The Pro Leagues: Making a Comparison

by | July 28, 2015, 8:39am 11

To my only semi-trained eye, the Seattle Cascades were so much better than the Vancouver Riptide last Saturday that it was mind-boggling. Beyond just demolishing the Riptide 30-17, the Cascades seemed to have a facility with the game that gave space for personality to emerge out of the athleticism. (That the Riptide won the back end of the home-and-home 26-24 is shocking after seeing the gap between the two teams in Seattle, and it raises all sorts of questions about what a good ultimate sample size looks like).

The play in the first AUDL match I saw had character beyond size and position; even in a single match the way individuals approached the game stuck out. I don’t know that guys were better, but the match looked like two more experienced sets of foes going at each other. That the Cascades were knocked out of the AUDL playoffs this weekend in the quarterfinals would suggest the AUDL is a very strong league.

If, gun to my head, I were asked who I’d bet on to win in a match between Seattle MLU Western Conference Champion Rainmakers and the Seattle AUDL playoff quarter-finalist Cascades, I’d first ask the gunholder to chill because pointing a gun to my head is not within the Spirit of the Game. And then I’d take the Cascades.

That said, I think there’s more going on here than a straight league-to-league comparison. Firstly, while the Rainmakers and Cascades were similarly seeded headed into the playoffs, the underlying goal differential stats suggest the Cascades were the silent juggernaut of the AUDL, while the equivalent team in MLU was the Portland Stags. The Stags size would have really challenged the Cascades based on what I saw of them this year. The Cascades were faster and bigger than the Riptide, they would not have been against an equivalently good MLU team.

Secondly, I don’t know much. But I’d say the play in the two leagues was fairly close. Whatever battles are being waged between the two leagues and top club teams likely make a lot of sense to those immersed in the sport, but to my (relatively still) outside eye, it’s all outrageously good frisbee, well beyond anything I saw in college and certainly well beyond anything I could hope to do myself. Which is a good sign for a burgeoning pro league. If some asshole writing about the league on the internet thinks he can give it a go (see: curling or darts) that’s not a good long term sign.

*looks up professional dart purses*

Well I’ll be.

Anyway, let’s hit this AUDL experience with some bullet points:

•Seattle was staggeringly better in this match. I still can’t get over finding out they lost the next day to the same team. 99 and 94 stuck out to me… I can’t find a roster page to shoutout their names, but 99 and 94 were both really good. Good job, 99 and 94 on the Seattle Cascades. You guys are really good at ultimate.

•Is there pull strategy? Like, what are we doing with pulls? There doesn’t have to be. Thinking about football and kickoffs no one really cares unless it’s close late, but with pulls is there anything in particular that players should be doing consistently? If so, I haven’t really seen it.

•Seattle was so much better that on a couple deep shots, guys were making runs, pulled off the runs, saw the disc hucked deep, and still had time to recover and outrun their defender. These inadvertent double moves made me realize, a) recovery speed is crucial, and b) why am I not seeing more intentional double moves?

•Seattle had a ludicrously good goal-line defensive stand after Vancouver landed a deep shot to an unmarked player on the 1 yard line. They were forced to go backwards after the defense beat the second man to the scene, and then were forced into a low percentage hammer into the corner which fell incomplete. In Seattle though? You gotta hand the disc to Marshawn. Hand. The disc. To Marshawn.

•This goal-line defense made me think about where you start playing defense on a field. If the opposition can beat you deep, why not concede territory and give them a short field. Do any ultimate teams try this? It’s essentially the equivalent of counter-pressing in soccer. You wait for an opponent to get to a certain point where they’ve condensed the field, and then you strike quickly aiming to score off of turnovers. I’d be interested to know if tactics like that could work in ultimate.

•The Seattle Memorial Stadium where the Cascades play is a decrepit stadium by the Seattle Center that manages to feel both old and devoid of personality. It’s kind of a bummer, but it is centrally located. It’s a tough trade off: the Rainmakers play further south, but the facilities are more open and parking is easier. The Cascades did their best to make the stadium their own, but it was too big to take over, and too brutalist in architectural style to really soften up. A lot of teams use this stadium (including the NWSL Seattle Reign) so this isn’t on the Cascades… it’s just the trouble with looking for stadiums near downtown Seattle when you can’t fill up CenturyLink Field.

•The Cascades had great mascots (a pair of Sasquatches, Casey and Kid Casey). The best thing I overheard was in reference to the little one: “I love [sic] Lil’ Casey. He’s got just as much attitude as regular Casey!” As if to prove the point, Kid Casey then Three Stooge’d me for looking down at my phone to write down the quote.

Two more pieces from me this summer, Skyd readers: the MLU Final and then a wrap up of what I’ve learned. I think I’ve learned a lot. I’m certainly using “huck” and “hammer” in fun new ways in my day-to day life.

