Yes, there is change, but more telling is what remains the same.
The change in the D.C. Current from 2014 to 2015 starts with a quick look at their offensive line’s performance last season:
|O Poss Conv.||52.05%||2nd|
|O Point Conv.||72.02%||2nd|
|Opp. D Poss.||119||2nd*|
|Opp. D Poss. Conv.||32.77%||1st|
|Opp. D Point Conv.||20.20%||1st|
|Opp. D Goals||39||T-1st*|
The Current’s offensive rotation was second to the Spinners in total goals by seven (in 37 fewer offensive points) and was edged by the Boston Whitecaps in measures of efficiency. No matter how the data is sliced, though, D.C. and Boston were the top two offenses in the conference. What gives the Current the edge, however, was their ability to prevent the opponent from converting break opportunities.
In D.C.’s 2014 championship campaign, 10 players played primarily offense. Listed in order of offensive points played, that group was: Alan Kolick, Jeff Wodatch, Markham Shofner, Sean Keegan, Peter Prial, Tom Doi, Calvin Oung, Eddie Peters, Lloyd Blake and Paul Grabowski. In aggregate, they accounted for 1,162 points of offense out of a total of 1,351 possible, a full 86 percent of all offensive playing time. Of those ten players, Keegan, Peters and Grabowski will not return in 2015. Those three played 282 offensive points over the season, with Keegan topping the list at 129. To the point of the offense playing strong defense, these three account for 3 of the 39 blocks which D.C.’s offensive rotation generated in 2014. While blocks are not the be-all-end-all of defense, losing such a small percentage of the most visible defensive act is reassuring for a team which relied on their ability to erase their opponent’s break opportunities. On the whole, while these three account for a small percentage of total offensive points and blocks, what matters more is what each player contributed.
Grabowski seems to be the most replaceable on the list as his primary assets were speed and aggression as a cutter. These qualities, while appreciated by any offense, are not unique in the world of ultimate. Keegan and Peters, on the other hand, represent bigger losses. Each is a versatile player who can both eat up yardage as cutters and break down the defense as throwers. This flexibility is one of the key components of D.C.’s offense. The Current’s handlers cut upline with impunity in part because their cutters fill the spaces as necessary. Cutters can constantly attack deep because, of 10 offensive players on the team last year, eight were threatening throwers.
Past that, Keegan had been with D.C. since the Current rolled out their inaugural lineup in 2013. And he’s not alone in that boat. This year there are six departing players who played the first two seasons with the Current: Chip Cobb, Robert Dulabon, Bobby Gordon, Matt Gordon, Daniel Kantor and Keegan. All but Keegan have been mainstays in the defensive rotation. Each of the five defenders is fast, physical and aggressive, essentially the calling card of D.C.’s defensive identity over two seasons.
Add to that list the other five defenders who are not returning (Dave Boylan-Kolchin, Connor Maloney, Cody Johnston, Glenn Poole and Andrew Fickley) and it’s clear that a significant portion of the defense will change in 2015. The 13 departing players accounted for 51.39 percent of defensive points played (832 out of a possible 1,619).
These departures should not be underestimated as the D! C! D! of 2014 was a brutally efficient unit, outscoring the closest defense by 1.4 goals per game, and holding opponents to a the lowest by-point conversion rate in the conference:
|Opp. O Goal||135||2nd|
|Opp. O Point Conv.||58.18%||1st|
|Opp. O Poss. Conv.||44.11%||2nd|
|D Poss Conv.||47.82%||1st|
|D Point Conv.||33.18%||1st|
|D Poss Per Point||.693||2nd|
While the Whitecaps’ defensive rotation was slightly more effective at creating break opportunities, the Current were more likely to convert those opportunities. In addition, they were the stingiest defense on a per-point basis.
The departing players filled a variety of roles, but their collective performance in 2014 speaks for itself. The D.C. D was relentless all season long, going on extended runs of breaks against every opponent. This was made possible not only by schemes, strategies and skill but also the development of a team-wide culture and identity. A good defense always believes it will force a turnover. A great defense knows how it will force a turnover. A good defense will go on a run of two or three breaks lead by the top of their roster. A great defense will go on a run of four or five or more breaks fueled by the bottom of the roster.
One of the best things about watching D.C. undress their opponents was the clear amount of preparation that coaches Keven Moldenhauer and Will Smolinski put into their gameplans and the focus with which their players executed those plans. This was one of the major differences in the 2014 MLU Championship game. The D.C. team was clearly looking for specific matchups and situations to exploit on O and D from the opening pull while the Vancouver Nighthawks seemed to be playing until they figured it out.
While this team has lost key players from the last two seasons, a significant portion of the team is back for a second or third round. The Current have 12 players and two coaches who have been with the team since 2013. Eleven players are new in 2015, five joined the team in 2014 and one played in 2013 but not in 2014. The challenge for this team will not be filling the top of its roster but instead how new players fit into the great wide open space in the middle.
The players joining and returning to D.C. to find new or larger roles to fill are quality players who have the capacity to, at very least, fill the spaces left by departures. What remains to be seen is how they will fill those roles and how their unique skills, desire and temperament will change the team. It was no accident that the D.C. Current won the title in 2014. They were consistently fully invested in and prepared for each of their games. They were hungry thanks to the institutional memory of being soundly dismissed by the Boston Whitecaps in the 2013 playoffs.
But how hungry are the new players on this roster? Will this team feel accomplished as a result of their 2014 title or will that victory only whet their appetite for more? Last season, Boston had a giant target on their backs from preseason to July. Now, Boston is “one of those teams that finished around .500” while D.C. is the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Now that the Current are the lead dogs, where will they take the conference?