Photo by John King – Ultiphotos.com
The final game of the season is upon us. The usual blur of the season has been on standstill these last two weeks. In our championship this season we are watching two of the most dominant MLU teams face off in what is looking to be a classic finale. The turn around of these two teams over the past few seasons has been phenomenal. In 2013 both the Spinner and Stags sat dead last in their conferences, and yet here they are with just two losses between them – and both to the Whitecaps. While the Stags were able to turn around their performance in 2014 and make it all the way to the playoffs it took the Spinners a bit more time to build to where they are now.
I’ve been following the Stags for four years now and I think I’m ready to watch them in the MLU Championship. I’ve been at more games than I’ve missed and never missed a home game. The team has been building to this for a long time now and I think they are ready as well. Of course the Spinners have been building to this moment as well, slowly moving up the east coast ladder till they were top dog. Both of these teams have earned their right to be at the Championship this year and we are in for a hell of a game.
A big article (at least in scope) call for a bigger beer and tonight we’ll start our adventure with a Fat Scotch Ale (Silver City Brewery).
It has surprised me that people view the Stags as so much more huck happy than the Spinner because from what I have seen the Spinners are looking to huck, it just takes then 4 or 5 passes until they are ready to uncork. Looking at their cast on offense it is too surprising and it fits their personnel well. A big part of this offense is Eastern Conference MVP Billy Sickles, who is everywhere on the Spinners offense. We mostly see Sickles as a downfield threat, as his athleticism lets him get the disc even with tough defenders. But the real advantage there is that threat of Sickles going deep that opens up the under cuts. The Spinner then utilize this space to move the disc up the field until they have that open deep look. Sickles and along with Matt Glazer are primary targets in this offense, making up 22.6% of the Spinners goal scoring. And that’s just off of goals, their combined 30 assists also suggests that they are getting the disc close enough to the endzone that they are making additional goals possible.
This isn’t to say that Philadelphia is run through either of these players, it is quite the opposite in fact. The Spinners have one of the deepest offenses in the league and they utilize players up and down their roster. One of the reasons that the Spinners have been so successful this season is that if you can successfully shut down one aspect of their offense they just shift to focusing on another part. Of course their defense has been a huge part of their success with guys like Matt Esser and Greg Martin leading the defensive line in blocks and goals. Add in guys like Gabe Colton and Ethan Peck who can send the deep shot off the turn and the Spinners have a formidable offense from their defensive line. And of course if the offense is sputtering any of these guys would be a welcome addition to change things up. The Spinners are deep.
Out west the Stags rely on Cody Bjorklund to run their offense. Where as we see a multitude of plays coming out from the Spinners, almost everything on the Stags starts with Bjorklund. He earned the Western Conference MVP with 57 points on the season from 16 goals and 41 assists. The significance of 41 assists didn’t really hit me until I realized that only one other player has more than 41 points on the season. Brad Houser comes in second with 46 points on the season and Billy Sickles and Raphy Hayes are tied at 41 for third place. Third place is tied at 41 points – Bjorklund has that many assists. It’s nuts. He is playing 78% of the Stags offensive points and has an OSE of 75% – the only other player with a higher OSE with over 100 offensive points played is Trevor Smith at 77.2% and he also plays for the Stags.
The next cog in the Stags offensive system is Timmy Perston. With 29 goals scored this season it is clear that Perston is a target, but more importantly he is someone who draws the defense. Perston is so good at getting goals that 29 goals is a down year for him – it’s actually the fewest he has scored in a full regular season in 2013 he scored 33 and in 2015 37 (he only played one regular season game in 2014, but he scored 9 goals in that game). With a goal scorer that good it is hard to not to rely on him, but the Stags have one more ace, and that is the 2016 Breakout Player of the Year Raphy Hayes. Hayes has done it all for the Stags this season with 2nd most assists and goals for the team and the 3rd most blocks. With Hayes as the third cog in the offense that can fill in when either Bjorklund or Perston are getting shut down you’ve got a team that isn’t going to have a problem setting the new MLU single season scoring record.
The Stags defense has been really what has put them ahead this season. Part of the reason the offense has been so good this season is that the defense has given them a lot of chances to rest. Two time Defensive Player of the Year Peter Woodside has done a lot to get that defense working with 27 goals and 19 blocks. I remember watch him last year and seeing him trail players and thinking to myself that he just looked slow. Time and time again Woodside has proved he is anything but slow – in my mind I was just comparing him to players like Topher Davis. But that’s all wrong, we see Davis playing the underneath defense for the Stags and getting the layout blocks, where as with Woodside is set up deep and forces the offense to rethink those long balls. The Stags have done a good job setting up a team defense that let’s their defenders be where they’ll be most effective. They have a challenge this weekend with the depth of Philadelphia’s offense.
One of the issues that the Stags are going to be facing heading out east is the increase in physical play. After their game in Boston when I talked to the Stags one of the things that they felt they were really unprepared for was the difference in how the referees called physical play. It wasn’t an issue where they felt the refs were calling things wrong, just more that they would have expected different calls when playing at home. But the Stags can plan for that now having the experience from playing against Boston. While the Spinners haven’t had a chance to play anyone in the west yet they do have home field advantage and that should really show in a game of this magnitude.
Delving beyond the players on the team we can see what we might gleam from the numbers both these teams put up over the season.
Looking at the stat line between these two teams we see that Portland has a slight edge, but numbers aren’t everything. You don’t have to go very far to find an argument that the Spinners play in a harder conference and as such even with slightly worse numbers they carry much more weight. Certainly both these played in their fair share of blowouts and those inflate their numbers than if they were only playing at teams of their caliber. Despite what film and stats can tell us about these teams we still don’t know how they are going to matchup against each other.
What I’m going to do next is unfair. This season we witnessed our first cross conference games and because of this we have a common opponent for both the Stags and Spinners. To help give us some context to our numbers we’re going to take a look at how both these teams fared against the Whitecaps. This is unfair for any number of reasons but it is the best we’ve got to go off for at least a cursory comparison. We’ll be taking the averages of the Spinners 4 games against the Whitecaps while only using the one game the Stags played against them.
These numbers tell quite the different story and the Spinners look a whole lot better. While the Spinners do have the edge, most categories are quite close and certainly within reasonable error for any particular game. Unsurprisingly we see a defense drop from both these teams against the well oiled Boston offense, but what should be concerning for the Stags is their drop in offensive efficiency compared to that of the Spinners who actually had a better OSE when facing the Whitecaps.
The biggest take away from this, I’ll call it questionable, data is that both these teams are even more evenly matched than we might have thought at first. The only game the Spinner dropped to Boston came in overtime after the Spinners lead for most of the game. The Stags have expressed to me how they could’ve played a much cleaner game in their loss. The Spinners got their shot at playing a better and showed they were more than able. The Stags will need to show their better game plan this weekend for their shot at the Silver Disc.
Philadelphia has the clear advantage coming into this game. Even without homefield advantage I’d wager that the Spinners have had a better season then the Stags overall. This game is going to come down to the mental game and that is really hard to predict. It won’t be easy and this is probably a homer pick but I’m calling it for the Stags.