Photo by Scobel Wiggins – UltiPhotos.com
20 – 22
This was a slow burn of a game. Even the start was delayed by travel issues for the Whitecaps, whose arrival was as close to the beginning of a game as I’ve seen for any MLU game thus far. To their credit, it didn’t seem to affect their play much, if at all. The teams traded for most of the game, with three two-point runs for Philly and a strong three-point run from Boston to open the second quarter. Throughout, neither team led by more than two points and the tenor of the game was not controlled by either team. While it wasn’t sloppy, both teams expressed an early-season lack of clarity in the execution of their plans on both offense and defense.
On offense, the Spinners and the Whitecaps consistently burdened themselves with poor vertical spacing in their offensive sets. This was in part due to the suboptimal timing of many open deep cuts from which the deep cutter then failed to cycle back closer to the thrower. This spacing also led to deep throws chased down by a pack of three or more defenders as the throwers were unable to impart sufficient pace to the disc to eliminate the defenders from the play.
These are eminently fixable errors and I fully expect both teams to clean up their play as the season progresses.
Philadelphia’s offense looked much improved in terms of purposefully spacing the field for cutters and attacking farther upline with their handler cuts. If these turn out to be persistent improvements rather than a one-off home-opener performance, the Spinners will be a playoff team. Boston, while they do look less dangerous than the last two seasons, were not overpowered in this game. They simply started the season off against an opponent who was ready to prove themselves from the jump while the Whitecaps warmed to the game.
12 – 21
The Stags’ consistency on offense was more than the Rainmakers could keep up with.
Executing inside breaks in the flow of play and putting up deep shots to isolation were the hallmarks of their play throughout. On the other side, the Rainmakers gave the disc away early and often. While the Stags were strong on defense, they did not generate a bunch of blocks on their own. Seattle was throwing deep shots both to no one and directly at defenders. This was frequent on their deep looks which is related to the difference in size between the two sides. Almost across the board, the Stags were physically larger than their opponents. The Rainmakers, as a result, were at a disadvantage on any throw which hung up.
The pressure that being smaller than your opponents puts on offensive execution is pervasive. It is not a barrier to victory, but it is a hurdle. The Rainmakers frequently threw to speed streaking deep rather than hanging the disc up to height. These sort of throws need a brisk pace and to be placed out to space. In this opening game, Seattle frequently threw low enough that the Stags defenders were able to pick them out of the sky before the intended receiver was able to make a play on the disc. These errors put Seattle down early and they never managed to apply sufficient pressure to Portland’s offense.
The veteran core of the Stags maintained composure throughout the game, whether the Rainmakers were in man or zone.
Which brings me to the concept of zones in MLU. The Rainmakers employed a three-man cup which the Stags easily threw over and around. If there are three players right near the thrower, the rest of the field is a 6:4 advantage for the offense. Without significant pressure on the thrower, this is a victory for the offense. Perhaps something with a double on the mark and a a third defender nearby would succeed, but a spaced-out three-man cup intimidates very few MLU players. Seattle showed other zone looks which seemed more effective at creating pressure, but Portland never looked uncomfortable or disorganized on offense.
On the whole, Seattle is looking significantly weaker than in 2014, and the Stags look like a team on a mission.
18 – 19 (2OT)
This game was like a wildfire. It started from a seemingly innocuous spark whose flames were fanned into an unmanageable blaze by the wind. The first frame ended with D.C. holding a 4-3 lead. The second quarter was quite likely the lowest-scoring quarter thus far in MLU play, as the two teams combined to score three points, as D.C. extended their lead to 6-4 at the half. Which would put them on pace for a 12-8 victory. In the third quarter, Boston battled back to make it 8-8 going into the third. At this point, the teams were on pace to score 21 points total. There was no hint of what was to come.
The fourth quarter would see 16 points scored, 8 by each team. It would also see a wide array of mental errors by both teams. Let’s back up for a moment: Over the first three quarters, the teams combined to score 16 points. In the final quarter, the teams combined to score 16 points.
