The second edition of the Pan-American Ultimate Club Championships has wrapped up, and with it I found it fitting to write a recap – not any old dry tournament recap, but rather an honest summary of thoughts I assembled from various discussions and observations while at the tournament this past weekend.
The semifinals were the last games played at the Oscar Inn Fields, a fantastic complex that featured 5 well-maintained natural grass fields right next to each other. On Sunday, teams were bussed to the Aguas de Lindoia municipal soccer stadium, for the finals. I’m all for ultimate in stadiums, but this version was unfortunately a bit underwhelming. With only about 200 fans in attendance, the crowd seemed distant, especially since the field was a good bit away from where the stands started. It may not look as professional, but there’s nothing like a horde of fans surrounding the edges of the field. It gives a massive boost to the players and it forces the fans to get involved in the game, and would have been especially useful during what turned out to be a very lopsided Women’s final (13-2, Riot over Mantis).
The Open final was a rematch of PAUCC 2011: Sockeye vs. Warao (Venezuela). Warao is a strong team, but never matches up well against Sockeye. A couple of unforced errors early took them mentally out of the game, and Sockeye coasted to a win, 13-7. During the spirit circle they commented that their nerves got the better of them.
Latin American vs. North American Ultimate
Ultimate in Colombia and Venezuela is good. Very good. Players are short, fast, lay out for everything on both offense and defense, and make use of quick throws to space, OI blades, and hammers to gain field position.
On paper, they should be beating top USA teams. However, there’s one thing that still separates them from the Americans: mental game. On Saturday, during the last few pool play rounds, Sockeye actually went down big to two Venezuelan teams, Evolution Up and Santos, before halftime. However, unable to contain their excitement, both teams folded in the second half, displaying a number of unforced turnovers and drops.
Emotions run hot in many Latin American teams and marica and caraechimba could often be heard from the sidelines as teammates fought with each other over decisions, playing time, strategy… you name it. Before the games, many teams employed long, loud pump-up cheers in Spanish, while Sockeye quietly confided “1-2, FISH.” I have no doubt that all of these pre-game and sideline routines play into the negative psychology that often plagues Venezuelan and Colombian teams.
The first Latin American team to play with conservation and calm on offense while maintaining physicality on defense, that can radiate an air of positivity throughout the sidelines, will be the first successful club team on an international level.
What’s Next for PAUCC?
This was the second iteration of the regional championships, but to the outside world, in many ways it must have felt like a step down. Many strong teams opted not to attend because Brazil was so far away. Sockeye pulled together at the last minute. Media coverage at PAUCC in Medellin was excellent: livestreamed games from a showcase field, and the finals broadcast live on Colombian television with professional commentators and camera angles. In Brazil, great attention was paid to player experience at the tournament (great fields, responsive TDs, medical staff, solid tournament parties), but not enough was invested in promoting Latin American ultimate to the outside world.
The next Pan-American Ultimate Club Championships will be in 2015, and with enough prior planning, all of these aspects can be greatly improved. The organizers would do well to encourage geographically-central countries to submit a bid — Mexico and Panama are great examples. This would allow not one, but two teams from the United States to appear in each division, and might encourage Canada to take part in the event for the first time. In 2015, PAUCC would do well to increase their branding – livestream games, have a strong social media presence, post photos and videos from the event to show the strength of ultimate in the Americas.
This past weekend, leaders from all over Latin America took part in a meeting to incorporate as a Latin American ultimate federation. With enough organization, I’m sure this can be a boon to ultimate in the region, and that with their enthusiasm, PAUCC 2015 can continue to be a major regional tournament which garners international attention.