Photo by Scobel Wiggins –

16 – 21 

This is the game that Boston was supposed to have at home all of last year against D.C. It wasn’t noteworthy that the Whitecaps overcame the threat of a second loss to D.C. in Medford, Mass. but rather the certainty with which the Whitecaps executed their plan against Current. It was less the sense that the Current were worse than the Whitecaps on that one night, but rather it was that in future encounters, regardless of victory, would be on different terms.

The East is pulling closer together as a conference. Three whole years together with stability in style and coaches. Three consistent years of footage on a consistent core of players and plans. Mileage derived from that and the information available will vary from staff to staff and player to player, but the overall effect it has is that the margin between victory and defeat is frequently an otherwise overlooked play:

This is the type of play which changes games.

The score is Boston 10, D.C. 8, Boston on O and D.C. on D. Josh Markette throws a reasonable but behind-the-receiver pass to the front of the stack. The disc misses the defender (Andrew Cantone) and clangs off of the offensive player (Jake Taylor). At the time, there are three D.C. players and three Boston players upfield and within 15 yards. At 1:30:02, two of the three D.C. players are looking back at the thrower, as are two of the three Boston players. The disc redirects toward the one D.C. defender, John Agan, whose head is momentarily not turned in position to see the disc. As everyone else in the stadium is looking at Brian Zid’s deflected catch, Agan is looking to where the disc was more than two seconds ago. He was the one D.C. player in a position to prevent this completion, and he was the only person in the stadium not looking.

In part, this is a fluke of timing as Agan is not a minus defender and generally has his vision keyed to the appropriate area of the field. Then again, the game turns on fluke plays and unforeseen opportunities.

23 – 17 

The Stags rock the Dogfish to sleep by playing their measured and efficient defensive offense. They lead the league in break goals per game at nine. The next closest is Vancouver with six breaks per game. In a related story, Portland is leading the league with a team-wide 93.94 completion percentage, though they are closely trailed by the Spinners who complete passes at 93.21.

Of course, the clear laudatory story here is that the Stags are the only undefeated team left in the league. Not only that, but they have four wins while the rest of the West has combined for three. The way that this team has been outworking and out-competing the opponents in the West, makes it more a matter of whether the eventual second-place team in the West has a plan to address Portland in the playoffs than if anyone will catch them before the regular season concludes.

This is the type of play which changes games:

Bjorklund catching a tipped goal to make it 12-7 Portland.

Of course it was Bjorklund. It was always Bjorklund. Portland picked that disc up after a Dogfish turnover and put it up to Bjorklund. It was knocked away from him, fluttered for a brief moment, and then it was reeled in for the goal. Caught deflections reside at the nexus of focus, skill and fortune.

 13 – 16 

Is the league catching up with Alan Kolick?

The give-go game is strong with D.C., and they run it out of a number of places and with a number of players, but the wall pass has always been a specialty of Kolick in times of trouble (And even when not – it is an effective dominant strategy for his style). Many players simply are not able to match his ability to accelerate quite legally out of standard throwing positions on the field. However, good team defense can disrupt even this most effective skill.

In this clip, Kolick starts with the disc and resets it to Calvin Oung who is cutting to the breakside. As Oung catches, he pulls his defender over with a small fake, and then looks upfield as Kolick moves to the center. Oung tosses the disc over to Kolick, who is given a free reception by Joe Anderson. Kolick catches and surveys the field quickly, and then decides to throw an off-foot backhand swing to Lloyd Blake. This is a skill every player should have. It allows #99 to sprint across the field from a strong base without traveling.

Kolick leverages this to drive upfield, looking for the return from Blake as Kolick has beaten Anderson to that side of the field. However, the Rumble are ready for this. Dave Vuckovich sags off into the lane ahead of Kolick while Anderson trails Kolick and then closes down on the mark, passing Kolick off and maintaining defensive integrity.

D.C.’s second option is not clarified at this point. Markham Shofner is not open in the center, Oung is wide enough that he is not a direct threat, Jeff Wodatch is waiting wide and creating space… So Kolick cuts back in and relieves Blake of the burden of the disc.

This was a good disruption on the part of New York. It caught the D.C. offense asleep at the wheel early in the game. It leads to Wodatch attempting to beat Marques Brownlee in toward the disc. It is either a drop or a block, but either results in an early break opportunity which the Rumble convert on an assist from Josue Alorro to Charlie Patten.

D.C. never lead in this game and didn’t score in the final 4:02. It started with a break and ended with a whimper. Whether it was the effect of working without David Cranston or trying to figure out where, exactly, their new pieces fit, this will either be a momentary low for their season or it will be the moment the tide turned against them.

Seven On & On Anon…

1. Fun Sequence Brought to You Courtesy of the Clock
San Francisco 6, Portland 10. One minute left in the period. Midfield Portland pull. High, floaty. SF turn at :45. Portland scores by :36 (SF 6, POR 11). Portland pulls from the goal, disc travels 78 yards. SF scores in 22 seconds to leave :11 in the quarter (SF 7, POR 11). SF pulls a beauty from midfield. Bjorklund gets fouled by a double team at :04. +10 yards. +10 seconds. Stall is less than 10 seconds. This is a flaw in the rules. If all Portland wants to do is run out the clock on offense, they should be able to do that. Else, SF has, in this instance, created an advantage in which fouling the Stags will result in another opportunity for a possession change before the end of the half. Watch as a Stag throws the disc to a Dogfish who immediately chucks the disc into the end zone for a chance that should have been caught, as the SF player had the best bead on the disc.

