October 17, 2013 by Sean Childers and Keith Raynor in Analysis, Preview with 3 comments
We’ve thrown the word “parity” around the Club scene a lot this season. At first glance, Sockeye snugly fits that profile. They’ve attended tournaments with weird conditions and formats (Terminus and West Coast Cup), which has held them back from true championship games. They’ve had players in and out of the lineup all season. They’ve had bad losses (by 6 to Ironside at the Pro Flight Finale) and crazy comebacks (against Ring at the same tournament). And, of course, all of this comes from the elite squad that supposedly plays the least conventional ultimate style.
But if you look closer, their resume looks more like a true contender than a pretender. Wins over the overall #1, #2, and #3 seeds (Revolver, Doublewide, and GOAT) and a dominant regionals performance means Sockeye, though feared, could be a sneaky sleeper pick to make a deep run. The wealth of throwing talent they have on their team helps, too.
Sockeye in a Nutshell
- Overall #7 seed at Club Championships
- 2012 Nationals Performance: Seventh (tied)
- #6 in Ultiworld Power Rankings
- #4 in Skyd Power Rankings
- #6 in USAU Club Rankings
- Team with excellent Ultimate skill. Everyone on the roster seems to have every throw
- The best team at utilizing throw-and-go movements. When the offense gets going, every pass can happen quickly before the mark has time to set
- Improved defense that showed ability to generate multiple Ds against Revolver at the West Coast Cup
- Ability to give top teams a different look means that they’ll be a matchup challenge for some teams. In a relatively even field with tons of parity, that challenge means Sockeye could get hot
- Will have to rely on finesse, rather than height or power, to win games against the bigger teams. That’s a tough defensive strategy to ride in the elimination portion of Nationals
- Interesting offensive setup can be at times equally confusing as it is innovative
- Has struggled to get everyone in place at each tournament, making it hard to know how dangerous the team could be at Nationals
- Wins have generally been by smaller margins than losses, which hurt their regular season ranking, which may also mean their win-loss record overstates their quality
Sockeye’s season has been one where they’ve struggled to discover their ceiling. One of the things that has been difficult about that has been the comings and goings of their players on and off the injured reserve.
It began at Club Terminus, where their shortened roster was forced to battle through the weather and the travel. With Mario O’Brien booted on the sideline, they performed very well, going 5-1. They’d beat both Machine and GOAT, only losing to eventual tournament champion, PoNY.
After that, they were able to stick to the west coast, starting with West Coast Cup. They’d another marquee victory, beating Revolver 17-16, but tempered by a surprise loss to Johnny Bravo, 12-15. The Fish would also let a less talented Rhino team hang around, barely beating them.
The Pro Flight Finale in Davis, CA would be their worst performance of the season. Seattle dropped two games on Saturday to Machine and a shorthanded Ironside, with neither being a close affair. Between those games, they’d top Doublewide in a surprisingly strong performance. Sunday would follow the same 1-2 pattern, with losses to GOAT and Machine. It was nearly three losses, as Sockeye was forced to overcome a big late deficit against Ring of Fire, but was able to dig out of the hole.
Injuries started to heal up by this point, as O’Brien, Danny Karlinsky, and others returned to the field. Notably missing, though, for non-injury reasons, was Tim Gehret, freshly reacquired from Doublewide. He will play a big role in any deep Seattle run this weekend.
Healthier, the Fish were able to dominate Northwest Regionals. They come into the Club Championships as the Northwest champions, going unchallenged on the weekend. Rival, and fellow Championships qualifier, Furious George wasn’t able to get within five.
Sockeye looks healthier and cleaner coming out of the Series, but are looking at a strong uptick in competition.
There really isn’t another team in elite ultimate that plays like Sockeye. Their O Line offense, at least at times this year, looks somewhat horizontal. In some sets, the cutters appear to intentionally set up a bit too far downfield. But that gives Sockeye’s handlers room to navigate and find each other for gainers. Most other teams with handlers that eat up yards prefer the vertical stack (see: Doublewide), but Sockeye makes it work.
In part that’s because they have some excellent players around the disc. Joe “BJ” Sefton seems to be the most involved; even if he’s not always the primary handler, he’s the type of player who can also scare opponents by moving downfield and making plays there. He showed that side of his game in the semifinal matchup with GOAT at the Pro Flight Finale.
As further proof of the respect he garners, Sefton saw some of the toughest matchups as Revolver began crossing guys over to defense during Sockeye’s double game point win against Revolver. Nate Castine and Chris Kosednar were other handlers moving the disc around, breaking marks and chopping up yardage. One of Sockeye’s strengths is that it possess a lot (an unlimited number?) of players who know how to throw every distance and each break. Teams that beat them will probably prioritize some handler matchups, but it will still probably need an effective team defensive effort, rather than just taking one person out. Cutters like Matt “Skip” Sewell have shown the ability to be involved with the offense with short, medium, and long receptions.
Of course the defensive line is also strong with handler talent, including Sam Harkness. And they’ll often look to push that advantage after the turn by picking up quick. But the D Line is not nearly as strong in terms of height. Man with a single (disciplined and hard) force seems to be the preferred look, which is probably necessary at this level (assuming conditions hold fair in Frisco).
They adopt strong initial body positions, which was very evident towards the end of their semifinal loss to GOAT — Sockeye kept turning up the pressure and almost broke through. But, against the best teams in the country, they will also give up some athleticism and be forced to chase a bit. Both GOAT and Revolver videos show Sockeye getting beat deep.
Stopping the huck might be the defensive key to their success. Perhaps to that end, you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that Sockeye isn’t afraid to experiment with different zone looks in any game. Those have included a huge four man cup look focused on getting as large — vertically — as possible, jumping up and scaring opposing handlers. This or some other junk look is likely to come out every game.
All in all, Sockeye is an offensively-tilted team and that will be the more interesting thing to keep an eye on. When the offense gets moving, it seems unstoppable. Sometimes, though, there’s a lot of pressure to keep that offense moving quick. As Sockeye stagnates and stall counts rise, they fall back on their throws to get them out of tight situations. That can lead to some situations when everything looks very off, like when we saw them against Ironside at the Pro Flight Finale. But when they keep the throw-and-go alive, Sockeye can hurt you with their varied throwers and inside-out breaks.
Quarterfinals. While we think Sockeye has the talent to go further, we’re not thrilled about the lineup they drew. Sub Zero could be a tricky out in pool play. But then Sockeye likely faces Ironside — a team that’s probably equally experienced but more athletic — or Ring of Fire, a team that would be desperate to put down Sockeye after blowing a lead against them at the Pro Flight Finale, in the prequarters. Their quarters matchup would be against a one seed. Sockeye’s best hope of advancing far might be to build on lessons learned from their narrow GOAT loss; taking Pool B from GOAT would turn their trajectory upside down.
Prequarters exit. It’s a brutal field and the quantitative look at Sockeye shows big wins at Terminus and tight wins since. Yes, a win is a win and there’s value in beating Doublewide and Revolver that shouldn’t be minimized. Sockeye will be confident that they can matchup to anyone. But Sockeye isn’t a perfectly balanced team like some of the other favorites.
Ironside. The eye test argument is that the Boston guys won’t be as worried about matching up against a quick, break-mark team. They’re equally experienced at the elite level, especially in the positions that matter. The numbers argument is that an Ironside loss to Sockeye, after a 6 point win at the Pro Flight Finale, would be a huge swing.