Photo by John King – UltiPhotos.com
Non-judgement … Past … Dueling Back-to-Backs Opening Weekend … MLU Introductions … Opening Rematch … Weather … Boston on Boston …
Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.
There is but one team to fill this place and one team to start with: The New York Rumble.
New York is last in the league in over three seasons in:
Goal Differential: -133
Goals For: 483
Goals Against: 616
New York is the only team yet to:
Score 500 goals
Finish .500 or above
Make the playoffs
This is a uniquely poor record.
As such, change was naturally in the offing for the NY, er, NJ [Like Giants and Jets, of course] Rumble. While the deliberate either exclusion or exodus of most/all players from PoNY concerns me more as a PoNY alum than as an MLU analyst, the roster turnover augurs an alteration of course.
Then again, if you have good young players, the future quickly becomes bright enough that you gotta wear shades.
A change at the coaching level in structure but not in staff is a boon for continuity as well as a new way forward. What this team will be will only be told in the next 10+ games. This is the beauty of sport.
The ugly of sport is that even if the Rumble go 10-0, they will still be under .500 overall.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.
Here are the things the Whitecaps lead the MLU over three seasons in:
Goal Differential: +133
Goals Scored: 633
Goals Against: 500
Here are the things only the Whitecaps have done:
Throw under 600 turnovers
Advance to the Conference Championship every year
Score over 600 goals
Score over 200 breaks
Finish over .500 every season
Definitely Strong. But Bostrong? Like Brute Squad Strong? Like 2013/15 Whitecaps Strong or settling for the playoffs like 2014? There is change on this team (we would be derelict of duty not to not name-check Jeff Graham and Josh Markette here), but the Whitecaps were always effective because of the collective power of the wave train rather than the highest tide marks left in their wake.
All that seems to matter for the Whitecaps is finding their 2016 stride by the midway point of the season and their natural and justified belief that they are more like royalty than any other team in the MLU.
Even if Boston submits an unthinkable nosedive of a 0-10 season, they will still be over .500.
Ah, the core of the non-vegan breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d. Baked.
So! What was all of that about? Just pulling the outliers from a general data set:
This is the very simple chart that I used to cohere my thoughts about the teams in the MLU. If you’ll notice, there are two outliers in overall results since 2013. Negative New York (Never over .500, -133) and Buoyant Boston (Always over .500, +133). The rest of the teams are between .400 and .600 win percentage, +40 and -43 goal differential, and they’ve all finished both under and over .500 for a season.
Before the season starts, I prefer not to rush to conclusions about teams or players and let things begin to play out. This is in part because every season preview is and can only be about the past. Potentially using that past to project what will happen in the future is a dicey proposition which flavors not only the view of the judgement-maker, but the way the judgement-maker is viewed.
Anyway. In an attempt to head all of that off, this piece is largely about what has already happened in the MLU, and what has gone on since last season for these teams, roster-wise and coach-wise. It is a look back at the context of each team up to this point in MLU play. Oh, and all of the following teams, with sufficiently positive or negative results, can finish with a three-year record of over or under .500.
How athletic is D.C. 2016?
They’re tied with Portland for the second-best overall record (18-12), they have the second-best goal differential at +40, are the only non-Boston team in the East to compete in the MLU title game, and the only team other than Boston to win an MLU title. They’ve never finished last, and have only finished one season with a sub-.500 record.
D.C.’s peak (2014) was very high, and their low was not so bad.
Just like every year (D.C. leads the East in blocks by a margin of 32). This team reads like a list of players ready to give chase and take the disc from you.
The questions for this team are largely on offense where they’ve lost their core group led by Alan Kolick, Peter Prial, Tom Doi, Jeff Wodatch, and Calvin Oung. Who will step into the giant spaces in D.C.’s offense is the question for this team whether the general offensive strategies remain the same or begin to change. However, there is no doubt that there are other effective offensive players in the D.C. area. As such it will be more a matter of how quickly this team coheres than if it will do so.
What the Current will be exactly is unknown, but bet this team still gets blocks. What they do after/before that is the question which will tell the tale of the season.
Which Stag is Portland?
They’re tied with the Current for second-best record (18-12) and ever since their dismal first season, they have been dominant in the regular season only to lose at home in the conference title game. They have the highest completion percentage across the MLU, and are tied with Seattle for the fewest fouls. This edition of the Stags looks much the same: They have the fewest new players (7) of any team in the league.
So, what will they be this season? Well, much like everyone in D.C. says about the Capitals, we’ll know nothing about this team until we get to the playoffs. The game against Boston could be telling, but the significant digit for the Stags remains their zero playoff wins.
What will be new in Philly?
The Spinners lead the league in throws, have gotten better every season, have finished last only once, but have also only finished .500 or over once. They’re 0-1 in the playoffs. They’re tied with San Francisco with a 13-17 overall record and have a -43 overall goal differential.
There will be significant roster carryover again in Philly, which is a boon to team-level execution and connection, but there is a new coach in the mix. The question at this point for Coach Darryl Stanley is a matter of what to keep and what to change. The core of this team is a successful offense in most combinations, but the knock has always been their ability to create and convert turnovers on defense. They are the only team in MLU with fewer than 300 blocks (286), which means they are the only team to generate under 10 blocks per game while there are three other teams which average over 11 blocks per game.
