Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Worlds 2008: the play

It was fun. After discussing that we shouldn't play every O point in important games for several reasons, Alex and I did just that (except for him subbing himself out due to turnovers in the finals and me sitting out a stretch in the semis due to an injury). And I think I was called first in the play about 80% of the time.

One factor that allowed for this (for me, at least) was that our tough games were spread out (other than having semis and finals on the same day!; Open played Q's, semis and finals over three days). Monday against Canada, Tues afternoon against Japan, Wed morn against Aussie, and the semis/finals on Friday. The Tues aft/Wed morn combo actually did take a toll on me as I was less effective in the Australia game. The 0 goals/0 assists of course understates my contribution that game, but I was definitely feeling it (14 O points against Japan, 15 against Oz).

Canada really played us to make in-cuts, so I began cutting deep right away more often after our Tuesday game against them. We also switched to ho stack a lot more, in fact playing the entire finals in a ho stack. It wasn't "the" ho stack, since we still didn't employ the Huck N Hope*, but it was "a" ho stack. Still primarily a cutback offense, but the spacing was different. I'm not sure what we will do in the fall.

* - I did throw one not-quite HnH pass in the finals, caught the disc as the first lane cutter, then saw Husak cutting deep and I just chucked it. I meant to put it out to the side and let him run it down, but it hung and he boxed out and made the grab. It was kinda fun, actually, but don't let anyone know.

I'm really a bit at a loss to explain how I was able to keep being effective while others got tired. After being pressed by Dugan a little bit about what I did to keep in shape, I finally confessed that I probably did less training overall than the typical elite Open player does on his off-days. Genetics certainly helps, but it's really got to be in the efficiency. I paid attention occasionally in the Open finals, and the Sockeye cutters were running all the time, fairly hard, too. And it didn't seem to be totally mindless, either, which was the impression I got watching teams like Jam at 2001 ECC (where I commented that every other offense runs a lot more than we did).

Somehow, the "offense of the future" might feature coordinated mayhem. Pro football plays are designed to provide similar looks and starts and then mix it up. Individually, cutters today may give themselves two options and make a hot read, but it's not that hard to pick up from the sideline who the first and second downfield cutters are going to be from the way they set themselves up (or the way the others take themselves out of the way). When not in the play, I often try to mix it up by acting as if I am the primary cutter, but definitely not every time. So perhaps future offenses (at least on set plays) will do this extensively. (We've had endzone plays designed to be similar, and counters on set plays, but those were always the exceptions and were obviously set plays, not anything close to free form.)

Fantasy totals (goals scored and thrown only) for all 11 games: Alex 29, Jim 28, Husak 26, Ewald 24, Coop 22, Dugan 19, Stoddard 19, others.
Fantasy totals for 5 tough games: Husak 22, Jim 20, Ewald 15, Alex 14, Dugan 11, Coop 10, others.
Fantasy totals for 6 non-tough games: Alex 15, Montgomery 12, Coop 12, Stoddard 10, Zaz 10, others.

I threw or caught 8 of 12 O goals against Japan, 6 of 8 against Canada in pool play, 0 of 10 against Oz, 3 of 11 against NZ in semis, and 3 of 10 in finals against Canada. My cell phone rang 30 minutes after the Australia game. It was my wife wondering I was injured and had been taken to the hospital and nobody told her. I knew immediately what she meant, and fessed up to not scoring.

Our endzone O became a parody of hot box O. Our median goal pass length in some games was probably 5 yards. Coop was amazing with those cuts, though, just a head fake and a shoulder shimmy and he was open for that pass all the time, so much that I called out "Coop cut" once (with just a little pause in between words, so it was both "Coop, cut!" and "do the Coop cut") and everyone knew what it meant and would later use the phrase.

Both the O and D performed better in the first halves. For the 5 tough games, the O scored 22/29 (points, not possessions) (76%) in the first half, 29/42 (69%) in the second. D got scored on 22/40 (55%)in 1st half, 25/38 (66%) in 2nd (with the first Canada game being an exception for both teams; O was 18/21 (86%) in 1st half in other four tough games, and D was 22/28 (79%) in 2nd in other games) (although neither is close to significant at the 95% level; even if I exclude the first Canada game as an outlier, only the D ratio is close to significant (p=0.06 using Test of Proportions). I think the "normal" should be between 3/4 and 2/3.

