I went to watch Solstice Sunday, when the weather was lovely (unlikely Saturday's deluge) and was rewarded by a number of interesting games and a Sockeye over Furious final. All in all, things look about like they did last year in terms of relative position and strength of teams.
They looked very impressive in the final after a very lackluster semi over little brother Voodoo. The semifinal had all the markings of a disinterested bully letting some frustrated nerd kick him in the shins for a while, knowing he could pound skinny-four-eyes when he felt like it. (I didn't really follow it, instead focusing on the Rhino-Furious semi.)
Sockeye looks good, athletic and deep. They are very young and what experience (Moses, MC, Talbot, Bestock, Fleming) they have is mostly playing offense. They played a good mix of junk and man-to-man in the final. Furious lacks a great thrower and that made all the junk that much more effective. When it worked, it looked brilliant. When it didn't, it looked like crap. That's junk for ya. Offensively, Furious couldn't manage Sockeye's long double cuts which led to a number of wide open huck goals. It is also a testament to Sockeye's stack discipline that these cuts stayed open since they are so long to develop.
There is a lot of upside for this team. Their young talent is really yet to find a place on the team. Julian CW played great and had a consistent role on offense, but Chris CK, DSky and Simon are still looking for a spot to contribute. Sockeye also went through the tournament without most of their bigs: Nord was AWOL, Rehder and the Dutchman on the bench with injuries.
Same shit, different year. They still look more composed, athletic, conditioned and confident than everyone else. For the most part, they play the same game they always have, but I do have a few comments.
1. They are a very cutter dominated team. Their handlers are very good, but it is the cutters that drive the engine. Their cutters are fast and well conditioned, so they move and move and move. They are very good at using shiftiness to get open. Shiftiness meaning they slide a half-lane one direction or another away from their defender to create separation. The thrower is then responsible for a little break, usually a slight inside-out.
2. As they have gotten younger in the last few years, they are more and more a man-to-man team and less and less of the zone dominated team they were.
3. They threw four or five goals into space past face guarding defenders when the cutter was on the run. From a defensive perspective, this is really scary. From an offensive perspective, beautiful and startling.
4. The scariest thing about this team is that there is no sign they will falter. The great DoG teams of the 90s finally fell down because the bulk of the team was over 35, so they lost to a younger, hungrier and more athletic Condors. Fury just reloads and gets younger and stays as good.
This is a solid team that is lacking any A+ players and relying on defenders, role players and supporting players to carry the entire load. Facing a man-to-man situation, they weren't able to create easy openings, allowing defenders to stay home and not help. As I mentioned earlier, they are lacking a great thrower so they aren't able to consistently challenge the outside of a junk defense either. They are quite good defensively, but don't have the depth (or won't play it) to sustain a push across two games. They came from 4-8 down in the semis to win 15-12 over Rhino and that really limited their ability to make a push against the Fish in the final.
This team is very young. A huge portion of this team graduated from college in the last three years (if they went at all) and almost all of the players they are using as handlers. They are working on some new things offensively and struggled with it. They weren't able to generate consistent movement up front and when they did, it didn't connect with the cutters downfield. In general, they were lacking deep cuts. In the final, they got rattled and frustrated and then Fury just rolled over them. The positive for Riot is that they are still way on the bottom of the learning curve. With the youth and speed they have, they should be able to get better and better.
Ugh. Up 8-4 at halftime in the Semis against Furious, they choked it away. First they let Furious sneak back in and make it a game. Then they let Furious score 4 in a row to win 12-15. Ouch. The crazy part is that Rhino willed it to happen. In the years before Jam's 2008 title, Double Happy/Jam had a rep for coughing it up when it mattered. At Worlds in 2002, after Sockeye came back from 10-14 to beat them 15-14, a gleeful Condor came up to me and said, "It's not you, you just have to be there when it happens." (Thanks for the complement.) This game felt exactly the same. A good team like Furious is going to make a push. They won't roll over at halftime. A good team responds. You take the punches, you sag on the ropes and then you come out swinging. As soon as Rhino felt the push, they started thinking, "Not again." They talked more on the line. Their body language was defeated. And this was while they still had the lead!
Give some credit to Furious. Led by Morgan Hibbert, they played great defense refusing to give up a comeback cut and challenging the Rhino players to go deep. When they did, the markers forced bad throws and bad timing. When Furious got the turn, Rhino's defense was lackluster and Furious banked everyone.
The good news for Rhino is that the talent is there to beat Furious. (They did on Saturday.) The question is can they beat Furious while fighting with themselves.
All the other teams
Didn't see them. Talked to Kira a bit about UBC and Traffic. They were pleased to have hung with Riot in the showcase game, but sad to have been crushed by Fury. Voodoo looked surprisingly good against the Fish in the semis. Underground looked surprisingly good against Riot in the semis.