The San Francisco Dogfish play the Vancouver Nighthawks on Saturday at 3PM on the Dogfish’s home field at Boxer Stadium. The game will be a rematch of the teams’ early season meeting in Vancouver where the Dogfish won a close, back-and-forth affair 18-17 by scoring in the closing seconds of the game.

San Francisco is coming off its first defeat of the season, losing to the Portland Stags last weekend. The Dogfish had led most of the way only to give up four straight points in the final three minutes. Previous to the loss, the Dogfish were undefeated and had established that the Bay Area’s tremendous club Ultimate success was carrying over into the MLU. The let-down in Portland undoes some of that mystique.

The Dogfish have played the last two games without a group of stars that have had to address various off-field commitments, including USA Ultimate National Team duties. It will be interesting to see how re-integrating Beau Kittredge, Mac Taylor, Russell Wynne, Martin Cochran, and Ashlin Joye will affect a team that has done much to coalesce without them. Cassidy Rasmussen, a key Dogfish handler, is out with a foot injury for a few weeks, and Lucas Dallmann is recovering from a concussion sustained last weekend.

The Vancouver Nighthawks lost to the Seattle Rainmakers last weekend. While the Nighthawks’ record is only 2-3, they have looked commanding in their wins and have not lost a game by more than two points. Vancouver’s roster is as athletic and talented as any in the MLU, and the Dogfish know that the Nighthawks won’t miss any opportunities they are provided.

The Nightawks are down a few key players. Veteran leader Oscar Pottinger will be missing from the offensive handler sets and defensive superstar Morgan Hibbert broke a thumb last weekend. This puts pressure on Andre Galitis, Mauro Ortiz, Kirk Savage and Marc LeDuc to take up the slack. In their previous game against the Dogfish, Savage and LeDuc had monstrous games and Dogfish Coach Justin Safdie has acknowledged that he will have to manage those defensive match-ups well.

With regards to extra motivation for this Saturday’s game, a win this weekend puts the Nighthawks right back in the hunt to make the playoffs, and the team knows that their home loss to the Dogfish could have gone either way. They would like nothing more than to prove the Dogfish got lucky. The let-down the Dogfish displayed in Portland show that San Francisco is just as susceptible to pressure as anyone. The Nighthawks should look to play the Dogfish the way they did in Vancouver, using their junky match-up zones on defense in windy Boxer Stadium and challenging the Dogfish on the deep game.

The Dogfish should be fired up by last week’s loss to the Stags. The series of mistakes at the end of that game has led to more focus and preparation in this week’s practices. Coach Safdie noted, “All those miscues are going to happen, at any time, with any team. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where it will lose you the game.” In particular Safdie is emphasizing converting turns provided by the defensive side. Against Portland the offense had not been broken until the third quarter, but the team had only been up two points despite ample opportunities to be up more.

The Dogfish have yet to put together an entire game’s worth of the dominant play that many feel is their potential. The Portland game was a wake-up call for the players that were there, but it remains to be seen if the absent stars have taken notice. It can be argued that the talent missing in Portland could have made a difference, but the team knows that’s not necessarily the case. If the Dogfish are content to do just enough to win, then the roster this weekend is just as capable as the roster last weekend of letting a close game get away.

In a ten-game season every win is important, but this weekend’s outcome could prove to be especially pivotal for either team. All Dogfish contests this year have been exciting and in some cases dramatic. Don’t miss this weekend’s event.

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