Last year, the San Francisco Dogfish defeated the Seattle Rainmakers to become the 2013 MLU Western Conference Champions. On Saturday, the teams face off in the first game of the 2014 season.
The only thing certain about Saturday’s game is the uncertainty. San Francisco went 2-1 against Seattle last year, losing to them in the final regular season game. The Dogfish turned things around a week later to win the playoffs, but none of their games against the Rainmakers were decided by more than two points.
This year, the biggest challenge facing the Dogfish may be themselves. More than half of this year’s squad is new to the team. In terms of stats, many of San Francisco’s top throwers, receivers and defenders have left the team. MLU Power Rankings this week put the Dogfish second in the West and fourth overall—still ahead of the Rainmakers, but not the favored status they enjoyed through most of the 2013 season.
Yet the Bay Area is renowned for its Ultimate prowess. With club-level dynasties across all categories, there was ample talent from which to choose to build this season’s roster. Last season the Dogfish relied on superstars, but still won games in those players’ absence. Their roster runs just as deep this year, and the return of solid season one veterans like Drew Kim, Mac Taylor, Tyler Grant and 2013 MVP Evan Boucher are a boon to the team.
Seattle is in the same boat in terms of rebuilding their team for 2014. In their roster announcement they highlighted “cohesion” as their challenge for the season. Like the Dogfish, the Rainmakers’ new roster includes diversity in ages, experience and style. Both teams also have squads with height—each boasting 10 or more players at 6-feet and above. And Seattle is also home to a strong Ultimate base from which to build. In many ways these teams look evenly matched going into the season.
Where the Dogfish may see an advantage on Saturday is in leadership. Dogfish Head Coach Justin Safdie has a season of MLU coaching under his belt and has been praised for his focus and nimble use of his team’s assets. The Rainmakers have co-head coaches this season, former Portland Stags player Steve Gussin and Rainmakers veteran Mario O’Brien (O’Brien will also play with the team). The co-coaches have described their style as teaching and collaborative. With a team full of players also touted as having coaching experience, Seattle could end up with a case of too many cooks in the kitchen.
In terms of roster strength, both teams have some players missing this week. For the Rainmakers: Khalif El-Salaam, a Portland Stags transplant, and Elliott Trotter, a go-to season one Rainmaker, will both be out. Adam Simon, listed as “probable” with a broken rib, may be the team’s chief asset as the season gets underway. Simon led the Rainmakers in assists, throws, completions and catches last year, and was second in overall points for the team. For the Dogfish: Kim is “questionable” with a toe injury, Greg Husak is questionable with a hamstring injury and Ian Ranahan is out for this game, putting some pressure on the rest of the Dogfish offense.
The Rainmakers may be sixth in the MLU Power Rankings this week, but don’t count them out in this game. On paper, the teams are fairly evenly matched. The true test will come on the field at Boxer Stadium on Saturday, and both teams have something to prove.