Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flying Under the Radar

For the past several years, Vancouver has been in the center of the sports world, especially in Canada. Mainly known for their hockey, Vancouver has become one of the primer sporting cities in Canada, being the most populous city on the Western Coast of the Great White North. When referring to sports teams, especially from the United States, which my opinion is based off of, the first team to come to mind is of course the Vancouver Canucks. Hockey, known for being the sport of Canada, is where Vancouver reigns supreme, the Canucks have won five Northwest Division titles in a row before finishing fifth in the Pacific last season, and in that time being one of the most dominating teams in the NHL.

For those MLS fans there is the Vancouver Whitecaps FC (not to be confused with the Boston Whitecaps of the MLU), they have had mixed results making the playoffs once out of their three year history. However in making the playoffs in 2012, the Whitecaps became the first ever Canadian MLS team to make the postseason. Also lets not forget the women's soccer team, also known as the Vancouver Nightcaps FC, in the USL W-league, which is a Pro-Am league that allows college players to test their skills and play alongside international players. While having won two W-League Championships the team struggled the past couple of years forcing the team to fold, also in due part to competition from the new-found NWSL.

Now all of those teams are in leagues associated more with the teams in the United States, where a majority of the league calls itself home, but lets not forget about the largest Canadian specific league, the CFL. The Canadian Football League, although not as large as American Football still remains a huge part of sporting life in Canada. The BC Lions, based out of Vancouver, average roughly 30,000 fans a game in the past few seasons. Now that number is half of the average NFL attendance but comparing the two leagues are like comparing apples to tomatoes. They are both football but that ends all of similarities between the leagues, besides the primary sport in Canada is, and has always been, hockey. Still lets not disregard the six Grey Cup Championships by the BC Lions as well as holding the second best Win-Loss Percentage of all current CFL teams at .600.

Purposely leaving this topic for last, there is of course the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver. One of the best Winter Olympics put together in my opinion, even better than Sochi 2014, and introduced the world to British Columbia. These Olympics are remembered not only for the individual performances by the athletes but as well as the how well it was hosted and the spectacle put together for the entire world to enjoy. The crowds at all of the Olympic events were spectacular; the populous of Vancouver truly embraced their opportunity to host the Olympics and in doing so, left a lasting legacy on the Winter Games.

The citizens of Vancouver, who pride themselves on being sport fans, have a lot to be proud of in the last decade. With the rise of professional ultimate frisbee in both the United States and Canada, their teams will yet be just another reason the individuals of British Columbia can celebrate and support their own. The two teams that call Vancouver their playing ground in pro ultimate are the Vancouver Riptide and the Vancouver Nighthawks.

The Vancouver Riptide which are in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) just completed their first season as a franchise with an 8-6 record, third in the West Division, one spot out of the playoffs. Lead by the tandem of Darren Wu and Derek Fenton which are both in the top 10 in AUDL in goals, and Fenton even leads the league in assists! Playing in a division where two of the best teams, featuring some of the world's top players, the San Francisco Flamethrowers and San Jose Spiders, finishing above .500 was an accomplishment. In fact if the West Division was like the rest of the other divisions in the AUDL and had six teams, the Riptide would be in the playoffs being the third team from the West. Maybe with the AUDL continual expansion and playoff expansion, next season would be a perfect opportunity to make a playoff run.

Finally the MLU team, the Vancouver Nighthawks are about to finish an incredible season. Starting as preseason favorites to win the four team Western Conference, Vancouver faded quickly and had troubles with cohesion from the team. However these problems did not have a lasting impact on the team, at the end of the season the Nighthawks made a push for the playoffs going on a four game winning streak, finishing the regular season at 6-4. Not only is the team becoming one of the best pro teams in Vancouver without story-lines on the evening news, flying under the radar in the West also let Vancouver play to their advantages and that was putting on shows on offense and defense. After the astounding run by the Nighthawks the team had to travel down to Portland for the Western Conference Championship to face the 8-2 Stags who had dominated the West all season long, losing to only Vancouver and Seattle once. 

