Win the Fields: Worlds Wrap

by | July 27, 2012, 11:13am 0

The finals stadium at J-Green in Sakai. (Photo by Neil Gardner -

The best thing about Worlds was the eight day running conversation-argument-discussion between Chase and myself.  Emerging above ground during our broadcasts, the conversation was punctuated by some amazing interviews with coaches, captains and players from Helsinki to Bogota and only interrupted by sleep and soggy passports.  From time to time, other people passed through.  Bryan Jones, Matty Tsang, Rio all stepped in for major sections of chat.  We talked coaching and philosophy and strategy and technique.  We analyzed Sockeye, Rhino, Fury, Revolver, Dingoes and Team Japan.  We broke down the games of Snyder, Cahill, Kitteredge, Hirai, Tanaka and Foord.  What follows are some of my highlights.

The Catch that Wasn’t

Tim Lavis will never forget touching that disc.  Game point against USA and the Australians have built themselves a beautiful opportunity – tied and receiving the disc.  Facing a standard force forehand from Revolver, the Dingoes were patient and controlled all the way down the field.   Then, about 12 throws into the point, Jonno Holmes unleashing a missile of a 40-yard hammer.  Lavis dives, puts a full hand on it and drops it.  Revolver goes the other way and scores on a tremendous second effort from Sam Kanner.  On that moment hinges the whole tournament for Australia: beating the US for the first time and a gimme quarterfinal against Finland instead of eventual silver medalist Great Britain.

I can take you to a place in Davis, CA where I missed a catch that turned the tide of history between Sockeye and Furious.  Up 12-8 in the Regional semis, I didn’t lay out for a Keith Monohan forehand I might have been able to come up with.  I got to similarly difficult discs before and after, but I let that one go.  Furious score to make it 12-9 instead of 13-8.  Then we lost, 13-15, the first time Sockeye ever lost to Furious.  And the Dark Years began.

If you play this game long enough, sooner or later a play comes to you that changes everything.  When you make it, you may not remember it.  Not every play has the immediate gravity of Zip’s catch against Mamabird or Roger’s hammer to Chase on double game point in ’04.  A swing pass you caught, you’ll forget.  But a swing pass you dropped, you’ll remember.

Who’s LeCarre playing for this weekend?

We tried to interview every team we covered prior to the game and teams came in with two general attitudes: suspicion or gratitude.  In almost all cases, this attitude was tied to whether or not the team was in medal contention or not.  The closer a team got to the top, the more suspicious they were of our motives and the more guarded they were with information.  Eventually, Chase and I hit on a message that seemed to put everyone at rest: “Whatever you tell us, we will hold until the game, but once the broadcast starts we potentially will use anything you’ve said.”

Chase’s speculation was that the non-American teams saw us as Americans first and journalists second (if at all).  They saw our allegiance as to America and the American teams so that anything useful they told us we would run to Fury and Revolver with. When we filmed and practiced in Portland, the Australians were initially very guarded about filming and rosters, but came around when we explained our purpose was to practice broadcasting and names.  The Japanese (admittedly operating through a translator) obfuscated a bit in our interviews.  When I asked the men about the health of #10 Matsuno Masahiro, they said “Daijobu” and clearly he wasn’t.  He played a point here and there, but something wasn’t right.  At halftime of the Great Britain pool play game, it was Matsuno and not the Japanese coach doing all the talking, so clearly he is still the leader of that team.

When we interviewed the captains of the Japanese women, Mori and Hirai, I asked them about the poaching scheme they had used so successfully against Fury in Prague in 2010.  After a quick glance at each other, “Oh no,” they said.  “That’s something that Uno does.  We are Team Japan.  We will play straight man.”  Later the same day, we watched the Japanese watching Fury run drills to defeat the poach.  And clearly, Team Japan didn’t run straight man.

I am less sure than Chase that it was an American issue and not a general strategic secrecy issue.  Still, it was easy for people to see us as Americans first and everything else second.  The reality is much more complicated.  We are obviously influenced by our playing and coaching histories, but not always in the way you’d imagine.  To all the folks who found us biased in the Canada-US semifinal, I’d just remind you that we’re both Fish first.  We’d rather see Godzilla emerge out of Sakai Bay and devour everyone than either Furious or Revolver win.

Teacher’s Pet

A big part of our narrative about Revolver was the presence of a bunch of A+ players.  We identified Robbie, Beau and Bart as the main three with Kurt as the bonus fourth.  This of course set off a firestorm of discussion: what about Mac Taylor or Sherwood or Ashlin Joye?  In part because of who we excluded from the list, Bryan Jones and most of the NexGen film crew disagreed with us about what the definition of an A+ player was.  Kurt stands as an excellent of what an A+ player is and isn’t.

A+ is more about what someone does than what they are.  In his role on Doublewide, there is no question that Kurt fits the bill.  He is the throwing centerpiece of a semi-finals caliber offense and he crosses over to play defense when necessary.  However, on Revolver the offense remained Robbie and Beau’s and Kurt was used exclusively in his defensive capacity.  Does that mean that Kurt was suddenly less talented?  Less skilled or athletic?  Not in the least, but his role was certainly diminished and not the work of an A+ player.  This is where the argument got tricky.  Is someone inherently an A+ (or A or B) level player or is that designation based on what they actually do?  A big piece of what I am looking for is the size of the role a player fills.  It is really hard for a defensive player to be an A+ player – their impact is necessarily inconsistent and their total touches are limited.  There have been some defensive players whose consistent excellence and crunch time cross over pushed them to the verge of A+ status, but more often, it is great offensive players who can also clamp down and play defense when it counts who get the rep and the status.

Potlatch with Flags

I’d never been to true Worlds before and despite being warned, I was astounded by the incredible range of quality within the tournament.  You’ve got the US beating Germany 17-8 and the Germans beating the French 16-8 and the French beating the Philippines 17-6.  On the Open side you’ve got 5 teams showing real quality: USA, Canada, Japan, GB and Australia.  On the Women’s side four teams: USA, Japan, Canada and Colombia.

All that aside, I only saw one team play a complete game where their offense, defense and transition offense were hitting on all cylinders.  That team was the Japanese women.  Everyone else struggled with one or more of these facets throughout the tournament.  All of the Open teams struggled with possession.  Part of that was the wind, but a lot of it was sloppy play, uncharacteristic mistakes or a bad streak by a key player on the O-line.

Worlds presents a really unique challenge to teams.  Unlike the USA Ultimate season, which has remained essentially unchanged year in and year out, the Worlds season comes but once every four years, so everyone’s institutional memory is weaker.  The countries that take national teams have to deal with the practice and competition issues.  The countries that send single teams (USA, Canada) have to deal with the fact that Worlds is a bit of an afterthought only considered once the berth is earned.

Silly Pop Culture

Eleven days of travel and work with the same seven guys produces an instant culture: here (1,2) are the two most important parts of ours.

Feature photo of Lou and Chase at the NGN announcer booth. (Photo by Neil Gardner –

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