Photo by Scobel Wiggings – UltiPhotos.com
The Seattle Rainmakers (5-5) return to the MLU Western Conference Finals tomorrow, facing the Portland Stags (9-1) on the road.
Seattle is one win away from earning a spot in the MLU Championship, the chance at the MLU’s ultimate prize. They understand the stakes and they know their opponent.
“While we haven’t walked away with a win against the Stags this year, we’ve proven at many times this season that we can outplay them,” said Rainmaker’s cutter Ben Beehner. “In our three games this season, we have won several quarters, but never all four. That is going to be the key to this weekend, being able to execute for all four quarters.”
The Stags defeated the Rainmakers in all three of their matchups this season. The Stags defeated almost all of their opponents this season, losing only one game to the San Francisco Dogfish by a single goal. There is no doubt: The Stags are a very good team.
“We respect the hell out of these guys,” continued Beehner. “Players like Cody Bjorkland, Peter Woodside and Ben McGinn have been playing incredibly this season. I know I have to give everything I’ve got when I’m matched up against them. With so many returners, we knew these guys were going to be cohesive and effective as a team. They don’t give you a lot of weaknesses, so you’ve really got to play flawless ultimate against them.”
Bjorkland, Woodside and McGinn are just three of the Stags players that Seattle will have to account for if they hope to punch their ticket to the Championship in Philadelphia. Cutters Timmy Perston and Peter Woodside were first and third on the list of leading goal scorers in the league, with 37 and 31 respectively. On defense, Woodside and Topher Davis were both top five in blocks with 17 and 15.
There is no denying that on paper, the Stags are a dominant ultimate team. The Rainmakers wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I will have to admit and everybody knows that we are the underdog in this game and personally I love that. We love that,” said veteran Mark Burton. “There is no pressure for us. They are home, they won the Western Conference regular season, they won our head to heads, but that doesn’t matter to us. What matters is how we play together as a team. Seattle style frisbee.”
Burton has earned that confidence. The only player to appear in the Western Conference Final in all three years of MLU play (2013 and 2015 with Seattle, 2014 with Portland), Burton put up some dominant numbers this year with the Rainmakers, scoring 34 goals and throwing 29 assists. He matched the record for most points in a season (63, set by Vancouver’s Brendan Wong last year). And Burton did it in only nine games.
With Burton leading the way, and veterans like Danny Trytiak (3 G, 23 A) and Gavin McKibben (7 G, 17 A), as well as rookies Jeff Pape (14 G,13 A) and Andrew Lynch (16G, 10A), the Rainmakers offense was the most efficient unit on in the Western Conference, scoring on 49.22 percent of their possessions.
“We need to continue to move the disc and take the right shots and looks to open players. We know that we can win our one-on-one matchups and if they decide to help or poach too much, we need to attack them,” said Burton of the Seattle offense. “I have a real good feeling that some players who you might not expect will blow up this game and we are going to attack the matchups we want.”
The Rainmakers offensive lines will need to come through on Burton’s prediction, as their usual stout defense will be missing some of its biggest names. With Henry Phan (6 G, 20 A, 7 blocks) and Eddie Feeley (4 G, 11 A, 7 B) inactive, as well as 2014 Breakout Player of the Year Khalif El-Salaam (16G, 14A, 4B), the Rainmakers will need to get big contributions from players like Beehner (6 G, 1 A, 6 B), Clay Dewey Valentine (7 G, 5 A, 5 B) and Rookie of the Year Candidate Evan Klein (17 G, 15 A, 9 B).
“To win this game, we need to limit their superstars like Timmy Perston and Cody Bjorkland,” Beehner acknowledged. “We know that our defense will get chances. I think we’ve got the best defense in the Western Conference. We’ll cause turns but we need to be able to convert them into goals.”
To follow through on Beehner’s strategy, the Rainmakers will need a big day from rookie Evan Klein, who led the league this season in defensive scoring, having a hand in 27 break goals. He was a significant contributor to Seattle’s second-ranked scoring defense, converting on 45.22 percent of their possessions.
“All I have to say is, what happened last year can definitely happen again and I think it will,” said Burton, who as a member of the Stags lost last years’ Western Conference Final to the underdog Vancouver Nighthawks. “We are a good and scary team and all it takes for us is to play one four-quarter game. Knock down their confidence and swagger. We are ready to rain on their parade. What more can you ask for? The classic Northwest battle. “
The MLU Western Conference Final kicks off at 7:30 pm at Lincoln High School in Portland and will be lived streamed on MLU Live. The winner of this game will play the Eastern Conference Champion on August 8, 2015 at PPL Park in Philadelphia in the MLU Championship.