Even more surprising is that over over the final 5 minutes and 39 seconds, the Whitecaps would score seven goals and the Current would score six. That’s a goal every 26 seconds! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I probably wouldn’t have believed it, even with video evidence. If we can fake a moon landing, we can fake a high-scoring ultimate quarter.
Stranger still, the Whitecaps essentially dropped the disc on the pull multiple times, forcing D.C. to use their last remaining timeout and then…for some other purpose which still escapes me. In the booth, the closest comparison we could come up with is fouling intentionally in basketball to stop the clock, and that comparison is definitely wanting. In basketball, if you foul a player, you’re conceding two, one or zero points. Compare this to a standard offensive possession which may result in four, three, two, one or zero points. In ultimate, you’re conceding one point, which is the only possible outcome. The clock is certainly stopping, but to what end? To give your team more time to score when the distance between the two teams will still remain the same? There remains, however, the advantage of trapping an offensive team in the smallest area of the field (to which they have to sprint) and immediately applying a structured aggressive double-team zone. The problem is that there is still an open player somewhere and if the completion is just an inch forward of the disc’s starting spot…it is a goal. Boston had more success when they rolled the disc out of bounds short of midfield and applied a very similar defense.
That aside, as we neared the end of regulation, there was a flurry of errors on the part of the Current, and Boston took advantage of the opportunities they helped create to go up 16-15 with six seconds remaining on the clock. Things were looking grim for D.C., but Boston was offsides on the pull, which gave D.C. the disc at midfield. From there, the Whitecaps failed to apply a mark to Alan Kolick who threw the disc to an unmarked Markham Shofner, who got a free throw before a mark got near him. He chose to send a cross-field knifing flick to a group of four Current players covered by one Boston player. I cannot fathom that this is what Coach Rosenthal drew up before the point.
As the excitement of overtime and double overtime continued, it all led to that brain-bending chase down block from Ben Fleming. It could not have ended any other way.
D.C. showed the league that to this point, they are still the team to beat while Boston fell two games below .500. It isn’t that Boston is a bad team by any stretch, but they have made their season into an uphill slog while the rest of the conference is running on flat ground.
14 – 15
This game was chock full of deep looks. Not a lot of them were successful, but they nonetheless defined the character of the game. The ugliness of the deep game in part due to both teams being in early-season form, but it also seemed that the throwers on both sides were consistently attempting passes with a degree of difficulty just beyond their ability while defenders on each side were eager to give chase and pressure the receivers into errors when not getting outright blocks.
The timing was consitently off as the disc moved. That is, players frequently needed to wait for their cutters to get into position or to get open rather than smoothly working through a set of progressions. Despite the win, this was actually more of an issue throughout the game for San Francisco than for Vancouver. As the Nighthawks played more, their offense cleaned up through controlled decisions and more precise delivery of intermediate throws.
Defensively, the Dogfish worked primarily, if not exclusively, in a basic man defense while the Nighthawks changed it up from a man defense to a sort of matchup zone. Specifically when the Dogfish were on the sideline, the Nighthawks would be sure to have a defender in the active lane who was looking for the primary downfield option to either play man on or prevent an easy throw. Of course, this is enabled in large part by the player you can’t miss when you watch the Nighthawks: Morgan Hibbert. One reason I’m happy to be seeing more Western Conference games this season is to better grasp the damping effect his presence has on the deep games of his opponents throughout the season.
San Francisco is better than they were last season, which will make the Western Conference more fun. It’ll be interesting to see how both they and the Nighthawks match up against the Rainmakers, but it looks like Portland is the team to beat out West while everyone else plays for second place.
Seven On & On Anon…
1. Loose Marks
The trend, league-wide, seems to be away from the tight, body-bumping mark. That isn’t to say there are never occassions when a close, obstructing mark is deployed, but rather that most teams are sagging off and giving the thrower a little more space. This type of marking gives the defender more time to react to the throw and makes fouls less likely, while conceding more horizontal passes. I like both the efficacy and aesthetics of these marks. The noticeable lack of persistent bump-and-grind marking is a boon to the watchability of the game. Finally, it also allows the marker to actually take away a close and otherwise open offensive player or to easily work a switch on a throw-and-go motion from the thrower.