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  • “If, gun to my head, I were asked who I’d bet on to win in a match
    between Seattle MLU Western Conference Champion Rainmakers and the
    Seattle AUDL playoff quarter-finalist Cascades, I’d first ask the
    gunholder to chill because pointing a gun to my head is not within the
    Spirit of the Game. And then I’d take the Cascades.”

    This would also be the general consensus among anyone well versed in the sport. Cascades partnered this year with Seattle’s elite club team Sockeye, which are perennial contenders to win the USAU championship. Rainmakers used to have many Sockeye players in prior years, but due to the Cascades-Sockeye partnership are now largely drained of that talent.

    “Is there pull strategy? Like, what are we doing with pulls? There
    doesn’t have to be. Thinking about football and kickoffs no one really
    cares unless it’s close late, but with pulls is there anything in
    particular that players should be doing consistently? If so, I haven’t
    really seen it.”

    Most of the time, pullers just try to get the disc into the opposing end zone and with a lot of hang time so that the defense has time to get down and set up. Occasionally when there’s a lot of wind that prevents even elite pullers from making deep pulls, they’ll go for rollers that land closer to half-field but then roll out of bounds, which gives the defense the opportunity to pin the offense on the sideline, as well as time to run down to set up the defense. Those are probably the 2 most common pull strategies.

    • My son plays high level youth ultimate and pulls can definitely be a weapon there. If you can throw it deep and high (to let your teammates get downfield), and throw it so it comes in at an angle (preferably forcing the receiving team to look into the sun) the receiving team will often let it hit the ground rather than try to catch it. You’ll often hear teammates on the sideline encourage the pulling team with chants of “No first throw!” Meaning, get down there and don’t let the guy receiving the pull have an easy throw to a teammate.

      Now the offense is deep in their own territory, the defense is down there and, again at the youth level, a nervous kid is going to make a risky throw much of the time. The pulling side gets a D and now has a short field.

      I think at the pro/elite club level the players are so good that a tough pull doesn’t phase them, they can catch it blindfolded with one hand. And they can break a D easily enough as well.

      Spike – Regarding ‘goal line’ D, yes, in theory I agree with you, but here’s where it gets a little different. In football you’ve got 22 players and an endzone that’s 10 yards deep. In ultimate you’ve got 14 players and an endzone that’s 20 yards deep. Just too much room and not enough people. Also, in football the QB has 4, maybe 5 options for throwing the ball, the other half of his team are ineligible. In ultimate, the guy with the disc can conceivably throw to any one of his 6 teammates for the score. And because it’s a disc and not a football, he has an arsenal of ridiculous throws his can make.

      Finally, thanks again for embracing ultimate in such a great way, I’ve really enjoyed your articles. And kudos to Skyd for giving you the platform.

  • Nick Randell

    Just a heads up the Riptide were missing 3-4 top players who were playing in the U23 World Championships that weekend. I was down from Canada for the game and was a little disappointed that they were missing so much of their talent, but it was still an awesome match and a fantastic atmosphere.

  • Bill Bourret

    “(That the Riptide won the back end of the home-and-home 26-24 is shocking after seeing the gap between the two teams in Seattle, and it raises all sorts of questions about what a good ultimate sample size looks like).”

    Um no not really that shocking. Riptide is a way more talented team than people give them credit for. They’re playing in a very tough division which is why their record is low. The reason why they got rekt in Seattle was because (a) not much to play for once out of the playoffs and (b) lost 5 of their best youth to U23s. They played a lot harder at home to give something nice to the fans.

  • This article misses the entire point. There’s ZERO difference between MLU, AUDL and USAU. It’s all the same tired old game with primitive offenses, unimaginative throws and athleticism being confused for gamesmanship. The game of Ultimate needs a major overhaul, top to bottom. MLU/AUDL dropped the proverbial [flat] ball by not seizing this opportunity when initiating pro leagues. You can’t take a game specifically designed to not have refs, sprinkle some refs on it and expect it to work.

    • conair00

      I would be curious to hear what missed opportunities you think there were. Without inventing a new disc sport of course.

      • I interviewed Irv Kalb who basically wrote the first set of rules in the early 70s and submitted the article to Ultiworld so hopefully it will be published. But basically, the game was based on a lot of concepts that basically no one in the game is aware of.

        Furthermore, 99% of the players of the game wouldn’t even agree with the foundation the game is based on. When and if you ever read the article, you’ll understand why Ultimate Frisbee is the “Platypus of Sports”.

        In law, there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, yes? Well, in a sport where such a huge premium has been placed on The Spirit of the Game, the Spirit of the Rules has been completely neglected. But I was able to find out what the true Spirit of the Rules were by speaking directly to the original curator to ask him what the thinking was behind most of the rules. Elliot Trotter believes the Spirit of the Rules to be completely irrelevant, which I find more than a little odd. When you read the article, you and just about every other Ultimate player should be shocked.

