The San Francisco Dogfish will play the Portland Stags in their opening day game this Saturday at 3 pm, kicking off Major League Ultimate’s inaugural season.
The seasoned San Francisco squad will square up against Portland’s youth and athleticism, and there are multiple factors that could determine the game’s outcome.
Recent history suggests the Dogfish should be favored over the Stags. The Dogfish roster includes players from Bay Area teams that have been at the apex of competitive club Ultimate since 2010. Not only have the men’s teams produced two National Championships and two World Championships in the last three years, but area coed teams brought home both the gold and silver medals from Nationals in 2011 and again in 2012.
The Stags, on the other hand, draw from a Portland club team that has crept up through the rankings in what is arguably the toughest region in the country. In 2012 the Portland team established itself with regular wins over Vancouver, and took Seattle to double-game point at the regional qualifier for Nationals. They arrived at Club Nationals last year with the second-youngest roster and placed tenth.
Regarding specific personnel, no MLU team mirrors their city’s club scene exactly, and the introduction of new talent to MLU rosters is sure to give teams unexpected weapons. The Dogfish will be defined in part by the presence of perennial club all-stars Beau Kittredge and Mac Taylor, but they’ve added an aggressive element to the San Francisco game with new defenders Drew Kim and Evan Boucher.
The Stags have at their core the same players that have been responsible for the recent resurgence of Portland Ultimate. Cody Bjorklund, Eli Friedman, Tim Person, Breeze Strout, and Adrian King have been together now for almost 5 years. Though the average age of that group is barely 24, they have reached a level of cohesion and familiarity with each other’s play that makes them an intimidating force on the field. To this core the Stags have added even younger and more athletic players, like Kahlif El-Salaam, and experienced players like Mike Knapp.
Despite the high-level experience the Dogfish bring to the field, the Stags have one important advantage over them. Portland played a pre-season game in Seattle that exposed them to real competition while dealing with the new elements of the MLU game. The presence of MLU referees, the new width of the field, and the presence of a crowd require adjustments. The Stags have measured their play against Seattle and have had the chance to update their game plan. The Dogfish have been operating in a vacuum and haven’t had a chance to run at game speed this season. If surprises lead to a couple of early turns, those turns may be the difference in the final score.
Expect Saturday’s game to be a battle of contrasting styles. The hometown Dogfish will play disciplined Ultimate, relying on clear offensive schemes and sticking to principles that they know win games. They will treasure possession of the disc and look long only if it’s a sure thing. The Stags have to know that they can outrun any team in the MLU. They should expect to win points by outworking the Dogfish, and they will risk the deep shot even if it’s 50/50. Their legs should be able to give them multiple turns, and long points favor youth.
The differences between these teams’ rosters and playing styles make it hard to reliably predict the outcome. What we can count on, however, is a fantastic opening day event featuring an impressive showcase of Ultimate talent, and any debate about age, experience, or the effects of the MLU rules will be answered on the field.