Photo by John King – UltiPhotos.com
Fouls…varieties of no-step-backhands…laser hucks…hammers…speed…size…creativity…”were it not that I have bad dreams”…zone&attack…sag&trail…mania…casual…
Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.
There are 21 players in the MLU with more than five fouls. I suppose it should not come as a surprise that defenders make up more of this list than offensive players as they are the ones attempting to make a play on a disc thrown not to them. Similarly, there may be reluctance on the part of the officials to all offensive fouls as tightly as defensive fouls when offensive fouls result in a turnover. All that said, the four players with double-digit fouls on the season are:
That’s at least one foul per game and while that isn’t an egregious rate, it is far more than the vast majority of MLU players, 222 of whom played without more than .5 fouls per game. Then again, perhaps this is unfair. Hibbert did play nearly 300 points. What about fouls per point played? The leaders (minimum 50 points played):
There are 30 players who average greater than .050 fouls per point and 213 who average .050 or under, and each of Hibbert, Foster, Hochhalter and Saunkeah is over .050. My point is simply this: A perfectly played game has zero preventable fouls. Some fouls are not preventable, and then there is the whole rest of the spectrum. I am not implying anything about the way these fouls have happened nor about the intent of the player who is whistled for a foul. I am pointing to the evidence that some players foul more than others. As such, we should tread carefully going forward as styles of play which lead to more fouls tend to be at best aesthetically displeasing and at worst dangerous.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.
Really, there is a smorgasbord of sweet things from both of the Western Conference Final teams:
Portland offers hammers, strong pulls, no-step backhand perfection from Dan Suppnick, the strangely endearing hitch in Cody Bjorklund’s forehand, control behind the disc, hammers, Timmy Perston’s evident joy upon scoring, blades to away cuts and easily my favorite mascot, Stony the Stag. I have two basic requirements of mascots: 1. Be easily identifiable as a thing from the real world. 2. Be non-threatening. Stony’s got ’em both.
Seattle’s spread includes a flexible defense, Mark Burton Burtoning all over the field, strong and creative team-level field awareness, quick passes, very good depth, Brad Houser’s flick to high to low no-step backhand progression, the best traveling fans I’ve seen, laser hucks to speed, well-designed plays and strangely compelling jerseys.
Ah, the core of the non-veganoid breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.
Seattle’s offense plays out of a horizontal stack with three handlers back even when they looks like they’re in a vertical stack.
They emphasize a decent amount of short throws from handlers to cutters and back to transverse the field and put pressure on the mark. This works with the cutting abilities of Burton to give multiple throwers options to hit away cuts. Trytiak is the main trigger man for aggressive or powerful shots or throws from a standstill, but McKibben has displayed useful creativity as a thrower which helps the offense keep the field spread. Houser, Jeff Pape, Andrew Lynch and Todd Sliva have played a variety of roles over the season and admirably as each has from 20 to 26 goals and assists. The other two far less interchangeable offensive players we expect to see are Chris Rupp, a 5-foot-9 handler, and Isaac Entz, a 6-foot-6 matchup dictator.
This is a competent offense which has kept pace all season with their opponents. They have looked their best when Khalif El-Salaam (who will be out this weekend) and Burton work together downfield and the whole of the team bounces the disc purposefully between players. They have looked their worst when their primary cutters fail to get open and their shorter passes don’t lead immediately to a continuation. A key factor in Seattle’s ability to play effective offense will be whether their non-Burton cutters can create open options downfield.
Portland runs a vertical stack even when they run a horizontal stack.
Ben McGinn, (6-foot-4) works the main handling duties with Steve Kenton (6-foot-1). Perston (6-foot-3) and Bjorklund (5-foot-11) are primary cutters. Aaron Adamson (6-foot-4) is a tall secondary cutter who dictates matchups. Raphey Hayes (6-foot) is a secondary cutter who covers ground aggressively and plays very strong defense after turns, but so does this group as a whole. Tad Jensen (6-foot-2) and John Seimer (6-foot-3) will likely be the other primary offensive players. My point being that this is a tall team. The only player under six feet is Bjorklund. And his results speak for themselves.
Oh, and my other running theory about the Stags is that Timmy Perston is actually Freddy Kruger. Skinny, funny headgear, long fingers and every time you fall asleep the nightmare begins again. Perston’s ability to sort of cruise around the field at a pace just faster than defender wants to go and then threateningly ease into a gear most defenders can only reach with concerted effort is unique. And in any momentary micro-nap could result in a feeling that everything is to going smoothly as you float on clouds of fluffery soft magnificats only to snap out of an Otto Porter moment as Perston has gotten a few steps on you which he will be quite loathe to relinquish.
Or he could give you a head start and chase you down with some sort of magic.
Or he could let you think you were in the perfect position (like a center for sleep disorders or waiting under a disc) only to take everything from you as you get complacent.
The thread is that neither Perston nor Kruger solely impose their will physically. They’re also experts at taking full advantage of mental lapses or a lack of focus as well as forcing moments in which the opponent is likely to relax and catch a breather unaware that the race is already lost.