        The game needs to be overhauled. To do this, the Spirit of the Rules needs to be understood and either agreed with or disagreed with. Once there is an understanding of what the Spirit of the Rules is, we then need to basically start from scratch and go top to bottom, one by one, to rewrite the rules.

        One small example. Irv made it very clear that [basketball style] picks were made illegal because the game was played originally on pavement. OK. The Spirit of the Rules was that actually setting picks was made illegal to prevent injuries on pavement. That’s easy to understand. OK, here’s the pick rule from the 11th edition

        ” Picks :: A pick occurs whenever an offensive player moves in a manner that causes a defensive player guarding (II.G)* an offensive player to be obstructed by another player. Obstruction may result from contact with, or the need to avoid, the obstructing player.” *the II.G rule then goes on to describe guarding as not only being within 3 meters of a player, but ‘reacting to’ that player.

        Excuse my language, but what the f#$%ck does this rule have to do with preventing injuries on pavement? Who wrote this shit?

        I’ve seen maybe 10,000 pick calls in Ultimate in 35 years (probably 3000 on me alone).

        I’ve not seen a SINGLE basketball style pick. Ever. The rule for picks morphed each edition of the rules from the 8th, 9th, 9.5th, 10th & 11th to the point that the way the Pick Rule is written now is totally unrecognizable from its original intention and is a complete joke that has absolutely nothing with preventing people getting injured on blacktop. The MLU/AUDL had the opportunity to make setting basketball style picks illegal and everything else legal but being utterly unaware of the original Spirit of the Rules, they left things in their distorted and bizarre current manifestation.

        They had the luxury of not being the monolithic, dysfunctional organization that the UPA/USAU is as they have a rules committee of only one or two people and could have unilaterally fixed the game, but instead, they took this bizarro, malformed, mutated game and sprinkled referees on it (refs that don’t even understand the rules).

        The entire rules are like this and here’s another one, this one even more poignant because it deals with a situation directly involved with AUDL.

        In 1979, when the UPA was formed, there was no rule about a marker required to be within 3 meters of the thrower for a stall count. Oddly enough, not only did the subsequent rules require that a marker be within 3 meters, but the marker was the only player allowed to even issue the stall count. From my interview with Irv Kalb, the only reason they ever instituted a stall count in the first place was because they started to have timed games in tournaments and they realized that if a team was leading at half time, all they would have to do was sit down on the ground and wait for the game to end, so they put in a stall count.

        The rule was changed sometime in the mid-eighties that not only was the marker the only player allowed to count the stall, but he had to be within 3 meters. The Spirit of this Rule was that some throwers were complaining that they couldn’t hear the stall count and so they made it that way. I think the rule even said something like ‘the count has to be loud enough for the thrower to hear”.

        Mostly this was a problem with ‘fast counts’ as this rule was instituted sometime during the Uglimate era. It was a bad rule then, and it’s a bad rule now.

        Fast forward to 2015 and we now have professional leagues with referees maintaining a stall count. With a solid understanding of the Spirit of the Rule, you can see that there is absolutely zero reason to maintain this legacy rule from the 80s. In fact, earlier this year, the AUDL abolished this rule only to have so many teams freak out about it that they had to rescind their decision and revert to the legacy rule, even though it made zero sense in a refereed game. The entire sport is like this. It needs an overhaul.

        Somehow Elliot thinks this is completely irrelevant. Should the Ultimate Community allow a mediocre player like Elliot, who thinks that the original Spirit of the Rules is irrelevant be making decisions on their behalf? Have him publish the article himself and have the community decide if it’s irrelevant.

        If an independent professional league (the AUDL in this case) can’t change a simple, outdated and misguided rule like this one, how the hell is the game ever going to evolve? AUDL, USAU, MLU all looks the same to me.

        • sel

          I agree with you. I think the rules need some major rework. I can’t believe a game with refs wouldn’t have the ref count the stall. I have been contested many times on my stall count once I reached ten (and no, I wasn’t counting fast), and in the rules, you can’t contest a contested stall count. I get that the rule was written for fast counts, but if you have a ref, why wouldn’t you use that impartial judge to count the stall? No contests and complete fairness.

          But my major gripe is there not being any penalties. I was playing mixed and almost got completely destroyed by a guy who
          was 8 inches and 60 lbs bigger than me. I had to crawl off the field it was so bad and I couldn’t walk the next day. What was the call I could make? A foul. If anything like that had happened in soccer, he would have gotten a red card. In basketball, a technical. He kept fouling during the game, (not as bad as on me at least), but if it were basketball, at least he would have fouled out. In ultimate…? A person can foul and foul and there is no penalty except perhaps a stern talking to, I guess. Apparently, our sport is so unique in its athletes because no one means to break the rules! All those other sports have athletes that just want to win at any cost. That’s why they have penalties/infractions and we don’t need any! You travel in basketball (let’s exclude the NBA for my argument), it’s a turnover. You travel in ultimate: whoops! Let’s give you another chance.

