Major League Ultimate’s Western Conference Championship features the San Francisco Dogfish versus the Seattle Rainmakers at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
The teams bring identical records into the Championship game, and if the regular season serves as a preview of the playoff game, we can certainly expect another thriller between these two teams.
The Dogfish took the season series 2-1. Each game has featured a wild, come-from-behind victory by the home team. In week three the Rainmakers carried a 10-5 lead into half but gave up four straight points in the third quarter, allowing the Dogfish to come away with the 16-14 victory. In week eight the Rainmakers were up 8-3 and again the Dogfish stormed back in the second half to pull out the 16-15 win at Kezar. Last weekend in the regular season finale at Seattle, the Dogfish had a four-point lead in the third quarter but couldn’t hang on, succumbing to the Rainmakers 24-22.
In the Dogfish wins, the San Francisco home field was a major factor. Windy conditions in the Bay Area, coupled with the Dogfish defensive zone schemes, put extreme pressure on Seattle’s playmakers and keyed the comeback. San Francisco’s depth allowed frequent wholesale line changes, while Seattle had to run their offense through the same six to seven players. Multiple-turn hell points took their toll. In the week-eight game, Rainmakers had bad late-game turnovers on a pair of dropped pulls and a stall count foul.
Last weekend in Seattle, the Rainmakers reversed the formula. Milder winds allowed Seattle to open up their offense and keep the game close for three quarters. In the fourth, defensive pressure eventually wore down Dogfish handlers and forced them into uncharacteristic throwaways. San Francisco was up 21-20 with just under four minutes to play, but gave away three points in a row to relinquish the lead.
This weekend there is really no clear favorite. While the Dogfish are playing at home, the weather forecast predicts less wind than we have typically seen at Kezar, and the first pull is at mid-day, instead of at dusk when the wind tends to pick up. This should give Seattle the over-the-top hucks and hammers that teams need against the Dogfish to generate offense. The injury bug has bit the Rainmakers hard this season, but they won last weekend playing shorthanded.
It is worth noting that the Dogfish wins over Seattle were earned without a group of top players who missed the games because of U.S. National Team commitments. They were finally at full strength last week, but lost. These variations of the roster and the effects on the outcomes point to the complexity of team dynamics in Ultimate. Sometimes a deep roster allows a team to run their opponent off the field; sometimes a short rotation creates a lot of focus and cohesion that carries a team to victory.
The one thing that can be said for certain is that neither team can let up against the other, and no lead is safe. The inaugural Western Conference playoff game is bound to be a classic.
The Dogfish do expect a big crowd this weekend and that may make the difference, as rowdy crowds at Kezar have been great support in the come-back wins against Seattle. Early-bird tickets have sold out, but there are a number of package deals available for families and large groups. We look forward to seeing you at the game! Go Dogfish!