The questions here are myriad. Should Portland have scored so quickly after the SF turn or would they have been wise to run off the remainder of the clock and risk not scoring? Would Portland be better served by stepping away from the contact on the double team to prevent the foul from being called? Could the ability to decline a foul be a fairer resolution in this instance?

2. And Here We Are
This is the time. The Current have fallen from 2-0 to 2-2. The Whitecaps have risen from 0-2 to 2-2. The Rumble notched their first victory of 2015. The Spinners took the week off and landed at 2-1 in first place. The East is where the action us. At least until someone beats the Stags. Or until we reach the later part of the season and the race for second place has become more directly relevant. D.C.’s performance over the course of the weekend called everything we thought we knew about the East into question. No longer is there a pacesetter waiting to be overcome, now there is an enjoyable mess of teams ranging from 2-1 to 1-2. Fantastic. We shall see what these teams are truly made of.

3. They Say Styles Make Fights
Jibran Mieser versus Peter Prial is one of the more entertaining matchups in the league. A close second might be Tyler Chan versus Ben Fleming.

Both of these matchups are similarities in style rather than differences in style. The first is a long-limbed, strength at extension style matchup. The second is a more forceful and direct application of strength and speed. Both contain acceptable body contact to and from both O and D. Both are more informative before the catch or block might occur than as the block or catch occurs. Though the closing moments of a block or a near-block are often more exciting, the jockeying for position and re-definition of space are complex multi-variable problems. And all of it can be rendered moot by the quality of the throw from perfect to imperfect to abysmal. Sometimes terrible throws beat perfect defense. Sometimes anything less than a perfect throw is beaten by bad defense.

The percentages and terms set by these matchups dictate how each offense works and frequently define what a defense is trying to force and/or take away. Prial and Chan are the downfield engines which provide deeper options for their respective teams. The handler set for these teams can be extremely effective (depending on personnel present) and work the whole of the field regardless, but when these two cutters are working well downfield, the offenses chew up chunks of yardage and put their defenses back on the field.

4. Perston Perston Perston
Just like Chan and Prial, Timmy Perston is the piece on the chessboard which determines the shape of the field for the offense. It isn’t always that these players are the primary option, though Prial plays that role quite frequently. Perston seems to be happier than anyone in the league to bide his team until a goal-scoring opportunity is created and then striking with perfect timing. He catches defenders with their hips or heads facing the wrong way, he catches defenders who are a fraction of a second late in applying their full speed a he races around them. It helps that he vacuums up all imperfect throws using sticky hands, strong body position and good elevation. With the disc he is a competent thrower who will take advantage of a compromised defense, but as a receiver his ability to attack the end zone and reward throwers for their trust in him helps the Stags offense reliably generate scoring opportunities.

5. That’s a Heckuva Pull
108yards! Perhaps the Dogfish pull-catcher turfed the first pass because he was ogling the flight of the disc. Way better than the SF pull from the previous point which traveled a meager 81 yards.

6. 29 Points
The D.C. loss to New York was only the second time that a game involving the Current totaled under 30 points. The previous was a Whitecaps defeat of the Current to the tune of 17-12 on April 26, 2014 which was D.C.’s last loss before this past weekend. It was also the second time that the Rumble have defeated the Current. Both games were decided by three points, and we need to go all the way back to May 18, 2013 for the Rumble’s 17-14 victory over the Current. Boston remains the only team to beat D.C. by four or more points.

7. Then Again, Is This Solvable?
D.C. @ BOS, 7:02 left in the first quarter. Shofner with the disc decides to boost it deep. Take not that at the time of the throw Kolick is six yards upfield of Shofner. The disc floats long enough for 13 players to get into the picture. Of course, Kolick comes down with it. However, if you blink you’ll miss the true genius of this play: Kolick catches by the rim with his fingers *inside* the disc rather than outside. This is a skill that not all players develop. It seems too hard for some or unnecessary. But it adds to the height at which the disc can be caught. This is the exception that proves the rule, with respect to the last person into the scrum catches the disc. If Kolick had gone up like ultimate players usually do, intent on catching with fingers on top of the disc and thumb inside the rim, he would not have been the first to touch the disc, and likely would have tipped the disc rather than catching it.

And he certainly got hacked twice immediately while trying to throw after this catch. That’s borderline by Boston. Not sure how they thought they could make a play there without fouling. This is not just another player making a play in traffic. This is the sort of subtle skill which can leave the uninformed wondering what sort of magic was conjured by the practitioner.

Midfield Heave as Time Expires

Michael Hennessy is currently wining the goal celebration award (choreographed division). From putting on a uniform and marching off the field to rocking the disc to sleep and sneaking away. Someone has been putting in work away from the field.