It’s about that time of year, a time when after a hiatus I feel like writing again. I’ll get a few articles out the door before something else will come along and require my time and attention. However, time is what has passed and it’s been an interesting year for Ultimate. I’ve had the privilege to sit on the edge of the field as yet another year of Ultimate has played itself out. So it’s time for a recap and also for predictions for the next year. I’m going to break this series into multiple posts. How many in total? I don’t know as of yet, let’s see where this path leads us. These posts shall involve quite a bit of rambling and little to no editing, I’ll try to make it a cohesive read but you may have to keep up and/or read the full post to see where I’ve been.
As always, the topic may not be adequately covered due to a lack of time so I’ll try to touch upon important points which may paint an incomplete picture. That incomplete picture is not a criticism but touches upon, as mentioned, what I believe is important.
Let’s start off with some Canadian Ultimate and Furious and GOAT in particular. The route that the teams took this year were significantly different and the results indicate that to some perspective. Furious is in a transition period with the old guard giving way to the new; close to half the team are rookies and do not yet have the fire that the team is known for. GOAT, on the other hand, took on relatively few new players and is by far a more mature team. The rosters of the teams are important now as we need to look forward several years.
Furious gave their rookies a few big tournament experiences as well as a big game experience (CUC finals vs Phoenix). They’ll be heading to WUCC where the players will, once again, need to be able to play strong and focused against some strong teams and quite a few weak teams. They’ll face different styles of Ultimate and will need to deliver in plenty of elimination situations. They’ll need to perform much better than they did at USA Ultimate Club Championships (UUCC) where they finished 14th. The tournaments and timing are important because the roster we see now is very likely the roster we’ll see in 2015 for World’s qualifications. There are maybe 3 or 4 big tournaments before CUC where the players can learn and perform under pressure before that time. It’s experience they desperately need. The team I saw this season was a chimera. The veteran players had the focus and character of the Furious I’ve known for the past few years. In Texas Andrew Lugsdin was on the sideline and trying to impart his values to the new players. What I saw was a group that lacks the confidence and the drive to overcome a deficit. After all, isn’t that what we’ve seen from Furious? The ability to overcome, the ability to score four or five in a row and win on Universe? But most importantly a desire not only to win but more importantly to not fail. I don’t see that just yet from the young players. Of course, they haven’t had the trial by fire as of yet. There was a bit of it at CUC but no real pressure that builds character. But is that what’s best? Is there a character of their own that the players will imbue into the team that reflects a different style of play? WUCC will be a big test but it’ll be just that, a test. The real prize is in 2016 and Furious isn’t alone in chasing that dream.
GOAT is the other big Canadian team (in case you’ve been in a hole or watching trick shot videos) that is currently a favourite to win CUC in 2015. It may seem to be a bit strange to be making my predictions for favourites this early but let’s face reality: population makes a difference and both Toronto and Vancouver have a substantial advantage. Unlike Furious, GOAT has not radically reshaped their roster because they simply don’t need to. The average age of the veteran players on the team is in the mid-20s with plenty of experience and a core that is capable of winning tournaments. While they had a tough time at UUCC their result of 7th/8th is nothing to scoff at. Now if only they’d gone to CUC then they could have used WUCC as a tune up; but it’s probably not needed. Mentally the team is tough and even when they play terribly they can pull out a win to save face. An example of that is their aforementioned finish at UUCC. I have not seen GOAT play worse than the Thursday in Texas and the players know it. Perhaps it was the difficulty of playing together as a full team or it was that some players are now past their prime. In any case it was eye opening and I can conclusively say that they lacked concentration. There are certainly a few players that will be cut but that won’t change the character of the team. Toronto has a large talent pool of experienced players that are in their mid-20s that are far better than most of the up and coming players. The team we’ll see in 2014 will be leaner and the team we’ll see in 2015 should be virtually unchanged in character.
It’s inevitable that we’ll see these teams clash in 2015 and they’ll be vulnerable in different ways. Furious shall be more vulnerable from a mental perspective but physically they will be dominant. GOAT’s offensive strategy is too easy to decipher and they’ll have to figure out a new way to play in the next few months; they were stifled at UUCC and their plays seem quite mechanical. That’s not the full story though and I’ll talk about why they had issues (in a broad sense) in an upcoming post.
What about the rest of Canada’s Open teams? There shall continue to be a great divide between the elite tier of Furious/GOAT and everybody else for the next round. The issue is one of Juniors development and growth. The Juniors coming out of Vancouver have been phenomenal in the last few years. The same can be said for Winnipeg, Québec, and to some degree Toronto. The problem that the smaller markets face is a migration of their best talent to larger markets like Vancouver and Toronto. At the same time many young players move out of province to play at schools in large cities they may eventually end up there. As Canada’s population continues to move away from the east and towards large cities like Vancouver and Toronto we’ll continue to see dominating performances from teams in those areas. That doesn’t mean all is lost but that’s a topic for a future post.