It may be early yet in the inaugural season of MLU, but tonight sees two very strong teams go head to head, each with something to prove.
The training wheels are off: the Stags had a hard fought away game against San Francisco, and though they fell to the Dogfish 14-11, the public odds were not in their favor and they did well to keep things tight. On the other end of the spectrum, the Rainmakers gave their hometown fans a bit of a scare last week when they allowed Vancouver to score six consecutive points in the final quarter before being saved by the bell and securing the win 14-12.
So players from both sides recognize that this will be a whole different ball game from when they met back at the beginning of the month. Nobody expects a blowout like the one that happened in the Western Conference Preseason Showcase. Instead, fans can anticipate some disciplined offense and shifting defensive sets from the Rainmakers but a wholly different field strategy from the Portland side.
“I think the conditions affected them a little bit more than us,” said Skip Sewell. “I’m not exactly sure why that was, but I’m thinking just from the Dogfish game they had, which they kept really close, I’m expecting a totally different offense and a totally different defense, so it’s going to be a new team for us to see.”
Rainmakers handler Adam Holt, concurred, saying, “I expect to see a completely different Portland team. I think in that game [the preseason showcase] there were just a lot of unforced errors on their side. I think their offense actually worked pretty well against us and they just gave us the disc pretty easily. I know that won’t happen next week, especially if the conditions are a little better, so this game is going to be a lot harder. Those guys have a lot of athletes on the team, a ton of tall guys. Expect them to come down with some big stuff. So we’re going to bring our defensive intensity and hopefully we can take it from them.”
In the preseason matchup, the Rainmakers employed a variety of transition zone defenses, guarding territories rather than players to thwart set plays before transitioning into a standard man defense, and they found that this strategy worked well in the hard rain. But with a hard-fought game now under their belt, Portland has likely made some necessary adjustments to work through and around this defensive scheme. And with a temperate Seattle spring quickly approaching, the Rainmakers may intricate defensive maneuvers inappropriate, especially with the noise level coming from the crowd.
So what are the keys to the game? Seattle will focus on playing “their game” against an opponent they previously found to be much weaker. They need to make sure not to fall into this trap, especially at home. Portland on the other hand needs to step up, likely by stretching the field deep early and often since Seattle will be without the 6-foot-3 frame of Matt Rehder helping out deep. Will they take advantage of this gap, or will Seattle’s transition zone defense shut down the deep look?