It would be so fitting that the game would be a matchup of runs, where teams would score three straight points at a time, putting the team ahead momentarily as they other adversary would then do the same. The defense that Vancouver prided themselves on ended up being the deciding factor as their defense would score practically as much as their offense. Their leader of the defense and the team, Morgan Hibbert, the "Iron Man" of the team played 20 of the 27 points sending the team to their first MLU Championship Game. One of the most recognizable players in the league with his red hair and was just named MLU Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The team's counterpart on offense Brendan Wong, 
MLU Points Title Holder and Western Conference Rookie of the Year, is just as explosive on the other side of the disc by averaging almost five goals a game and recorded 64 points in the season. As mentioned before ultimate is not the main sports story in the daily news, however the Nighthawks have been getting recognition from Vancouver. The team is one of the league leaders in attendance, this season and last, as well as even having their own press coverage. The CBC did give the Nighthawks their first of many moments of fame with their own story on the team featuring Morgan Hibbert. Depending on how the results go in Philadelphia for the Championship, this will most likely not be the only story coming out of the Canadian press on how Vancouver continues to love their sports, even through the sport of ultimate.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best Professional Team "Current"ly in DC.

Our nation's capital likes to pride themselves as a sports town, and by all means they are! They have a professional football team, men's and women's basketball, hockey, baseball, men's and women's soccer, a professional rugby team, and now two professional ultimate frisbee franchises as well as many other teams. However with all of these teams, the District of Columbia has not had a league champion in any of these sports in almost 10 years. The last well-known team to do so was the 2004 DC United team (MLS), in these ten years there has been no championship parade, no championship rings, no recognition from the White House, and nothing that DC sports fans can call to in recent memory. For now fans must celebrate the small successes in hopes that it will later translate to championship glory, I'm mainly referencing the division championships. But as mentioned above there are two professional ultimate frisbee teams that now call Washington DC home, the DC Current and the DC Breeze, and both are currently in their second season.

For some reason that area reporters and commentators have been trying to comprehend for years, Washington DC professional teams cannot make a playoff push. Yes, recently the Nationals with Bryce Harper have had incredible regular season performances but tank in the postseason. The Capitals have been one of the best hockey teams in the Eastern Conference for the past seven seasons but Alex Ovechkin and company have never made it past the Conference Semi-Finals. The Washington football team has probably one of the most interesting players in Robert Griffin III, but after a respectable 10-6 playoff season, last year they were a disastrous 3-13. Finally the Wizards, who I feel like are the team with the most potential in the near future, arguably had their most successful season since the late 70's (when they were called the Washington Bullets) in advancing to the Conference Semi-Finals. I have been around these teams for my entire life, I grew up in Southern Virginia, my friends and my family support and call these teams their own, I myself tend to think differently but that is another topic for another day. Now that I go to college in the suburbs of the District, these teams are a part of my everyday life. They are, by definition, the local teams, the teams that people grew up supporting, watching, and rooting for to make it all the way. However for some reason it does not feel this way.

I will in no way, shape, or form will call myself a DC sports expert; but I do know sports and I know how sports work. They are my life and have been for my entire life, I pick up on patterns and can normally tell the future trends of a franchise. One problem that I foresee in all of the Washington DC teams is that they all focus around one superstar, one player, that will be the savior for the franchise as well as the city. Think about it, look at all the previously mentioned teams associated with their top players. There's Harper, Ovechkin, RG3, and some may even consider John Wall for the Wizards. However with every accusation, there must be exceptions. The only team that I feel truly gets it (and by "it' I mean marketing and promoting a team) in Washington DC is the Washington Wizards. The Wizards do not just have one player that they showcase to their fans; they have an entire team with John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Andre Miller and more. Now I just named half of their roster and none of these names are new to a DC sports fan. Can you say the same about all the other teams in DC? This is where I bring the ultimate question into play.

The DC Breeze are experiencing their best season so far into their existence. The Breeze are in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), and went 4-12 in 2013, their inaugural season, with their home games being at Anacostia High School. This year the Breeze are now 9-4 with one week remaining in the regular season and play their games at the University of Maryland Field Hockey Stadium. They have clinched a playoff spot in due part to Tyler DeGirolamo, one of the best ultimate players in the college ranks in recent memory, as well as Brett Matzuka, Jon Pressimone, Alex Thorne, Justin Solis, and other top DC area players, that look to make a run in the playoffs. A team that relies on not just one player but a combination of players on an entire team. In ultimate that is what you need, a collectively team on and off the field, not just one individual doing whatever it takes to glorify himself and living up to the fans standards. It quite simply cannot work that way. Their main opponents in the Eastern Conference are the defending champions, Toronto Rush who are an astounding 18-1 over two seasons, and the New York Rumble who the Breeze have only beat once in their series history. If the Breeze were to advance far into the playoffs they would face teams from across the nation like Chicago, Madison, San Francisco, San Jose, and Indianapolis, before the championship game in Toronto.

