Photo by Sean Carpenter – UltiPhotos.com
The game came to a close with an echo of the opening point.
Fortunately, for fans, players and the #MLUDrone, that isn’t to say that the game ended with a second 6-minute, 54-second point replete with 8 turnovers, but rather that the tone of the game from start to finish was epic.
Both teams came out at the start of the game working hard to stay tight on defense while still retaining confidence on the offensive side of the disc despite turns caused by pressure from their opposition. The importance of the game expressed itself in the number of unforced errors by both sides: Turfed throws, throws directly to defenders, and rocket-speed 5-yd throws bouncing off hands.
Up until this point in the season, all of the teams in the East have remained alive for the playoff race. Now, as Boston has clinched a berth and Philadelphia has been in a long free-fall to the bottom of the conference, New York and Washington both recognize that the result of their season hangs in the balance.
The one-game-at-a-time format is new to these players, and the ability to cruise for a portion of the season while maintaining the ability to sprint to the finish line is a different experience. Usually, 10 games are played over 2-3 days and changes of fortune happen so near to each other in time that there is little opportunity to reflect upon and act to change the course of a team. Now, with practices, video review and a whole week in between games, teams can both correct their errors as well as dwell on their mistakes. The pressure in the back of a thrower’s mind can play tricks on him. Doubt can creep into a defender’s mind. These lead to unforced errors and complete defensive breakdowns, respectively. Neither team was immune, and the errors on both sides served to normalize the score difference.
The gap between the two teams only once reached more than three (19-16), and was tied at every point between 5 and 16. The three-point run to start overtime, while ignited by Ryan Todd’s bookends, was more the result of the cumulative pressure that DC had been putting on the reset options of the Rumble. From the first pull, DC was playing handler defense of a quality that led NY into the trap of engaging their reset option only when covered by a defender. While NY’s offensive players and system were robust enough to maintain possession more often than not, the requirement of perfect execution over the course of 45 minutes of play was a tougher task than the Rumble were prepared for.
On the other side of the disc, NY’s defensive pressure was more variable in nature as they switched between marking the handlers tightly and looking into the open lane to shrink the thrower’s down field windows. DC tended to take advantage of the softer defense by working the disc with multiple shorter backfield or mid-range passes before striking to a cutter for a larger gain. NY’s reliance on hotly contested up line handler cuts let the DC defenders quickly establish a mark on most throwers. This helped refocus the defense quickly as the angle of attack had not changed much. DC’s ability to swing the disc across the field, or change the angle of attack with a quick, angled backward throw gave the NY defense no such respite.
The NY team did consistently find space by virtue of throwing prowess after other options were shut down by the DC defenders. Andrew Bosco, Kevin Terry and Markian Kuzmowycz were all responsible for knifing flick assists to areas and players that the defense didn’t seem interested in covering. Joe Anderson and others threw a number of long, bladey dump and swing passes. More often than not, these aggressive throws all over the field released pressure for the offense. On the occasions when it did not, DC did well to capitalize.
New York’s greatest success on defense came with their ability to generate short fields for their offense by forcing turns in the first few passes of a handful of DC possessions. Their breaks tended to be quick affairs relying on iso-cuts in the end zone. DC’s deep defense, with Jeff Wodatch setting the tone in the opening half, led to break opportunities requiring the offense to travel considerably farther. Washington was up to the task, and it was rewarded by keeping the NY offense on the field working harder on defense than they wanted to, and for longer stretches. Both teams made full use of their timeouts and resultant ability to sub in fresh lines over long, multi-turn points.
By overtime, the war of attrition had taken its toll on both sides, as each team’s main offensive cogs (Alan Kolick of DC and Chris Mazur of NY) left the game with injuries, and key offensive players (Tom Doi of DC and Dan Heijman of NY) were at first visibly hobbled and later joined their teammates on the sideline. This change was exacerbated for the Rumble as the energy expended playing long points of defense further sapped their reserves, and Anderson went to the sideline with cramps early in overtime. The pressure came to a head as NY finally blinked and gave up 3 consecutive goals to start the bonus period.
That stretch of goals is what the DC Current will have the pleasure of remembering over the course of their coming bye week. The NY Rumble will have their late-game crumble replayed internally. While either can fuel the first to improve, the former can lead to complacency and the latter to despair.
While trying to win the internal mental battle, both teams will also have an opportunity to rest their injured stars. Then, in what promises to be the most exciting weekend to date in the MLU, NY will travel to Boston on Saturday June 22 while DC travels to Philly. These two games will be an appetizer to the main course: A rubber match for the season series between DC and NY on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm in Arlington, VA. The whole season will come down to this game to determine the second playoff qualifier in the East.
Come out to Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA to support the DC Current in their bid to climb the standings and earn a playoff berth in their first season of existence.