With all the attention that the MLU has drawn to itself during its offseason, it’s easy to forget that the MLU regular season starts in just a few short weeks. Last year in the Eastern Conference, New York, DC, and Philadelphia trailed far behind the Boston Whitecaps. Boston went 10-0 during the regular season, winning by an average of 5.9 goals per game. In the Eastern Conference Finals they beat the DC Current 23-15, and in the championship game the Whitecaps beat the San Francisco Dogfish 20-15. In other words, they dominated. So their competition in the Eastern Conference had their work cut out for them this offseason. For any team to have any hope of beating Boston, they would have to make major upgrades.
Philadelphia Spinners – Offseason Grade: B
- 2013 Record: 3-7, -3.2 average goal differential
- Additions: David Brandolph, Matt Esser, Jake Rainwater
- Subtractions: Sean Murray
The Spinners started hot in 2013, going 2-0 before enduring a seven game losing streak. Their O-Line played very conservatively compared to the rest of the MLU, and their D-Line struggled mightily to score on any break opportunities, especially in games that Sean Murray missed. This offseason they needed to get some new weapons for their O-Line, and remake their D-Line.
David Brandolph threw 70 assists last year for the Philadelphia Phoenix in the AUDL, and was named the Eastern Conference MVP. Matt Esser was the only player in the AUDL to have at least 40 goals, assists, and D’s. Together they carried the Phoenix to a playoff berth, and will bring some much needed big plays to the Spinners. Brandolph was never shy last season when it came to hucks, and Esser was his favorite target. But the most important addition for the Spinners is probably Jake Rainwater. Rainwater was the top cutter for the Spinners in 2012 when they won the AUDL championship, and chose not to play last pro season. His return to the Philly O-Line will make a big difference for the Spinners this season.
Another set of additions will come the Spinners way into week 7, the first weekend after the college championships. Max Thorne, Trent Dillon, Aaron Watson, Marcus Rani-Dropcho, and Patrick Earles of Pittsburgh University En Nabah Sur have signed on to play with Philadelphia for 2014. But with Pitt likely playing their college season into late May, it means they’ll miss the first six games of the Philadelphia season. So while names like Max Thorne and Trent Dillon make the Spinners look much better on paper, they’ll be coming on late in the season trying to make a very quick transition to the pro game.
The question for Philadelphia in 2014 is whether or not they’ll change their style of play. Last season their style matched their personnel, playing a more possession oriented offense. With new talent that’s more prone to high risk high reward offense, will their offense reflect that change? That’s going to be the tough choice Billy Maroon faces. The Spinners (and Southpaw before them) valued grinding, possession oriented offense that wasn’t at all flashy. It’s how they won the AUDL championship in 2012, but also partly why they lost seven straight last year.
The Spinners needed to get better this offseason, and they did. They did lose their points leader in Sean Murray, but didn’t have any notable losses other than that. That said, the Spinners 2-0 start masked how badly 2013 went for them, and it’s unlikely they did enough in the offseason to make it to the playoffs this year.
DC Current – Offseason Grade B+
- 2013 Record: 4-6, -1.1 goal differential
- Additions: Peter Prial, Nate Castine, Cody Johnston
- Subtractions: Ryan Todd, Jonathan Neeley
Last year the Current started the season 0-2, and went 4-4 the rest of the way to make the playoffs. They had one of the strongest cores in the MLU, with players like Alan Kolick, Sean Keegan, Jeff Wodatch, and Markham Shofner logging heavy playing time throughout the season. Those four and more are back for the Current this year, as DC has 17 returners from 2013 in all.
That kind of continuity will prove invaluable early on in the season, as their competition in Philadelphia and New York will be incorporating new players.
Despite playing Boston closer than anyone else last season, losing 19-20 to the Whitecaps in Week 2, there was a big gap between the teams in 2013. What better way to close that gap than adding one of Boston’s best players? Peter Prial led the MLU in goals last season, and has been one of the best cutters on Ironside for years now. Another player that was on the DC roster last year, but never set foot on the field is Nate Castine. He was out for 2013 due to injury, but should be good to go this season. What remains to be seen is how many games Castine will play due to his other Ultimate commitments. Another player the Current added for 2014 is Cody Johnston. Johnston was one of the top players on Truck Stop last year and will be a big boon to the Current D-Line.
What will be interesting for DC is how their D-Line performs and how efficient their O-Line can be. With Kolick, Keegan, Calvin Oung, Shofner, Wodatch, Prial, and Tom Doi all playing on the O-Line, DC could have the best O-Line in the MLU. But having so much of their talent stacked on the O-Line does have its downsides. The Current lost some of their best defenders from last year, but with Castine and Johnston on the D-Line they’ve done a good job restocking.
