Photo by Scobel Wiggins @ Ultiphotos.com

Week 5 sees Seattle (3-1) making the 175-mile trek south to face Portland (1-4) at Theodore Roosevelt Athletic Complex in North Portland for what is sure to be a defining game for both teams as they enter the middle of the season.

Seattle has defeated the Stags twice now, both times at home, but by all accounts this time will be different. They’ll load up at around one o’clock, sit in a coach for nearly three hours, and then they’ll be expected to play four full quarters of hard Ultimate, something they’ve struggled with both at home last week when they were outscored 11-8 in the second half, and the week before in San Francisco, where a 10-5 lead after the first half turned into a devastating 16-14 loss by the end of regulation. That’s a worrisome trend for the Rainmakers, but it’s something Assistant Coach Andy Lovseth is cognizant of.

“We have to bring more inward focus so that things like crowd noise, negative or otherwise, doesn’t affect our ability to communicate and execute,” he said.

Seattle still has the fewest goals against in the league, thought they lost the top spot in the +/- differential to the Eastern Conference’s Boston Whitecaps, who absolutely dominated the DC Current last weekend. But it’s tough to justify using statistics and results from earlier in the season what with all the shaking up that went on last week, both in the Eastern Conference with New York’s double-overtime win over the veteran Philadelphia Spinners and the aforementioned underdog win in the Western Conference by Portland.

These more recent highlights should have much more bearing and influence on how this weekend’s game will go. With last week’s victory over San Francisco, the Stags really seem to be hitting their stride. They look poised to turn the tide of their current losing record. Riley Meinershagen is riding high from his game-changing layout D against the Dogfish, and though Timmy Perston may act nonchalant, the Rainmakers know he’s no slouch. Perston currently leads the league with 21 goals, and he has been responsible for more than 1/4 of Portland’s total scores. Seattle will need to dig deep in their roster to fight these two.

Seattle continues to miss the on-field presence of defensive playmaker Seth Wiggins, who will likely be out for the remainder of the season with a fractured thumb, and they’ll also be missing captain and O-line handler Adam Holt.

“When Adam is gone, we lose a terrific thrower and all-around player,” said Lovseth. “We will need to ask our other handlers to pick up where he leaves off: breakmarks and moving the disc sideways.”

Look to Adam “Chicken” Simon, Danny Karlinsky, and Bryson Uhrig-Fox to fill this void with help from a strong O-line cutting squad, missing only Matt Rehder but otherwise intact. Perhaps the vaunted player-coach Ben Wiggins will take the field. And O-line handler and Dutch import Erik “The Kraken” Doesburg has finally come stateside, but he will likely not be making an on-field appearance quite yet.

Keep in mind that players are still adjusting to some mid-season changes to the MLU rulebook, including an increase from 5 yards to 10 for all personal fouls, an adjustment to clock stoppage during the final minute of each quarter, and an increase in the number of substitutions allowed for injury substitutions. These rules have been designed to make the game safer for players while upping the ante for fans, so this should be a good week to see how team strategies continue to evolve.

This weekend will be a proving ground for both teams with playoffs on the horizon, and it’s sure to be an exciting one for fans of elite Ultimate. If you can’t make the journey down to Portland, stay glued to your screens tomorrow night and follow our Twitter feed for game updates.

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