I got hurt early in the 2nd half of the Oz game. I was jumping to make a block, and the receiver ran harder at it and ran into my rib cage, probably with his shoulder. At first I thought I just had the wind knocked out of me, but an hour or two later, it was sorta painful. I was watching the disc immediately prior to the block, but I didn't think the receiver had a real chance at catching it, so I was surprised to get hit. But he eitehr got there more quickly than I thought or he made a reckless bid. I sat out the next game against Germany (17-4; I was thinking about resting that game anyway), then played a limited amount the next day. I did manage to take another shot in the ribs that day, anyway, on an innocuous collision while playing zone D. In our last pool play game (17-10 victory), Dugan (who had injured his ribs earlier in the week, worse than I) laid out and reinjured himself ("if the ribs weren't cracked before, they are now"). He didn't play at all in the semis the next day, and was surprised to find that he could play in the finals after taking drugs and warming up for a long time. On Friday, the day of the semis and finals, it hurt me to jog (it wasn't a cracked rib at all, but the muscle or the cartilage between ribs or some such thing), and sudden, low-gravity turns and accelerations hurt more than just running (there was a little soreness due to bounciness, but mostly it has been confined to muscle exertions). I played, and then on the final point of the first half, I cut to the cone but didn't think there was room for the throw, so I pulled back, but the throw went off anyway, and I had to leave my feet for it. Here is a picture. Of course, I landed solidly on my chest, right where I was injured. I told Alex I planned to sit out the second half unless we needed me, as we were up 9-5 at that point. But then we gave back one break, and then another, so I warmed up again and went back in. We traded the rest of the way until the final point, where the D got their first break since their streak of 5 in a row in the first half and ended the game. But those extra four points I played were hard and not something I wanted to do before the final. The D did a great job early in the game, getting 5 breaks in a row, but then let in 8 in a row prior to that final point.

In the final, they didn't hurt, but they definitely affected my wind, as deep breathing was a little painful and hard to achieve.

Since then, coughing is painful, and sneezing is very painful for about 30 seconds, although in recent days it seems to have improved. I played the summer league tournament the week following Worlds. I didn't have to exert myself too much on Saturday, but it was good to go on Sunday, although I was a bit more hesitant than usual on a few potential layouts. I played softball on Wednesday. Swinging the bat only hurt once out of five swings. Fielding was actually more difficult, as there were at least two that requires sudden reaching with my injured side, and I didn't make the plays as a result.

Definitely nothing like the high of previous championships. But then again, our first practice this year was on Sunday after our first game (along with three tournaments and two scrimmages). The overall level of play in the Masters division wasn't as high as at Nationals. I was a little worried that Cruickshank and Al-Bob were going to show up on Friday to play (Al was there and we drank some beers together, but he was spectating). I had written, "We expect Japan and Australia to be real threats, as well as Canada. UK and Germany are also potentially tough. More importantly, we are potentially bad, as witnessed by occasional lackluster performances this year." Japan and Australia both played us tough, but neither even medaled (both got knocked out by a surprising New Zealand team). Germany finished next to last, beating only the Venezuelans. GB finished with a losing record. I don't think any of the teams had a player who (even without our 'young' recruits) we would have been afraid to match up against. Compared to the Masters div at Nationals, at Worlds it was younger but less skilled.

We probably put out an O line at least once that averaged 43 or 44 years of age. Mooney 50, Greff 46, me 43, Coop 41, Alex 41, Bim 44, Simon 43 is the oldest that might have all been out there at once, but even our younger O players were 39 or so. So we were probably giving away 6 years of age per player against the Canadian D line.

I was pretty annoyed at the announcer in our first game against Canada (we played in the "spirit enclosure", a field set off from the others where they had a beer garden, seats, and four hot tubs). He started in right away with insults at both our ability and our spirit, almost before having had a chance to see either. Someone must have said something, because in the finals it wasn't the same. I wasn't bothered as much as some by the pro-Canada slant, as it was in Canada. (This is in contrast to the announcer at Worlds in 2002, who said when we were a point up, "Who wants to see a tie!" No home team there, either.) It's funny the things you hear when you're playing. I can pick out a "let's go, Jimmy P" or any instruction given to me by the sideline but not much else (including the line call).

The fall awaits now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Worlds 2008: the experience

I’m back, we won. I called home on Saturday, and my five year old son said, “Daddy, you lost.” “No, we won, we won!” “No, Alex had http://www.wugc2008.com/team/409 one more goal than you did.” But then he continued with “At least you outpointed him significantly in the close games while he padded his stats in the blowouts,” so I forgave him and decided to give him his little Team USA #88 shirt after all.

