In 2013 the Seattle Rainmakers had a very successful season. Despite injuries to players like Seth Wiggins and Matt Rehder Seattle went 8-2, qualifying for the conference finals. And once they got there they played one of the most exciting games of the season, barely losing to San Francisco 17-18, even though they were missing more than half of their handling core. While the Rainmakers fell short of the championship, it was a successful season. Adam Simon finished with 18 goals and 25 assists, winning the Western Conference MVP. Mark Burton had a breakout season, with 33 goals and 21 assists. Burton would parlay his successful Rainmakers season into a roster spot on Sockeye, the storied Seattle club team.
Sockeye would go on to have one of its most successful seasons in years. After an up and down regular season Sockeye saved their best for last, reaching the finals of the Club Championships. They did end up losing to Revolver, but Sockeye’s second place finish won them one of the three bids to the World Ultimate Club Championships in August 2014. 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.
But the Rainmakers have to move on. Their tryouts take place next month, and they’ll be busy trying to find elite talent that isn’t on the Sockeye roster. Rainmakers General Manager Rusty Brown is looking forward to the new challenge.
“There is and always has been a bevy of talent here in the Seattle area,” said Brown. “While the loss of big names like an Adam Simon or Joe Sefton cannot be understated, the pool with which we can draw from here is astounding. We will definitely be casting a wider net when drawing talent, whether it’s from Voodoo, D’oh, Tugboat, or University of Washington. Given the personal discussions I’ve had with players in the area the competition this year will be fierce.”
The competition will also be fierce in the MLU Western Conference. Seattle’s longtime rival Vancouver has already signed on some of their elite talent from 2013, with players like Morgan Hibbert, Andy Collins, Kevin Underhill, Aaron Loach, and Mark Leduc ready to go for 2014. Last season the Rainmakers managed to go 4-0 against Vancouver , but three of those victories were by two points or less. While the Stags only went 1-9, they have brought back their key contributors from last season, and added the Rainmakers leading point scorer, Mark Burton. Like the Rainmakers the Dogfish have yet to announce any signings, and like Sockeye, Revolver will be playing at WUCC in August. That said Beau Kittredge and Ashlin Joye from Revolver have already signed with the San Jose Spiders, an AUDL franchise, and according to earlier reports San Francisco will not have a Revolver centric semi pro team this season.
In the meantime Brown is focused on putting the best product on the field that he can, and improving the game day experience for fans. For Brown’s day job he is the Operations Manager for DiscNW, so he’s well connected in the Seattle Ultimate community. Those kinds of connections are critical to achieve early success for any pro team. The Rainmakers achieved that early success last year, and are looking to build on it this year. While not many players from 2013 may be returning this season, everyone who worked games for the Rainmakers last season has agreed to do so again in 2014. His goal is to double attendance this season, and if the Rainmakers manage that it would be no small feat. Part of that plan entails getting Rainmakers out into the community more this year, giving sponsorships and running clinics for Seattle youth teams.
It’s impossible to ignore the on field implications Sockeye will have on the 2014 MLU season by sitting out. In 2013 the Rainmakers were a championship contender. They were part of the Western Conference, which seemed leaps and bounds ahead of their non-Boston Eastern Conference counterparts. That will be different in 2014. The Philadelphia Spinners have re-signed almost all their players from last season, and added back a couple key pieces from their 2012 championship in Jake Rainwater and David Brandolph. Philadelphia is also bringing on board a contingent of players from the University of Pittsburgh college championship team. The DC Current have brought back their core and added Peter Prial, who tore it up for Boston last season. The Whitecaps went undefeated last year, and Jeff Graham and Brandon Malecek have already signed on for 2014, among others.
Will a Sockeye-less Seattle be able to compete with a Vancouver Nighthawks team that draws so heavily from Furious George? Or a young Stags team that might be on the rise? All told on opening day on April 12, things are going to look different in the MLU. The Western Conference looks wide open right now, and while we’ll learn more about each team by then, we won’t yet know how they’ll perform on the field. There will be more question marks for the Rainmakers going into 2014, but it will undoubtedly be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Feature photo by Scobel Wiggins – UltiPhotos.com