Now I move to the Washington DC Current, the main reason why a majority of you read this post. The DC Current are a team in Major League Ultimate, and were founded in the same year as the eight team league two years ago.  In their short history they have found success in becoming one of the premier  teams in the MLU's short history. In 2013 the team had a rough start to the season going 1-4, but in the second half of the season  they climbed back up in the standings and made the playoffs with a 4-6 record.  In the Eastern Conference Championship the Current would lose to the eventual undefeated MLU champions Boston Whitecaps ending their first season as a pro sports franchise. However 2014 started with a bang for DC, with a new home field at Cardinal Stadium on the campus of Catholic University of America, they were set to be the team to be able to knock of the Whitecaps. In Week 2, they did it, a story that many DC ultimate fans will remember for decades, the DC Current defeated the Whitecaps for the first time ever with a game winning hammer from Peter Prial to Calvin Oung after a game ending foul that added seconds to the game. The equivalent of this would be on a last second hail mary in football with a pass interference call on the defense, allowing the team to move closer to the endzone and to get another play off. Well DC scored on that hail mary and the Eastern Conference was changed for the rest of the season, yes the Whitecaps would get revenge the next weekend in Boston, but DC then dominated the rest of the year finishing the regular season with an impressive 9-1 record. In the Eastern Conference Championship they hosted their biggest rivals the Boston Whitecaps again at home where the team went 5-0 in the regular season. In another unbelievable game between these two squads, DC would not be denied as their ferocious defense, that the team has prided themselves on all year, won them the game as they advanced to the MLU Championship. 

The Current now have the opportunity to do something that has not been done in the past 10 years. Bring a championship to our nation's capital. Sure if the Current were to win there would be no championship parade, the likelihood of the team being able to visit the White House and be recognized by the president is slim to none, championship rings are not out of the question but still a heavy expense for a brand new league, but they will bring a sense of sports pride back into the city for a small group of fans. Slowly the fans will grow larger as the league and team hopes to do so in the next coming years, and that sense of pride in the District will grow with them.

If they are able to accomplish this feat, it will be done the "right way" as many sports fans would like to call it and none can argue with. The team was built from the ground up, with tryouts over four weeks at 4:00 in the morning, no "free agency" to bring in superstars from across the league, no yearly draft that rewards bad teams, none of it. Simply players coming together, playing the sport they love, and representing a city that has needed a team like this to root for. There are superstars, there is no denying that, but no one on the team would think that one of the players stand above the rest. 
There is last season's leading goal scorer, Peter Prial (who moved from Boston to DC for school), there is "Can We Call Him MVP Already" Alan Kolick, his right hand man Markham Shofner, the man who always knows where to be Jeff Wodatch, defensive guru Daniel Kantor, and a multitude of other players. All 30 players on the roster recorded at least three points this season; they won as a team, they won as a franchise. This team was compared to being the '85 Bears of the MLU by the John and Greg Show last week, noting that we may never see another team quite like this DC team. One thing is for sure, I am proud to call the Washington DC Current my team and still will be win or lose July 19th for the MLU Championship.  As for the city, that may take some more convincing, but I know that it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the District of Columbia feels the same way that I do.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Conference Championship Recap

This weekend's Conference Championships showcased two dramatic ultimate games. Both were two of the closest games in the MLU all season, which is exactly what you would want when it came to the Conference Championships.  Starting off, the Eastern Conference Championship presented the biggest rivalry in the league thus far in the first two seasons between the DC Current and the Boston Whitecaps. It was another classic game between these two teams I hope we can get accustomed to, that was back and forth before eventually the DC Current came from behind to take the lead and eventually the game. Alan Kolick solidified himself as the clear favorite for East MVP with an incredible six assists, a goal,  as well as two game changing Ds. Once the time ran out on Boston's season, all the focus was turned toward the West Coast where the redemption story, Portland Stags hosted the Vancouver Nighthawks in both teams first ever playoff game. The fifteen minute break between the action was not enough to slow your heart rate down and prepare you for what this game would bring. It was a game of runs by both teams in the first half before transitioning into a back-and-forth match-up with Vancouver scoring the final point. Gritting it out for his team, defensive superstar Morgan Hibbert played an astounding 20 of the game's 27 total points, making his presence known on the field that would eventually surge the team into the MLU Championship.

