goes, Uprising always seems to step up on paintball's biggest stage. Although they missed the event due to COVID last season, they placed 6th the season before at Cup and are consistently taking on the role of spoiler for major pro programs. Alex Gray made his long-awaited return to the Uprising roster at Chicago and he should prove critical at the final event, alongside veterans James Creek, Brandon Olsen, and the rest of the dedicated core. Will Seattle once again make a Cinderella run?
17. MLKings (Previous Rank: 18)
Player to watch: Greg Montalvo
The MLKings had to sit back and watch in horror at Chicago, as everyone around them outplayed their rank and rose up. Team owner, Charlie Givens, has spent a lot of time and resources on this program and he is facing relegation as they sit in 19th place for the season. Like we have seen in the past, this team shows flashes of great play, but seems to struggle in closing out matches. Greg Montalvo and Kyle Barry have to be ready to come into the World Cup and play to the high level that they are capable of and save the season, and potentially their status, as professional players in this league. Expect Greg to play some of the best paintball of his career, as he has made it clear he isn’t going to face relegation quietly. Will the MLKings get their turn in the spotlight and save their program?
18. TMG Outlaws (Previous Rank: 14)
Player to watch: Christian Collins
The Outlaws continue to be the victim of roster churn, as they put out yet another new lineup at the Windy City Major. They performed poorly in Chicago and were never really in any of their matches, and the results showed this with a last place finish. Solid play earlier in the year has all but guaranteed they are not at risk of losing their pro spot to relegation, but the Outlaws desperately need a solid performance to help build on this new roster going into the 2022 season. Rookie pro, Christian Collins has been one of the few consistent pieces for TMG this season and he continues to improve with each passing event. Jeremy Salm needs to find a way to assert this program onto the pro division, but can he lead this young and inexperienced roster to a Sunday berth?
19. Sacramento DMG (Previous Rank: 15)
Player to watch: Shane Howe
DMG has had a rocky season in the professional division. After entering the 2021 season with high expectations for this roster, they have performed poorly and have lacked the attacking firepower needed to excel in the NXL pro division. They are a mere 26 points ahead of ac Dallas in the season rankings and are certainly in the hot seat when it comes to relegation. Their 13th place finish in Philadelphia may have been just enough to keep them in the pro league, but they need a strong finish at the World Cup after fighting for their lives all season. Shane Howe is going to be the player to watch; the ageless assassin is the oldest starter in the professional league and he should find a ton of success in this aggressive snake side at Cup. Look for the Boyum brothers to play well if DMG has any hope of staying in the pro division.
20. ac Dallas (Previous Rank: 20)
Player to watch: Colt Luckau
ac Dallas has not looked good this season, plain and simple. They need to find a way to quickly acclimate this roster to the speed of the pro game and desperately need an attacking presence on this roster. They were finally able to win their second match of the season in Chicago, but they need to come into the World Cup looking to make a run into Sunday. They have a hard road ahead of them to avoid relegation, but that road starts with Colt Luckau. He has been the best player for ac Dallas this season, and with how congested the center of the field is at World Cup, he should be able to float around and create eliminations from the middle of the field. The question is, can the rest of ac Dallas find their pace on the attack as well and save this team from an all but guaranteed relegation?
Don’t miss the final event of the season in Kissimmee, Florida from November 11th-14th at the NXL World Cup! Catch all the action live on GoSports.com and watch as all the major storylines conclude on this wild and exciting season of professional paintball.
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