2. The Trent Tucker Rule
In basketball, there is a rule which states that if there are less than .3 seconds left on the clock, a player does not have time to catch and shoot. This weekend, the Current pulled to the Whitecaps with .4 seconds left. Jeff Graham caught the disc with perfectly prepped hands, and immediately launched the disc. That was about as quickly as I’ve seen anyone catch a pull (Which generally has more force and spin than a pass thrown to you by a teammate, which makes it harder to catch) and get a throw off. That said, I’m not certain that it was completed in under .4 seconds. The league should codify how much time is sufficient to catch a pull and throw the disc. It should be a hard limit so that there is no confusion in situations such as these, in particular because the refs are without recourse to instant replay.
There are more partially ambidextrous players than fans realize. There are off-hand resets and the other short to medium passes happening frequently in the league, but they are practiced enough that it looks natural. This is the harbinger of the coming two-handed throwing revolution. This also makes me suspect that Morgatron is a weapon sent back from the future. His double-backhand throwing style is uniquely enabled by his gigantic stride length and constantly flummoxes defenders, and sometimes causes spurious travel calls.`
4. Inside Position Is King
There were a number of players in this first week of play flying at top speed on deep cuts and creating a ton of separation from their defender, only to be thrown a low line-drive huck which the defender easily picked off. Whether the thrower sees them late or can’t get the throw off on time due to the mark, the compensation for this delay is to throw the disc at a lower elevation and to put more pace on it. However, when the defender has position between the thrower and the intended receiver, a straight-line rip fits the very definition of low-hanging fruit for the defender. Inside positioning and seeing the thrower make these blocks possible.
5. Who the Heck Is That Guy?
There are always gems in the background of MLU games. Last year, we found a guy missing a dunk on a basketball court in Boston. This year, the first find is “shirtless dude staring at the sky” during the Vancouver vs. San Francisco game:
6. This Midfield Pull Thing Is…
…weird. The deal is that if a team calls a timeout after scoring, they can choose to pull from midfield, which caught me completely off-guard during the game on Saturday. Fortunately the official working the clock in the booth was immediately able to help the rest of us poor souls out by giving us a quick refresher course. The change in field position can be drastic, it was no better than the first pull of the game on Saturday, which Boston rolled out the back of the end zone. Boston had the best pulls league-wide in these situations, sending a screamer of a backhand blade to the back of the end zone every time. Both Philly and D.C. were competent as they put the disc in the back of the end zone, but each pull was eminently catchable. Seattle’s midfield pull was just atrocious, and Portland was barely better. I’ll give this particular rule a little more time before I give my full thoughts on it, but it has some (un?)intended consequences:
– The player who is tasked with fielding this pull has to scramble around as the disc skids, skips or rolls out the back, or he can go to the disc lying on the ground in in the dead center of the field, about two feet out-of-bounds. This is both comical and supremely non-ultimate-related action.
– Intentional offsides by the receiving team is the smart play. According to rule X.e.i.2, if the receiving team is offsides the disc is put into play at the reverse brick mark, which is defined as the exact center of the end zone. In normal pulling conditions, this is an above average pull. However, if the pull is coming from midfield, this is a terrible pull. Until this loophole is closed, every team should follow the Rainmakers lead and be offsides every time their opponent pulls from midfield. Hat tip to Seattle for reading, understanding and challenging the rules.**
7. And So When Boston Tries to Sneak in a Short Pull…
Shouldn’t they line up at the back of the end zone to do it? Or subtly throw backwards? 20 more yards, a lot of space? I still don’t fully understand the logic of this play, but the extra distance the opponent needs to cover seems like it would be advantageous to the scheme.
Midfield Heave as Time Expires
The league was collectively 2 / 12 on heaves as time expired. The two completions were both the Whitecaps at the Spinners. Boston and D.C. combined to go 2 / 2 on heaves as time almost expired.
**MLU officials have informed the teams that an intentional offsides in this context will be treated as unsportsmanlike conduct. The offending player will be banded and the disc will be awarded to the pulling team.