Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
After three straight home wins, two at Renton Memorial Stadium and one at the Border Bid, the Rainmakers (3-1) take to the road and go north of the 49th parallel to face the Vancouver Nighthawks (1-2).
Seattle has never lost to Vancouver in franchise history, but the with the Rainmakers’ inactive list this weekend the longest it has been all season, this might be the tipping point.
Mario O’Brien and Chris Rupp, two of Seattle’s starting O-line handlers, are out on Saturday. This means that Gavin McKibben will be distributing the disc quite often, and Sam Pickel should see a lot of playing time as well. Expect Matty Zemel and possibly Bryson Uhrig-Fox to drop back from their ordinary cutting positions to fit into the handler rotation. If these guys and their downfield cutters can keep the disc moving quickly and get off throws with a low stall count, they should be able to eviscerate Vancouver’s man defense and see themselves in the end zone more often than not.
On defense, the absence of Reid Koss looms large. Eddie Feeley and Alex Duffel will be getting some reps pulling provided Seattle can string some breaks together. Todd Sliva will be getting big on Vancouver’s deep shots and Henry Phan will be as busy as ever on the front lines. Seattle will look to clog the throwing lanes so that Vancouver’s handlers don’t gain the power position necessary to launch their long hucks to the endzone. Elliot Trotter was looking great in his first week back, so expect him to step up his game as well.
“Strategy-wise, we don’t expect to change much,” said Head Coach Steve Gussin. “Our philosophy is that we just need to execute our game plan and the rest will take care of itself. I trust all of our players to execute in their individual roles, so we don’t have to change the overall strategy just because we’re missing a couple of guys.”
Feeley (one goal, five assists, and three defensive plays) will marshall the defensive line.
“Our junk D sets do require everybody to be on the same page,” said Feeley. “Our transitions continue to get better every game and every practice. We have done a good job in practices of getting reps with people who will likely play together in the game, so some lines the junk will look different than other lines. The goal of the junk is the same though, so we are able to get similar results even if we are playing with unfamiliar lines.”
When Seattle and Vancouver met two weeks ago at the Border Bid, both teams had a contingent of fans in the stands. As the Rainmakers enter Thunderbird Stadium this weekend in Vancouver, the atmosphere will be very different.
“As a team with good home support, we know the value of a good crowd, and BC always has a good turnout,” said Danny Trytiak. “Beating them at home is never an easy task, and this weekend is going to be particularly hard for us since we’re missing so many players. We are going to have to play a perfect game to be able to beat them on their own turf.”
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR AND WHO WILL STEP UP
Despite the shorter roster, the Rainmakers are not at all worried about their ability to perform.
“We had excellent practices this week, making sure the players present this weekend were getting the majority of the reps,” said Feeley. “The focus was high and plays were being made by everybody on both sides of the disc. A lot of people have been stepping up, and whoever steps on the field Saturday will be ready to make a play.”
Seattle’s offense will obviously need to be cognizant of Morgan Hibbert on defense, but they know that Vancouver’s roster is full of other playmakers. Matthew Berezan, for instance, has been huge on break points; he is currently tied for tenth in the league on points with five goals and six assists, so the Rainmakers will need to keep an eye on him going deep if they turn the disc over.
Kirk Savage is Vancouver’s anchor on offense. Savage played 21 points at the Border Bid and made 41 throws, three of them assists. And the Rainmakers defense will absolutely need to restrict the movements of Brendan Wong. Though Seattle was able to hold Wong to four goals when they last met, the Rainmakers know that Vancouver at home is a potent team.
One final factor to consider: the Nighthawks have only played three games. With this last bye week, they’ve had ample time to study the tape, but they have not had the same in-game experience that Seattle has had. This could potentially lead to some overconfidence in the Nighthawks handlers, only to have their expectations crushed by the more experienced Rainmakers, who have played four games and have had that much more of an opportunity to gel on the field. Practices can only prepare a team so much for the spotlight.
Does Vancouver have what it takes, or will Seattle once again steal the show? Tune in to the live stream on MLU Live at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific) to find out.