September 26, 2013 by Charlie Eisenhood in Preview with 26 comments
Disclosure: The author plays for New York Youngbloods.
#4, #7, #8. Those are the USA Ultimate rankings of Toronto GOAT, New York Pony, and Boston Ironside, respectively. That should tell you a lot not only about the strength of the Northeast this year but also about just how tight this year’s Regionals should be.
In a year marked by more parity than in recent memory, handicapping the Northeast may be harder than ever. Last year, the heavy favorite Ironside was nearly upset by GOAT in one of the great games of 2012. That GOAT team that was on rise last year has developed into one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
They come into Regionals as the overall one seed after an impressive tournament victory at the Pro Flight Finale over the Labor Day weekend. There, they dominated Ironside 15-9 in the quarterfinals while missing ten players and losing their best one, Mark Lloyd, to injury. They went on to take down Seattle Sockeye in a brilliant game in the semifinals. There were a combined four offensive line turnovers in the game — GOAT got theirs back and scored Sockeye’s to win 15-12.
GOAT’s biggest strength is a smart, tricky defense that changes shape throughout the course of a contest. With very loose junk looks alongside tight man-to-man, they find ways to generate turnovers. And then they punch in the score. No defensive unit is converting breaks more consistently than GOAT this season.
Anatoly Vasilyev leads the D line offense after the turn, forcing the disc to the break side with whatever works and working patiently down the field.
But GOAT has yet to play with a full roster this season. While it’s easy to say that shows their ceiling is even higher than what we’ve seen, there are legitimate concerns about how they will integrate new pieces this late in the season.
The same could be said for Ironside. The two seed has not played at full strength all year. They have experienced their toughest regular season in team history, highlighted by an 0-3 Sunday at the Pro Flight Finale. Players on the team quietly express concerns about this season — it simply hasn’t come together.
What’s so bizarre about that is that Ironside came into the year as the preseason favorite. With the most intact roster in the elite men’s game, chemistry seemed like the least of their problems. But their defense has proven to have major issues, from struggling to generate turnovers against top teams to finding it very difficult to score after the turnover.
It will be interesting to watch the team’s rotations and see if they have made adjustments to their lines after the fits and starts the team has had.
The team is still very good and made it to the finals of the US Open (double game point loss to San Francisco Revolver) and the Chesapeake Invite (15-10 loss to Minneapolis Sub Zero). They were very shorthanded at the Pro Flight Finale and still notched wins over Seattle Sockeye and Chicago Machine. But they haven’t found the consistency that has taken them deep at the Club Championships every year since starting the team.
Sitting in the the third seed is New York PoNY, who has had the opposite kind of year from Ironside. After a 2012 season that was packed with losses, including an 0-7 Nationals performance, they have rediscovered winning ways. They have just four losses on the season — two to Washington DC Truck Stop, one to Sub Zero, and one to Denver Johnny Bravo. They won the Pro-Elite Challenge in Atlanta at Terminus and reached the semifinals of the Elite-Select Challenge at Colorado Cup and the Chesapeake Invite.
With a new crop of young talent that, according to offensive handler Chris Mazur, “doesn’t care who they’re playing,” PoNY has stopped tightening up in big games (they lost 12 games by two points or fewer last season).
Their offense is not the crispest in the game; Mazur, particularly, is prone to streakiness. But their defense has kept them in and won them games all year. With lots of young athletes, including Rutgers’ Albert Alarcon and Columbia’s Milo Snyder, they have proven to be one of the better defensive units in the country during the regular season.
One of the big questions for PoNY (and many teams), though, is how they’ll play after over a month since their last tournament. Without Sectionals as a tune up, PoNY hasn’t played since the Chesapeake Invite. Will they be primed for a tough Regionals?
They are likely to face Ironside in the semifinals. The teams have only met once this year, at a preseason rookie tryout tournament. Ironside crushed them.
There are still lingering questions in some players’ minds about just how good PoNY is this year. They haven’t been accustomed to success against the country’s top teams — they’ll get a good look at two of them at Regionals.
Waiting in the wings are a number of other hungry contenders. Amherst Dark or Light, the four seed, comes in to this weekend without a loss. But their best win came against Boston Garuda in the finals of the Boston Invite back in June.
Regardless, they are a dangerous team. They gave GOAT a very good game in the game-to-go last year and will not be an easy out. Reportedly, they are a big step above where they were last year and will be one of the teams to watch.
Connecticut’s Night’s Watch, the Metro New York champions, will also be in the hunt for a backdoor bid. They rely on some tall athletes pulling down big hucks and are susceptible to defenses that slow that attack down, but if they get hot, they can go on big runs.
Boston’s Garuda has been on the cusp of stepping up into a higher tier, but haven’t quite put the pieces together. Last year, they came in as a darkhorse candidate to steal a bid, but they crumbled on Sunday, losing their first two games to put themselves out of contention.
Boston Big Wrench, New York Youngbloods, Nova Scotia Red Circus, and Maine Red Tide are all quality Regionals level teams and have an outside shot at a deep run into Sunday.
With no clear favorite heading into the weekend, it would not be a surprise to see any of the big three — GOAT, Ironside, or PoNY — taking home the title. What they will all have to avoid is an energy lapse after losses on Sunday, because, this year more than ever, there are a lot of strong teams waiting to pull off the big upset in the game-to-go.
An earlier version of this article had outdated USA Ultimate rankings posted.