All things told though, the Current had a great offseason. Bringing back almost their entire O-Line, and making some nice additions. Kevin Moldenhauer is moving from player/coach to full time coach, which could be another step forward for DC. They’re not in a position to challenge Boston for first, but they did what they needed to keep up with New York.
New York Rumble – Offseason Grade A-
- 2013 Record: 3-7, -1.6 average goal differential
- Additions: Jack Marsh, Kevin Riley, Sean Murray, Isaac Saul, Dave Vuckovich
- Subtractions: Kevin Terry, Rob Baker
New York’s 2013 season ended on the final day of the regular season, losing 20-22 to DC in the game to go to the playoffs. The Rumble played exciting ultimate all season, heavily relying on MLU Eastern Conference MVP Chris Mazur and Ben Faust. In the end they just weren’t as deep as DC. That has changed.
New York is adding five PoNY players to their roster, and not just any PoNY players. Jack Marsh is a PoNY captain and is probably the best player on the team. Last year Marsh played with the New York Empire in the AUDL, scoring on 36% of the points he played. That was a better percentage than players like Mark Lloyd, Brodie Smith, AJ Nelson, or Keenan Plew. Kevin Riley is an outstanding handler who anchored the PoNY O-Line with Chris Mazur this past season. Dave Vuckovich was another O-Line starter for PoNY that’s playing pro ultimate for the first time this season. Despite their “rookie” status these guys have been playing with their Rumble teammates for years. And though he played last season, Dan Hejimen got injured and wasn’t able to finish the year. Bringing him back is another coup for the Rumble. New York was also able to poach some talent from Philadelphia. Sean Murray will be a great addition to the Rumble D-Line that too often had to rely on players coming over from the O-Line to convert break opportunities.
The Rumble will miss Kevin Terry’s reliable offense, he had the second most throws and third most assists on the season. They’ll also be without Rob Baker, who led the team in D’s last year. But on the whole, they’ve more than made up for those losses.
Late in the year last season, after Hejimen’s injury, New York’s offense just became too predictable. That’s not to say that it was ineffective, but it became easier to plan for. And fatigue played a bigger factor late in games for New York, since it wasn’t as deep as its opponents. This offseason should change both those problems. Saul and Riley will make life much easier for Mazur, while Murray and former New Jersey Hammerhead Marques Brownlee could give some much needed firepower to the Rumble D-Line.
The worst thing New York has going for it this season is that it has to play Boston four times.
Boston Whitecaps – Offseason Grade B+
- 2013 Record: 10-0, 5.9 average goal differential.
- Additions: Matt Rebholz, Christian Foster, Jim Foster, Rusty Ingold-Smith, Piers McNaughton
- Subtractions: Peter Prial, Will Neff, Brent Anderson
The Boston Whitecaps tore through the competition last year. After winning close games the first two weeks, they would win all their remaining games by at least four points. They had an unstoppable O-Line and a D-Line that took advantage of its break opportunities. And despite losing some star power, they got even better this year.
Last year Alex Cooper and Brandon Malecek did the handling for the Whitecaps O-Line. This year Boston has the luxury of moving Cooper to the D-Line, since Matt Rebholz has joined the team. Rebholz is an Ironside captain, who is one of the most efficient handlers in the game. And unlike their counterparts in DC, New York, and Philadelphia, during tight moments the Whitecaps trusted their D-Line, not moving players from their star studded O-Line on for D points. Don’t expect that to change this year either, as the Boston D-Line has become even deeper despite Will Neff’s departure. While Boston’s O-Line racked up most of the numbers last season, their D-Line is really what separated them. Players like Jack Hatchett, Jon Hirschberger, and Teddy Browar-Jarus were able to routinely get d’s and convert them into scores. Boston would occasionally sub in its O-Line after a turn, but the D-Line’s ability to play through kept the O-Line fresh throughout the game and season.
The Whitecaps did not have as flashy an offseason as DC or New York. They didn’t bring in any out of town stars. They didn’t have any All-AUDL players switch to their team. But they brought on more players from one of the best club teams in the world. And unlike the rest of the East, they didn’t have to improve leaps and bounds. They dominated last year. Since then, the two 2013 playoff teams in the Western Conference got worse. While the rest of the East has improved enough to most likely prevent another undefeated season, there’s no reason to think the Whitecaps won’t win it all again this year.