Photo by Pete Guion – UltiPhotos.com
While this year’s Disc Don’t Lie will be spanning both coasts and working to understand the whole league, Saturday Brunch will tend to be more East Coast focused while also looking for league-wide trends and notable notions. This is, in large part, due to my still-new role as a color commentator in the Eastern Conference. I must to work to know the East Coast teams in real-time and writing through my understanding of them every week helps keep the information fresh and ready. Fret not though, Western Conference: This week we open with a look at a play from the Stags bludgeoning of the Rainmakers.
Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.
The space on the MLU field presents changes in every phase of the game, and in the third season, it looks like many players are beginning to take advantage of this. However, this past weekend, there was a consistent sight which puzzled me:[iframe src=”http://gfycat.com/ifr/ImportantHorribleFugu” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” width=”628″ height=”360″ style=”-webkit-backface-visibility: hidden;-webkit-transform: scale(1);”]
Specifically, an open player across the field with a clear throwing lane, a semi-engaged defender and a thrower blissfully unaware of that entire side of the field. The open offensive player is frequently a handler, but not always. In the clip above, the farside player is a cutter whose defender is sagging away from him by over 10 yards. The thrower sees neither his open teammate nor the poaching defender as he turns toward pressure and focuses on the cutter directly in front of him. As he does this, the farside offensive player begins to run toward the center of the field. In so doing, he makes it easier for the poaching defender to get involved and eventually make a clean block (The [accurate] foul was called on another defender) on a poorly lofted throw. To compound the trouble, the Rainmaker at the bottom of the screen also starts sprinting toward the end zone, which helps his defender make a play on the disc.
So, what could have changed the result here? First, the obvious: The thrower could have zipped a pass across the field to take advantage of the huge cushion afforded by the sagging defense. Second, the slightly less obvious: The farside offensive player could have pushed back to the thrower and *away* from the end zone the Rainmakers were attacking to pull the defender away from the throw that eventually went up. The reason this would be particularly effective is that absent the offensive player pushing toward the end zone, the defender was in no-man’s land. He wasn’t close enough to prevent a throw with pace to the man he was covering, and he was in no position to close down on a well-thrown huck. Third, the offensive player at the bottom of the video would have been better served by stopping and presenting his chest as a target for the thrower as soon as the defender turned his hips to run deep.
This is, in large part, a subpar play by both teams. Poorly positioned defense, unaware offense, a bad throw, and an unnecessary foul. However, it is an instructive. If an offense places players wide on the field, they must demand that the defense respect the spacing by using those players. If a defense poaches or sags away from a wide player, he must position himself such that he can affect another play and/or make a play on an imperfect throw to the player he is ostensibly covering. In this sequence, very little of that occurs. The help defender, in the end, showed good closing speed and awareness to make the block, but he was not in a technically sound position.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.
The Spinners looked great last Saturday. The clear breakout player, Billy Sickles, seems to be exactly the emergent downfield threat they need to pair with the resurgent Jake Rainwater. Sickles came down with deep throws under pressure from the Boston defense, and filled in the underneath spaces after Rainwater or when another cutter had been looked off or covered on the initial cut. His left-handedness paid dividends in these situations as he was able to deliver the disc to the next thrower quickly and efficiently before the mark adjusted. This is an advantage that from which even notorious lefties like Alan Kolick reap rewards. When the difference between a point block and a free throw is often mere fractions of an inch (centimeters for our non-American readers), every minor difference in throwing style counts. Left-handed throwers use their persistently sinister mechanics to accumulate inches of advantage to bury their opponents.
None of us know whether Sickles will maintain this level of play or fade into the background as the season progresses, but his contributions added a lot to the offense in the first week. Add this to Dave Baer looking quite comfortable working with Gabe Colton to steady the defensive line after the turn, and this Spinners are looking like a better version of themselves.
Ah, the core of the non-veganoid breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.
The opening weekend was a blast out here in the East. In the West, it was a little calmer, but the results were nonetheless informative. Portland, D.C., Boston and Philly all look strong early in the season even though the Whitecaps have an 0-2 record for their troubles. Seattle looked overwhelmed, while the Nighthawks and Dogfish combined for a muddled match. This weekend, we’ll see the new New York Rumble and begin to finally see all of the pieces together on the table.
Stake with your eggs?
After this weekend we’ll have definition in the East, as the Spinners and Current play for the top spot while the Rumble and the Whitecaps play for the bottom spot. The results will determine whether the Current or Whitecaps will go into their bye week on an up or down swing. While the season is long and nothing will be decided for quite some time, a week to stew on your negative results or feast on your positive can set the tone for the rest of the journey.