It was a full week. Alex and Marshall covered the games some. We played 11 games in six days, including semis and finals on one day. (Meanwhile, the Open teams played quarters, semis, and finals over three days.) Although two games a day might not seem like much to Americans who are used to four games back-to-back on each day (or three hard games a day at Nationals), it is surprisingly tiring. With at least one full round off between games, there are two full cycles of warmup/play/warmdown, coupled with a few hours of meandering, chatting, and watching. Plus, there is a week of dormitory food, dormitory housing, and beer.

It was a big disappointment that the tournament unexpectedly lost 10 of the fields to construction earlier this year. On the first and last days of pool play, we were at satellite fields. Thursday’s location (Jericho Beach) was incredibly scenic, but far away from the rest of the tournament. (The schedule-makers did a crack job at rotating the off-site appearances, other than scheduling Japan-US Open pool play at one of them.) As I mentioned prior to the tournament, it really adds something to the atmosphere to have all games and lodging co-located.

It was a strange campus. Other than a Starbucks and another coffer shop, there were no food or beverage options on campus other than the official dining hall, which did not sell individual meals, only a meal plan. Not even a single bar that I could tell. The University Village (with a couple walk-in restaurants) was a 10 minute walk from the fields and about 20 from the dorms, and the only food at the tournament (other than fruit/bagels) was a single pita cart staffed by two unmotivated younguns provided by the university.

There was an Athletes’ Village which was good in concept but underutilized in practice. They had 12’x12’ (or 15’x15’) tents for each country in one area, but there was almost no flow past this area, and you couldn’t see any of the fields from this area. Given the constraints of the space, there was no place they could have put the tents to make this possible, however.

Nice amenities: gallon container of sunblock for each team, two or more volunteers per game (they used cell phones to instantaneously update the score online), water bottle in player pack, water at fields. There were an amazing number of volunteers (I seem to remember hearing there were 400). Probably a lot of the $500K collected in player and team fees went to housing and feeding the volunteers. The online information provided to the fans at home was unprecedented for a Worlds (UPA does a pretty good job at Nationals).

The port-o-fields never seemed to be an issue, although it was rare that someone would need to run across them. I vaguely recall one player getting his feet tangled, but since most of us don’t pivot near the line, it didn’t get in the way. The endzone lines (which were lined, not part of the port-o-field) were pretty worn out toward the end of the week.

Other amenities that seemed a waste for me: bands at the field every day, four hot tubs at the main field. I would have rather had my team’s share of them to go for a keg or two of beer for us in the beer garden.

Like Alex said, the lack of opportunities to hang out with others and drink was a disappointment, although in retrospect probably not that different from previous Worlds. With some bad luck with the timing (it’s a big holiday! Your liquor stores should be open early, not closed all day!), our room was dry until Tuesday.

I missed the opening ceremony, but it was a lot of fun to receive our trophy and medals during halftime of the Mixed final. I also can’t recommend highly enough the energy that comes from the final being in a stadium instead of at just another field, even one with sidelines or bleachers set up.

I can’t stand how the fans indiscriminately boo pretty much every close call (and some not so close calls). I can understand the boos when there is an egregious foul, but every travel call and every foul call where there was no blood involved were met with boos. There is just no way that people in the stands have anything close to best perspective. I myself was convinced that Gehret’s second foul call was a bad one when I saw it live (from 80 yards away, drinking a beer), but two pictures from different angles showed his hand clearly in front of Savage’s, so maybe it wasn’t (and I’m not even talking about the body contact). But what I do know is that there is no way in hell any of those “spirited” folks booing could tell.

But overall, people were amazingly friendly, certainly to me and my team. I think I mentioned once before, I enjoy my nanocelebrity status. I got a lot of "Good game, Jim" in the line after the game, people introduced themselves, and I even got VIP access at the finals (worse seats, but free beer). Even guys who I may have thought or even spoken badly of for overaggressive play were friendly. So thanks, everyone.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Off to Worlds tomorrow

I have to admit, this whole thing has kinda snuck up on me this year. We haven't been practicing nonstop, throwing in track workouts and agilities and a gazillion other training methods, we haven't been doing a lot of tournaments or trips, and I haven't been waking up at night sweating.

But then again, I am excited. There have been a few inspirational emails from old DoGs who can't go and from new guys. We are being outfitted free of charge by Five Ultimate, and we got Team USA discs from Discraft. We are DoG, and we are Team USA, and many people who have heard of us somewhere, sometime, will be seeing us for the first time and making impressions that they will take back home with them (as well as a few signed copies of the book, hopefully!).