How much the offense gets shaken up will be all but irrelevant if this team fails to play defense to take the disc rather than to be given the disc.
How did the title game experience change the Rainmakers?
The Rainmakers have the third-best goal differential in the league at +22, they are one of three teams to average at least 11 blocks per game, and they’ve never finished in last place.
Last season the Rainmakers became the third team from the West to travel east for the MLU title game and lose. The second straight to lose handily. Will this drive Seattle to a return trip or remain a peak experience?
The specific players on this team have shifted over the years, but the pride of playing well has always shone through with the Rainmakers, as befitting near-any ultimate team from Seattle. The roster carryover this year is the third-highest in the league, which should give them a better start this year than last.
Can the Dogfish maintain peak play?
Overall the Dogfish are tied with the Spinners at 13-17. They’ve finished last as often as the Rumble (Twice) and have the third-worst overall goal differential (-38) which doubles as the worst in the West. They’ve the fewest holds in the league, the lowest completion percentage (88.48%) and are the second-lowest scoring team.
However, the Dogfish had a fantastic 2013 campaign which lead them to the MLU title game. They have also been beset by wind-prone home fields, making goals tough to come by for home and visiting squads (1054 is the fewest total goals, for and against, for any team). This season they have a sizable group of returners from a team which showed the ability to play quality ultimate as the season progressed. In addition, they’ve added a new coach, Jason Seidler, who is fully expected to add on to what the Dogfish built last season by providing an experienced guide with a different path.
One good season for the Dogfish would put them sitting pretty with an overall winning record, a positive goal differential, and maybe even a way out of the basement for the first time since 2013. Playoffs? Depends on more than just the Dogfish.
Veggies? Fruits? Yogurts?
Something light and probably a smart decision.
The New Hawks
They’ve never finished in last place, lead the league in fouls (294), lead the West in breaks (192). Only once have they made the playoffs, finished with a record .500 or higher, or made it to the title game (all in 2014). They have the second-worst overall record (12-18) but are still five wins ahead of the Rumble. The Nighthawks have the fewest returning players (10) and are tied with the Rumble for most new players (20).
On the whole, to be perfectly upfront, I know next-to-nothing about this team. One of my personal favorite players to watch (Morgan Hibbert) is no longer with the team. They seem to be pulling players from the University of British Columbia (Who’ve I’ve never once seen play) and a handful of other colleges and universities which I know nothing about. I played against Blackfish once on an island in the Pacific, but that was close to a decade ago.
All that said, the Nighthawks are a perfect team for me to watch this season: I have no preconceived notions and as such will judge players solely on what they do rather than what they’ve done and where they’ve been.
I’m looking forward to going into this season with open and unclouded eyes.
Waffles or Pancakes or FRENCH TOAST?
Choose… but choose wisely.
It has become clear to me since making my pick that I was likely paying insufficient attention to the weather here on the East Coast. Snow and wind and rain are likely to depress the overall scoring out here, as is the simple notion that this is the opening weekend and there are many adjustments to make for all teams.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.
Boston on Day One vs Boston on Day Two
Philadelphia on Day One vs Philadelphia on Day Two
These are the biggest matchups this weekend, to me. Whichever team is better on Sunday than on Saturday will in all likelihood win the game vs the opponent on Sunday. Win one game this weekend and you’ve already split a back-to-back, which is a rarity in MLU play. Win two games or lose two games this weekend and you’re off to the races or you’ve already lost a third of the games you can lose and still make the playoffs, at least based on MLU past.
New York vs. Philadelphia
I think this is a tougher game for Philly than it is for New York. New York has the more experienced staff, and has likely been thinking about winning this opening game since last season ended. As soon as Philly saw the schedule, their minds probably dialed in on “Boston, opening weekend. Get ’em.” Meaning that the game before could be an Admiral Akbar special.
Seattle vs. Portland
REEEEEEMAAAAAAATCH of this game.
Vancouver vs. San Francisco
The opening moves for both of these teams will be telling. Will the Dogfish and the Nighthawks retain much of their style from the past? Will they do something completely new? Will the wind be worse in San Francisco or DC this weekend? How will all of these parts fit together? I’m so curious that I don’t even know what to ask about this game, but I’ll be watching it soon enough.
The Place to Be
Personally, I’ll be…
…doing color commentary for Boston vs. D.C. on Saturday and Boston vs. Philadelphia on Sunday. If you have thoughts on the games, or these words, send ’em to me @dustweetr. This, as we talked about in Cleats and Cufflinks (briefly while I wore a most excellent tiger hat), is the last time we’ll be looking to previous years in this space during 2016. From the opening pull in New Jersey to the closing seconds in Pennsylvania, and ranging from San Francisco to Portland to D.C. in between, this weekend’s video will give us a whole starter kit of information on the teams and players competing for the MLU title this season… which we’ll dive into next week.
For now, just enjoy the opening weekend of MLU play!