The San Francisco Dogfish play the Seattle Rainmakers in a match-up of undefeated teams on Saturday. The game starts at 7 PM on the Dogfish’s home field at Kezar Stadium.

This is a game of high stakes between arguably two of the most talented teams in the league. The winner will sit atop the standings and in pole position to make the conference championships. The loser ends up with added pressure to hold off a hungry Vancouver Nighthawks team for the number two spot. The Nighthawks are barely three points from being undefeated themselves.

The Dogfish are favored as the home team, but the Rainmakers will get a good shot to steal a game on the road. Both teams have players involved in Ultimate outreach programs in Berlin and Moscow who will be away on Saturday. While the Rainmakers will be without Matt Zemel, Xtehn Titcomb, Jacob Speidel, Matt Rehder, Joe Sefton, and Phil Murray, the scoring burden on the Seattle players is more evenly distributed.  The Dogfish will miss Beau Kittredge, Ashlin Joye, Mac Taylor, and Martin Cochran, players who have accounted for 40% of San Francisco’s goals this season.

The outcome may be determined by which team makes better adjustments to their depleted rosters. Experienced Seattle players Seth Wiggins, Sam Harkness, and Moses Rifkin will put a lot of pressure on the Dogfish, but core San Francisco gamers Tyler Grant, Cassidy Rasmussen, Sam Kanner, and Russ Wynne have carried teams before and are up to the challenge. Expect relative newcomers Drew Kim and Evan Boucher to embrace larger roles for the Dogfish and thrive with the added playing time.

Coaching will definitely be a factor. Dogfish Coach Justin Safdie has shown solid decision making in earlier games, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against the widely acknowledged savvy of the Rainmaker’s Ben Wiggins.

Mentally the Rainmakers have a couple of big hurdles to address. San Francisco’s top men’s team has not lost to a Seattle team at the club level since 2010. This is Seattle’s first away game of the year, and San Francisco has brought the MLU’s largest crowd this season.

The last two weeks’ games fuel speculation about the teams’ relative strengths. San Francisco did not dominate the Portland Stags the way Seattle did, but it is possible the wind may have created opportunities the Stags would not have otherwise had. The Dogfish gutted out a win on the road in Vancouver with a last-second score, while the Rainmakers handled Vancouver in the early going of their match. However, Seattle appeared to have no answer for the Nighthawks once that team got rolling and may have earned a victory because their opponents ran out of clock.

How even are the teams? Are the Dogfish more composed in tough conditions, or just lucky? Is Seattle playing really well, or have they met a struggling Stags team and caught Vancouver during their worst quarter of Ultimate this season?

The keys to the game for Seattle will be mental toughness and defense. Even without its four stars the Dogfish have the athletes to match the Rainmakers, and intimidation from club history will be a factor. Seattle will have to generate turns by switching defensive schemes and making adjustments on the fly. When they go to man-to-man defense they will have to be physical to contain the Dogfish offense and they are likely to draw a lot of penalties.

San Francisco should continue to show the poise that has characterized their play in two tough games and make the most of what may be rare opportunities for breaks. The Dogfish should be sure to capitalize on Seattle turnovers right away. The Rainmakers have not once been down this season and they may not play well from behind. If the Dogfish can put the Rainmakers in a hole in the first half, then Seattle will have to take greater risks and work against the clock. They’ll be out of their comfort zone and a smart Dogfish team should be able to take advantage.

This is the Dogfish’s first game at the historic Kezar Stadium, former home of the San Francisco 49ers, and the team expects to draw a larger crowd than they did in their home opener at Boxer Stadium. These are two very talented, competitive teams that will have to attack each other from the start and make adjustments throughout the game. The match promises to be a thriller from beginning to end – don’t miss it!

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