Star Performer: Brandon Malecek: 6P, 3G, 3A, 36/39 Throws, 0Ds, +5 Point Dif
 Star Performer: Alan Kolick: 7P, 1G, 6A, 37/39 Throws, 2Ds, +6 Point Dif

My Pick: DC over Boston 22-20

I myself witnessed this game at the "Dojo" and it was one of the most jaw-dropping ultimate games I have been a part of. Although the game got off to a shaky start for both teams, DC found themselves on top 4-2 near the end of the first. However the momentum quickly swayed in Boston's favor as they scored four points in a row and looked like they would control the game from there on out. Trailing 10-7 at half, one of the largest deficits of the year for the Current, the team got right back into the game when they got their first break of the second half; thanks in large part to Delrico Johnson's hand block three minutes into the third. DC would then use that energy to come back and go on an 8-4 scoring run that put them on top 17-15 with only 3:45 left to go in the game. Boston would then score but a drop by Calvin Oung, one of the only four drops in the entire game by both teams, gave Boston a break and tied it up at 17. Then an incredible grab by Peter Prial in the end-zone, while surrounded by two Boston players, gave DC a one goal lead that they would hold onto until the final whistle. As mentioned before there was only four drops in this match-up, but there were incredible Ds by both sides, most notably Delrico Johnson's huge sky that prevented a Boston score. Alan Kolick put a stamp on what is sure to be his Eastern Conference MVP Award, recording six more assists on the cleanest offense in the entire league. The home fans for DC also played a huge role, they were loud and obnoxious for the entire game and are a factor into why the Current finished 6-0 at home this season. Once the game was over you could feel the emotion of the players as they rushed the field after defeating the defending champions for the final time this season and finishing the chapter of this rivalry.

Here are the top 5 of some of the incredible plays from this game:

 Star Performer: Topher Davis: 3P, 1G, 2A, 24/26 Throws, 3Ds, +3 Point Dif

 Star Performer: Gagandeep Chatha: 4P. 2G, 2A, 12/15 Throws, +0 Point Dif

My Pick: Vancouver over Portland 25-24

While a vastly different Championship Game than the Eastern Conference and from what was normal between the Portland Stags and the Vancouver Nighthawks, the Western Conference Championship was just as entertaining in a way, if you like game ending drama.  Similar to the first game it started with some Championship jitters while both teams could not get their offenses going, in fact neither team's offense scored in the first quarter which ended with Vancouver scoring 3 straight breaks and holding only a 3-0 lead. The Portland Stags did not score in the first twelve minutes of the entire game but Vancouver would let them come right back and tie the game at four.  After that point the game remained back-and-forth for the rest of the match-up with extremely messy play, silly mistakes on offense, and a trading of turnovers at times. Eventually Kevin Underhill scored making the game 14-13 with only 42 seconds left, plenty of time for Portland to work down the field. But with still 25 seconds remaining Breeze Strout, who was a perfect 33 for 33 in the game, sent a huck down-field to seemingly no one. That overthrow killed the hopes of Portland as the Nighthawks would hold the disk for the final seconds.  While incredibly messy, (9 drops and a ridiculous amount of throwaways) the end of the game was filled with excitement, not knowing who would be the final team to score. Both teams were huck happy, trying to take advantage of every deep cut down-field and neither team had a player record more than four points. Surprisingly to me there was no 10 goal performance by Brendan Wong nor Timmy Perston (who was back for his first game in six weeks), or a 5 assist game by either Morgan Hibbert, Jeremy Norden, Eli Friedman, or Kevin Underhill.  Quite frankly I wanted a little bit more in this championship game and hopefully when the Nighthawks travel to Philadelphia for the MLU Championship their game play will be a whole lot cleaner. 

While the play from both teams was severely lacking compared the Eastern Conference Championship, the top plays were just as impressive:

The MLU Championship will now be played between the DC Current and the Vancouver Nighthawks at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 19th at 6:30. 
Later this week be on the lookout for City Bios of both teams heading into the game,
 as well as an MLU Championship Preview within the next two weeks.