Worlds is a tournament like no other. Club Worlds is special, too, but with the strong American presence at those, it feels a lot like other elite tournaments, with the non-UPA teams adding color but not a lot else (at least historically). But Worlds (WUGC, real Worlds, whatever you want to call it) has a more patriotic and international feel to it. Even if you're DoG, you ARE the US team, this year more than ever.

1996: Jonkoping, Sweden. (I'm surprised to find that I haven't blogged about these before). NY had a late comeback against Sweden in the 1994 Worlds, but otherwise, there had not been a challenge to US supremacy. The women had won 1994 Worlds by a large margin (might have been 17-1 in the finals) and also expected to cruise. Our jerseys were striped like referees, and we carried red and yellow cards in our pocket, as a symbol or something of the player's responsibility. We lost a one-pointed to Sweden in pool play, had to sweat out the possibility of a silly three-way tiebreaker (power pools went directly to the finals, no semis), and got our rematch against Sweden. One of my favorite memories is a morning throwaround on the day of the finals, with the Clash's "Death or Glory" blaring out repeatedly on a boom box brought specifically for that purpose. We won going away. The dorms were a short walk from the fields, meals in the dorms, pretty nice.

1998: Blaine, Minnesota. Being on US soil actually took away some of the lustre. Maybe it was just being in the middle of America. The turf was great but slow. We had a big team of 25, featuring many of the young guys who would not join us for real until after we had won Club Worlds in St. Andrews the following summer. My car (we were staying pretty far from the event) had Lenny in it, and he was already injured by Day 2. It took us an extra 20 minutes one morning just to get him packed up and to the fields, and as a result we showed up 28 minutes prior to gametime, but Mooney had decreed that anyone not there by 30 minutes before the game against Canada wouldn't play the first half. We went down several early, he relented and our car got to play, and we more or less traded out to a 3 or 4 point loss. This was our first real exposure to Furious, although apparently we played against several of their key players (while researching the other day, I saw Cruickshank's and Lugsdin's names in a writeup) in 1996. We beat the other teams and Sweden beat Canada in pool play. The tiebreaker gave 1st place to Sweden (who then got taken out in the semis by Japan) while we had to battle Canada again. Again we went down by a bunch, but this time I felt certain that we were going to win, all the way up to the final goal in a 20-15 defeat. We did fight back and take the bronze over Sweden, though. That fall, we lost two more games to Furious at Tuneup, but took it to them 17-9 at Nationals. Again, stayed at the dorms with other teams, and it was fun to hang around and see other countries' teams.
2000: Heilbronn, Germany. This time we booked late and got stuck about 20 minutes away at the end of the bus line. The fields, too, were spread out at the site, with no more than two adjacent. The Sweden fields were pretty tightly packed, and Blaine were pretty close but somewhat inconvenient because of these drainage ditches. Club Worlds in Hawaii were tight. Toronto 1991, Madison 1993, Street 1995, they were pretty close. St. Andrews, they were spread out a bit, though not as much as Germany. It's a real bonus to have all the fields close to each other, especially with only two games a day. At Nationals in Sarasota, the lack of byes removes some of the benefit of having all the fields next to each other. ANyway, back to Heilbronn. They had a beer garden next to the stadium fields, which was a nice treat. I don't remember beer gardens at other WFDF tournaments. We lost to Japan in pool play, once again with a poor performance after a long bye. They were all fast and jumped well, so I guess this was the first inkling that they had caught up. Won our other games, cruised over host Germany in the semis. Struggled at first in the finals against Sweden, switched to the side stack and ran off 13 straight without a turnover, but once again struggled at the end of the game. We finally prevailed 19-18, but there was a close call at double game point, and their captain (who had played with us a couple years earlier) played to the crowd, which is already predisposed to boo any close call for some reason, and really sucked the wind out of the victory.

And that's it.

2008, Vancouver, BC: Who knows. There are only 10 teams in our division, and they are Masters teams. I don't recognize many names from other teams (the rosters are online: ours is here; you can also see our results there). We expect Japan and Australia to be real threats, as well as Canada. UK and Germany are also potentially tough. More importantly, we are potentially bad, as witnessed by occasional lackluster performances this year. We are bolstered by having added three of our old nemeses from the Condors (Steve Dugan, Greg Husak, and Mike Namkung) for the tournament. Maybe that will catch some opponents by surprise. We just need to treat every game like an elimination game as far as preparation goes, and figure out how to keep 29 players involved.