Photo by Scott Houghtaling –

Table Setting

In which…players raise hands to the sky to ask why…Portland rewards the big man…pull plays are the okey and the dokey… the West clarifies like butter… New York is butter scraped over too much bread…and we learn if the eye in the sky lied last week.


Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. A hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.Players raising their arms in the air asking for a call is near the top of my list of “things sports do not need.” Asking for calls, whether the player is correct or not, is a specifically non-sport action on the field play. In ultimate, it is only tangentially related to advancing the disc to the end zone. It is a minor form of flopping, and is the sort of exaggeration that implies a lack of trust in the officials and an unwillingness to play through perceived sleights. In MLU, this is most frequently made manifest when a thrower feels he was fouled by the mark and the official did not see it.While my biggest quibble as a spectator is that this is simply aesthetically displeasing, the mystery to me is why the thrower would choose to engage with the official rather than to address the field. In a situation in which the official truly didn’t see the infraction, an appeal from the player is insufficient to sway the call. In a situation in which the official does not believe there was an infraction, the player is sacrificing time which would be better spent finding an open receiver.
Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky.Portland is laying waste to the West right now. They have a +12 goal differential, which is eight greater than the Current and Whitecaps, who are tied at +4. Sure, their win over the Dogfish was only a three-point victory, but that belies the force with which Portland closed the game after a brief Dogfish run. The way the Stags finished the game was on the back of their defense, which is how both they and the Current have gotten to the top of their respective conferences.In this episode of small sample size theatre, we can see that Portland’s overall defense generates break opportunities most frequently at a full 65 percent of their opponents’ possessions (Compare to D.C.’s second place at 59.52 percent and Philadelphia’s league-worst 39 percent). Not only do they generate turns at the highest rate in the league, but the defense converts these break opportunities. The league leader in break goals is Peter Woodside with seven. No other player in the league has more than two.This is the way of the Stags: Force the turn, feed the big man.
Ah, the core of the non-veganoid breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco’d.Pull plays are the start of every offensive point. This is the moment, in any given point, in which a coach can most successfully dictate the offensive motion and insert off-field intelligence and design into the game. Ultimate, when compared to football, is a freer-flowing affair. There isn’t a stoppage after every single discrete play. Compared to soccer, however, ultimate is a stop-and-go game. While there will always be coaches instructing form the sideline during the run of play, this is specifically dissimilar to the control a coach has out of a stoppage.Generally, each team has a default set for their pull play. In Philadelphia, the Spinners frequently run a side-stack, which opens a wide swath of real estate for a primary cutter to go to work. The disc is caught, and then swung across the field to top of this vacated space. This play has been a staple of ultimate offenses since there started to be scripted offenses. In a space frequently larger than half of the field, even a mediocre cutter can present viable options for a competent thrower.An intelligent defensive design against this set can take many forms, most of which rely on multiple defenders to shift into the open space in order to either shrink the throwing lanes, or to bracket the isolated cutter. Even when these sorts of ploys leave an open player on the opposite of the field, the offense is taken out of their first look.This, however, is just the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game between the offense and defense.In last week’s matchup vs. the D.C. Current, the Spinners ran a specific counter action later in the game to take advantage of the Current sliding their coverage over. It started as the pull-catcher faked a swing pass to start the point, only to turn and throw the disc to the side of the field with five Spinners lined up tight to the sideline. As this pass went up, four of those Spinners quickly cleared across the field, leaving a new wide-open area for the fifth player. The original isolation cutter, at this point, is activated as the continuation cutter, and has a two-way option to go deep or come back under.In each of these steps, the offense is taking advantage of the defense’s anticipatory positioning which can be built up only by providing a standard from which to deviate. This requires that the standard be a sufficiently dominant strategy which overcomes standard defensive adjustments without changing the underlying strategy. In order to run a successful counter, the base strategy must also provide a path out of the briar patch the offense purposefully walks into.Specific and clear play and counter-play examples are run across the league out of pull plays. Some teams are more adept at it, and some teams run more loosely defined plays which dynamically adapt to different defenses in real time rather than dictating terms to the defense. Every team, however, runs a complex and robust pull-play offense with more variations and potential adjustments than simply “Center the disc, then to Player A to Player B.” Every pull play and pull-play defense serves as the opening brass fanfare for the coming contrapuntal interaction between offense and defense.Stake with your eggs?At stake this weekend in the East is whether the New York Rumble’s opening weekend was a mere blip on the radar or a harbinger of a painful season to come. For their hosts on the weekend in Philadelphia, this is an opportunity to climb back above .500 and to get more separation from the 1-2 Whitecaps.In the West, all of the teams will complete their first run through the conference. We’ll have connected results and established relationships between all of the teams. More than that, the battles will be for first place and last place in the conference. While there is a lot of season left, if the Stags win and the Rainmakers lose, there will be an established Topdog/Underdog hierarchy.
Waffles or Pancakes?
Choose…but choose wisely.The Spinners defense (finally) has a big day against the Rumble to win 23-18. Visiting the Spinners without a host of players, the Rumble will be fighting an uphill battle all game and will rely on more players than usual to pull double-duty on offense and defense. They’ll be missing both established veterans and younger players who made their presence felt in the opening week loss to the Whitecaps. I simply do not think they have the depth to keep pace when missing no fewer than eight players.The Rainmakers lay claim to their first victory, 19-16, over the Dogfish. This should be a tight game throughout, unless the Rainmakers prove to be particularly adept at preventing the Dogfish from establishing an offensive rhythm. The Dogfish are missing a number of players for this weekend, including Drew Kim, Taylor Cascino, Sam Adamson and Andrew Goldstein. I don’t think the Rainmakers will remain as bad as their results indicate, and the jury is still out on the Dogfish.The Stags stay perfect with a 20-17 victory over the Nighthawks. This should be an interesting game. The Stags have done very strong work on defense and offense, and while the Nighthawks have played sloppily on both sides of the disc, they have shown intermittent flashes of excellence. And sublime scoobers. This is the trouble for the rest of the league when it comes to dealing with Vancouver. When the Nighthawks play well on defense, they can change the tenor of the game against any opponent, as they showed last year in the MLU Championship, even though the comeback was unable to turn the tides. In the end, while the matchup looks that Vancouver uses to great effect should slow down the deep attack of the Stags, there is no reason to doubt that the handlers and cutters of Portland are up to the task of working the short game all the way up the field.
Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to watch.The two-way players of New York.While some early reports give initial indications as to which players will be doing so, these players will determine the outcome of the game for New York. If they are defensive players on offense, two-way players frequently get more engaged in the game and more reliably convert break opportunities. Offensive players, on the other hand, run a greater risk of overexerting themselves due to the role they are more accustomed to filling. The mental and physical switch from going full-bore on defense to remaining calm and composed on offense can be tricky for any player to navigate in an individual point, but managing it both within points and between points is not a task that every player is ready for. If New York can squeeze enough out of these players for a second role, they will find victory. If not, this game will get out of hand.

The Place to Be

The ‘illadelph. I’ll be providing color commentary for my first New York Rumble game this weekend and am looking forward to the opportunity to see what they look like in person rather than just on tape. Tape can lie and make the teams seem closer than they really are, or it can make the winning team seem miles ahead of the loser. In the opening game for N.Y., they seemed outclassed. This weekend will let my eyes judge directly what the Rumble put on the field.