January 17, 2014 by Sean Childers in Livewire with 0 comments
Early Friday afternoon, Skyd Magazine reported that Seattle Sockeye’s leadership had asked their players to “prioritize” playing Sockeye over Major League Ultimate’s Seattle Rainmakers or the American Ultimate Disc League’s Seattle Raptors. The talent loss from Sockeye — who finished 2nd at the USAU Club Championships in October — will be substantial for the Rainmakers as it will have to bring in an almost entirely new roster.
Skyd reporter Nathan Jesson went on to describe Sockeye’s qualification for the World Club Championships as one of the key reasons behind the move:
Therein lies the problem for the Rainmakers. The MLU season, designed to avoid overlap with the most important parts of the club season, conflicts with what Sockeye sees as critical practice time to prepare for the WUCC. Because of this, Sockeye leadership has asked its players to prioritize their club team over either of the Rainmakers or the Seattle Raptors, the new AUDL team in town. While Sockeye hasn’t forbidden any of its players from participating in the MLU or AUDL (Mark Burton has already signed with the Portland Stags), the truth of the matter is the 2014 edition of the Rainmakers is going to look very different than 2013.
Of the 28 players that played for the Rainmakers in 2013, 17 also played for Sockeye last year. A handful of others were also past Sockeye players. Among the 17 Rainmakers to score at least 10 points (goals plus assists) last season, only three didn’t play with Sockeye last year, and those three were all past Sockeye players. All eight Rainmakers to complete at least 100 throws played for Sockeye in 2013. The impact this is going to have on the Rainmakers 2014 season is undeniable.
As Jesson notes, Seattle is one of the deepest Ultimate communities in the country, meaning the Raimakers will be as well equipped to handle this type of change as any franchise could be (Read the Skyd piece for more about how this will shakedown in Seattle and in the MLU Western Conference). But it will still hurt the Rainmakers — a lot.
Perhaps more interesting is the move speaks to the ever-changing landscape compromised of both semi-professional leagues — MLU and the AUDL — and USA Ultimate. Last winter saw a rush of elite players from established club teams signing up to play with MLU. This offseason’s premier signings, like Beau Kittredge and Alex Thorne, have gone to the AUDL, with more splash signings potentially yet to come. Sockeye’s move to prioritize the World Club Championships further suggests that the most elite players still think USAU and WFDF provide the most competitive environment.
Sockeye Captain Tyler Kinley told Ultiworld that there multiple factors involved in Sockeye’s decision. “With both Worlds & Nationals, the notion of adding even more to the start of the season was daunting from a burnout perspective. The overlap of MLU with Sockeye’s season is also difficult, in addition to different discs, field dimensions, and rules (refs).”
Last season, it was unclear the extent to which professional league involvement helped or hurt club team performance. Two years ago, after the inaugural AUDL season, some spectators thought the (then-AUDL) Philadelphia Spinners extensive summer schedule hurt Philadelphia-based club team Southpaw. Last year, MLU’s New York Rumble struggled and were knocked out of playoff contention by the DC Current — only for many of those same players to lead New York’s PoNY to a breakout start to the USAU Triple Crown Tour. Each city’s players seem to be taking the task differently: GOAT played early summer tournaments with a vastly different roster than they ended with, in part because of the Toronto Rush; three of the stars from the San Francisco’s Dogfish missed the MLU Championship Game to practice for the USA Worlds Team. Because of that, it’s simply too early to say whether playing Semipro is incompatible with 100% commitment to Club — but Sockeye seems to be saying, at least in a world’s year, it is.