          On another note, I really like the integrity rule. If our sport is to have refs but people fear that will get rid of spirit of the game (huh?), push for athletes to use that rule. That is truly spectacular and would keep ultimate different than other sports.

          • One of the problems with penalties for fouls, is what is the penalty going to be? 10 Yards? Now that’s just a fricken joke. Yardage means nothing in my offense. Ultimate really isn’t set up for ‘penalty kicks’ or ‘free throws’. I say, in the Pros, make a foul count for one point. Period. Finished. That should make players think twice about being overly aggressive.

            But you would really have to read my articles to appreciate why Ultimate is schizo and always has been. A platypus is an egg-laying mammal that has a duck bill. It can’t decide if it’s a reptile, a mammal or a bird, and the rules for Ultimate were ostensibly formalized by a 19 year old nerdy, unathletic kid and the sport is a hodge-podge of football and other sports but you’d have to read the articles to understand how nutty the game really is and why there aren’t any penalties.

            It’s really insane. Irv Kalb had no idea what he was doing.

          • Mike

            The MLU has already addressed most if not all of your (plural) gripes. MLU refs have been keeping the stall count since its inception. It is also a timed game, so not having a stall count altogether would mean a team could go up by one and sit down and watch the click tick, which addresses any gripe you might have about justifying a stall count in the first place. Who the hell wants to watch a team go up by one in the first minute, get a great defensive turnover, and then literally sit down for 3.9 more quarters?

            The MLU allows same-team picks, requires defensive players to make at least some effort to avoid an incoming pick, and requires that a pick both actually happen and ostensibly effect the play. That is a basketball pick, and if it’s not that then it’s a football pick, which was banned for safety reasons by the NFL several years ago. The pick rule has not significantly changed since its inception.

            The MLU has “bands”; arm bands that function effectively like yellow cards in soccer. Two bands and you get ejected, and ejected players also often assume further league-issued penalties including fines and further suspension(s). The MLU referees also reserve the right (and have exercised said right) to immediately eject a player for a host of reasons, one of course being totally destroying another player in an intentional or otherwise totally reckless manner. The rule was made intentionally subjective to allow the referees to use the “eye” test on a case-by-case basis. Major penalties not only result in loss of yardage, but often result in a change in possession. The one thing you cannot do is change the score unnecessarily. Football player punches another in the face for no reason? He gets ejected. No change in score. Basketball player punches another in the face for no reason? He gets ejected. No change in score. Soccer player punches another in the face for no reason? He gets ejected. No change in score. Do you see where this is going? The MLU absolutely does seriously penalize players for blowing up other players unnecessarily, just like any other sport.

            Travels in the MLU are a turnover and have been since the league’s inception.

            I cannot speak to the other pro/semi-pro leagues (AUDL, NEXGEN, etc.), but the MLU has addressed almost all of your concerns already. They even tried a new rule that encourages calling time outs between points by allowing the pulling team to pull from half-field if they call a time out between points. They allow double-teaming (not triple or more teaming); pure vertical stacks are extremely rare; callahans act like safeties in football (meaning you get the point and receive the next pull). Heck, the MLU doesn’t even use a Discraft disc. The MLU rule book was largely based on a major overhauling of the original AUDL rule book, so I have to imagine they’re very similar, or that they at least function very similarly. So the game has evolved, real concerns have been addressed, the leagues are experimenting with fundamental changes.

            Perhaps the MLU and AUDL are very similar. But I would expect that a soccer match between Germany and France would look pretty similar to a soccer game between Barca and Athletico (ignoring differences in skill level), just as I would expect a game between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes to look at least pretty similar to a game between the Lions and the Bengals (ignoring differences in skill level); a game coached by Boeheim and Izzo to look like a game coached by Pop and Carlisle (ignoring differences in player skill level)…

            I don’t think this is the place for flaming, but have you been to a pro game? I might suggest giving it a try.

            Of course, if the changes you want are that we stop playing with a flying disc, turn the endzones into hoops or nets, let throwers run with the disc, introduce wild buffalo…maybe this isn’t your sport.

  • Joaq

    “This goal-line defense made me think about where you start playing defense on a field. If the opposition can beat you deep, why not concede territory and give them a short field. Do any ultimate teams try this? It’s essentially the equivalent of counter-pressing in soccer. You wait for an opponent to get to a certain point where they’ve condensed the field, and then you strike quickly aiming to score off of turnovers. I’d be interested to know if tactics like that could work in ultimate.”

    The Japanese national team did this against the US national team in the 2013 world games with some success.