In the West, we’ll have a similar sorting as the Dogfish host the hot-starting Stags in a fight for first place and the Nighthawks travel to Seattle to see who will sit in the cellar after the second weeks.
Waffles or Pancakes?
Choose…but choose wisely.
The Spinners concede first place to the Current in D.C., 22-25.
D.C. hasn’t lost in The District since June 1, 2013 when they dropped a game to the Whitecaps 23-19. They’re riding an eight-game home winning streak and only Boston has come within one point during that time. However, the Spinners will not be a pushover this season. Last week, the Spinners had eight players throw over 10 passes without an incompletion. This group (In order of completions: Rainwater, Nick Hirannet, Ian McClellan, Ben Scharadin, Trey Katzenbach, Michael Baer, Billy Sickles and Michael Panna) combined for 184 passes of perfection. While I don’t doubt that this group will play well again, I’ll wager that they fail to reach those same heights under the pressure of D.C.’s defense. In D.C.’s case, every player who threw more than six passes threw at least one incompletion. Notably, Alan Kolick was 26/31 (83.9%) and Peter Prial was 11/16 (68.8%) and neither recorded a block. Windy conditions or not, this is not the type of performance we have come to expect from either player.
I anticipate that the Spinners complete passes at a slightly lower rate and the Current at a higher rate, which will result in a loss for the folks from Philly.
New York fails to break Boston’s Medford spell, 19-20.
After a tough two-game road trip to start the season, the Whitecaps have been spared a third consecutive road game by a schedule change. Instead of playing in three-straight home openers away from home, the Whitecaps will host the Rumble in Week 2. This should give them a boost in the game as they have lost a total of one game over two seasons (to D.C. 21-16 on June 7, 2014) in the comfy confines of Hormel Stadium. While New York will bring a strong game north with them, and be buoyed by the advantage of seeing two games of film on Boston, I do not think they will be strong enough to escape the mental arm bar that Boston ultimate of all stripes has subjected New York teams to since the mid-90’s.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.
Keep your eye on the D.C. offense this week as they deal with the loss of Tom Doi to an ankle injury. The offense was not particulary crisp last weekend due to the wind, but the team at least had all of their returners. This weekend without Doi, who was one of the two cutters the Current frequently isolated deep on pull plays, there will be space to fill. While Doi makes his share of big catches and cuts, the way he subtly keeps the offense moving through spacing and timing are a key part of the effectiveness of the Current offense. Prime candidates based on last week’s offensive rotation to see an uptick in points played are Lloyd Blake and Jonathan Neeley, and though neither of them is as natural a cutter as Doi, they are both more than capable of playing an expanded role. That said, the Current roster is very deep, and the extra offensive points could go to anyone.
Mazur and Kocher.
In 2015, as I wrote in my preview of the Rumble this week, the expectation is that Chris Mazur will likely return to his 2013 MVP-level form. While his 2014 campaign was not as far a fall-off as it seems at first glance, the offense as a whole never gelled into a fearsome unit. This season, in addition to Mazur and a stable of strong returning cutters, the Rumble will be adding Chris Kocher into the mix which is likely to better distribute the burden across the offense. The NY offense must more reliably get off of the field to let the defense put pressure on the opponent. I’m pretty sure the performance of these two will be the Rumble’s version of a canary in a coal mine.
Will Smolinski vs. Opposing Offenses.
In the stands during the Boston vs. Philadelphia game last weekend, there was a familiar face in the stands: Coach Will Smolinksi was there scouting the offenses for both teams to tailor a plan for the coming games. While he and I don’t keep exactly the same type of notes during games, the ability to see the game in-person provides a much better understanding of what each team is trying to achieve and how. While it certainly isn’t possible for every game due to the distance between cities and the overlap in timing, I hope that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scouting opponents. As the level of preparation rises, the level of play will follow. Perhaps some enterprising minds in ultimate will soon seek to fill roles in the world of ultimate as advance scouts.
The Place to Be
D.C. D.C. D.C. All weekend long. The Wizards defeated the Raptors 106-99 on Friday night at the Verizon Center to take a 3-0 series lead, and the teams will play again on Sunday evening. The Spinners are coming to town to test themselves against the Current on Saturday during which I’ll be working from the booth for my first Live MLU game. Even if you’re in the stands, you should probably watch the stream on your mobile device because if I say something egregiously goofy, it would be reassuring if the entire crowd laughed. And if you prefer your sports ice-covered, there could well be a Game 7 in The District on Monday between between the Capitals and the Islanders! It has all the makings of a fantastic four-day sports weekend right here in the nation’s capital.