Tighter generally than Portland, but frequently sagging aggressively off of pull plays or in specific situations. Downfield Seattle tends to play even with cutters and work to pressure both aways and unders made easier with the use of a directional force. Seattle runs more zones than most teams, with a handful of variants from standard cup zones to space-out and matchup looks. In addition to these basic looks, the Rainmakers consistently double throwers from unexpected angles and work ad hoc switches and poaches.
If they just line up and play Portland in a basic look, Portland will win. If Portland has trouble with a few wrinkles Seattle will throw, then we could have an upset for Seattle. But their gambles are exactly the sliver of space or the stitch in time which Portland has exploited all season long as teams struggle to deal with Bjorklund and Perston in space.
After the turn, the weight falls first on Henry Phan’s throws and second on Evan Klein’s cutting. Past that, Eddie Feeley usually provides a second throwing option adept at keeping the disc moving but will be out for this game. Clay Dewey-Valentine, Bren Byerly, Sam Pickel, Ben Beehner, Peter Bender, Cam Bailey and John Quandt will be called on to fill a variety of roles as usual, but there may be more space for them to spread their wings in Feeley’s absence.
The key for this side will be to take advantage of the moments when a defender can get a loose from their assignment and cause something like Dewey-Valentine’s Callahan.
Generally lane-sagging handler defenders. Not passively, but actively dropping 10 or more yards downfield of the player they are covering. Taking their time to close down the mark while working to cover any short open unders. The marks are directional but certainly have an element of straight up to them.
Downfield their defenders tend to purposefully trail their matchup which lets them maintain vision of the thrower and close down on sub-par under passes or accelerate past a receiver who slows up a bit too much before the catch. It does concede a window for underneath cuts, however.
The Stags tighten up on resets intermittently, and as they get closer to the end zone, but their general defensive philosophy seems to be to make you take many extant but small-window under cuts or to put up deep throws to speed against their height advantage. If you execute these two things sufficiently against them, Portland can be beaten. But every time you make an error on one of the two, you have to deal with Woodside being fed by any combination of players (The Stags D rotation had nine players throw more then five assists over the season, which led the league. Seattle and Boston each had six players with more than five assists). Holding down the fort behind the disc is Dan Suppnick supported primarily by Steven Rice, Grant Cole and Topher Davis (particularly without Riley Meinsershagen this weekend).
Stake with your eggs?
Uhm… Berth in the MLU Championship and a chance to win disc whose weight is only matched by its shininess.
Waffles or Pancakes?
Choose… but choose wisely.
Seattle 20 @ Portland 21
There is an air of mania in the play of Seattle. There is nearly-nothing but calm from Portland. How much of Seattle’s variety on defense turns out to be genius and how much turns out to be novelty will be revealed this weekend. How many Seattle fans will travel to Portland for the game? How many Portland heads will come out with a game-to-go scheduled for the Stags? The Rainmakers have been a well-coached and constantly improving team over the course of the season. The Stags have been the most casually dominant team of the season. It is almost as if the Stags know something the rest of us do not know… I worry that it will turn out that they’re going to rip off their jerseys and reveal the weight vests they’ve had on all season. I worry that Seattle will heat to an unsafe internal temperature in an attempt to keep pace with Portland.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.
Woodside vs. Seattle O
Scored at least one goal in every game, scored three of more in seven games. He is the question to which opposing offenses have rarely found and answer after the turn. Sure, he gets blocks as well and generally does a strong job providing umbrella coverage when asked, but it is the consistency with which he scores in end zone sets combined with his abilities to come down with floaty discs that make him a threat to Seattle’s chances of surviving turnovers without conceding breaks.
Guest Spots on O and D
I expect that both teams will pull some of their offensive players over for defensive points and that when a defensive team goes on a run, the team getting broken will look toward their defensive players. Similarly, during timeouts we can expect to see more points played accumulate on the ledgers of the star players on both sides. These moments in which a team chooses to put extra importance on a given point or possession can often tell the subtle tale of the game.
McGinn vs. Seattle D
I think the result of this game will most likely be determined by whether Seattle can find a way to take Portland’s handlers out of their comfort zone. In particular, their offense shifts from a one-reset to a no-reset look through a point. Often, when there are no resets, the man with the disc is Ben McGinn.
McGinn is a steady influence as he uses his height to survey the field and then his length to distribute the disc past/around/through the mark. He is a deliberate player who tends not to rush through his reads. Against Seattle’s varied looks on defense, this waiting game serves to raise the stakes in concert with the stall. When McGinn finds the correct open player and delivers the disc, the Portland offense quickly advances. If Seattle can take one or two of these moments to manufacture a turnover with a quick double, or a scripted poach and recover, or taking a chance on jumping a short reset game, or even just forcing McGinn into a pass which is 55 percent likely to be completed rather than 95 percent, then the Rainmakers could well get ahead.
There will be a handful of moments when Portland’s offense falters. Sometimes they’ll retain possession regardless. Seattle’s job is to tilt the balance and create a couple more opportunities. I suspect that despite McGinn’s clear talent and successful season, he is the most likely target for Seattle solely because of the role he plays on the field.
The Place to Be