Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com
The D.C. Current enter their second season with eyes on the prize. The big prize. The Championship. Not just a solid stretch of Ultimate in the second half of the season to push into the playoffs.
While last season was not a total disappointment (they did make the playoffs, after all), it stopped just shy of the Championship game with a loss to the eventual title-winning Boston Whitecaps. No ordinary season-ending loss, it confirmed many doubts about the Current — better than the rest of the East, but far behind the Whitecaps, and widely held beliefs about the Whitecaps — best skills, best athletes, best game plans.
One Game Away
While the D.C. team kept it close (5-6) through the first quarter of the Eastern Conference Championships, they proved unable to withstand the inevitable Whitecaps surge and were behind at half 9-15, eventually falling 15-23. A feeling prevailed that no matter what happens in the first portion of a game, the Whitecaps find a way to win while the Current find a way to fail.
The pattern was established in Boston’s first visit to D.C., in which the teams traded goals for much of the game. Then, just as the Current drew within 15 yards of a game-tying goal, co-captain Sean Keegan turfed an open swing pass. Boston seized the opportunity to work down the field and pull ahead by two. That moment was the closest anyone came to beating Boston in 2013. Losing early in the season could have punctured Boston’s aura of invincibility and changed the mental composition of the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Whitecaps won out and no other team in the East finished above .500.
New Season, New Approach
The Current have changed tactics for 2014. Rather than lining up the same squad to make another playoff run, they’ve chosen to attack Boston through player acquisition. In a move announced a few weeks back, Peter Prial, one of Boston’s most-used (and most efficient) players joined the Current in the nation’s capital.
While Prial is a high-profile addition, there are other personnel changes ahead for the D.C. Current. Various positions need to be filled, including defensive and offensive cutters, as well as handlers. To fill these holes in the roster, the team looks forward to pulling in more players from Truck Stop, the perennially nationals-level men’s club team in D.C., as well as extending their reach deeper into the club and college ranks in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and beyond.
Prial will likely remain first among these additions, however. The easiest way to understand what Prial brings to the table is to compare him to Jeff Wodatch, a returning Current player:
Each player led his team in goals (as well as finishing 2nd and 3rd overall), completed a high percentage of passes, and caught more passes than they threw. These stats all point to each being a primary downfield cutter. While Prial has the edge in assists and Wodatch in D’s, the differences point more toward team offensive structures and subbing patterns. On Boston, seven players had double-digit assists, ranging from 13 to 31 (totaling 132 assists and 62% of the team’s assists). In D.C., four players recorded double-digit assists ranging from 20 to 31 (totaling 104 assists and 61% of the team’s assists). Another distinction: Wodatch consistently pulled double-duty playing both offense and defense, while Prial played primarily offense.
To take the by-the-numbers comparison a step deeper, the addition of Prial puts the D.C. Current roster as the clear statistical leader in almost every category:
Cmp% limited to players w/ at least 100 throws.
* Indicates top 5 in East.
** Indicates Eastern Conference leader.
In the Eastern Conference, D.C. now has six of the top 11 points leaders, the top two goal-scorers, three of the top six assist leaders, the top thrower by almost every measure, and a group of offensive players who can clearly play on both sides of the disc.
In addition, the team has re-signed defensive disruptors Daniel Kantor (2G, 0A, 4D), David Cranston (14G, 8A, 7D), Brian Marshall (6G, 3A, 5D), and Delrico Johnson (5G, 1A, 9D). The stats of these three might seem meager compared to the offensive stars, but they are elite-level defenders and capable offensive cogs. Playing on the defensive side of the disc simply affords fewer opportunities to generate recordable stats.
Interestingly, the other player who has re-signed for 2014, Tom Doi, might well be a key indicator of how the team will fare over the season. While his stats (13G, 4A, 3D) are low by Current standards, he was limited for much of the season by a lingering hamstring injury. If he can stay healthy, he adds another speedy downfield threat to the team.
The question is how best to use this embarrassment of riches. Fortunately, unlike Boston and New York, the D.C. team will be returning their coaching staff (Keven Moldenhauer and Will Smolinski) from 2013. The continuity will provide a basis from which roster adjustments can be made while strategies and tactics shift, avoiding the need for a wholly new system.
In conversation with the D.C. Current coaching staff, it’s clear that they’re looking for handlers who can take full advantage of the cadre of cutters on this roster, and use the threats they pose. Such players would also lighten the burden for Kolick and lead to a more balanced offensive attack. The search for players begins this weekend at the Current’s 5am tryouts and will continue through the setting of rosters in early April. The coaching staff is certain that this season’s tryouts will be more competitive for every roster spot, forcing tougher cut decisions — a welcome responsibility.