Major League Ultimate is set for its first slate of games when the season- and league-opening pull takes place tomorrow at 6 PM EST in San Francisco. With all eight teams in action, this will be a chance for teams to get out the opening day jitters and set to work in the short season.
Think about the value of a single win in the NFL, with 16 regular season games. MLU teams have just 10 games. Every game counts, so let’s take a look at this week’s lineup.
#6 Portland Stags (+8.5) @ #1 San Francisco Dogfish (-8.5) – 6 PM EST
With Beau Kittredge, one of the country’s top players and the consensus #1 fantasy draft pick, leading the charge for the Dogfish at home, this will be a tough opener for the Stags. In a cold, windy preseason matchup against Seattle, Portland got blown out 19-7. San Francisco will be an even tougher test.
The Dogfish are the early favorite to take the Western Conference title with a veteran lineup of players who have experience winning at the top of the sport. They have yet to play a full game on an MLU regulation field, which could give a slight edge, especially early in the game, to the Stags. Portland’s Cody Bjorkland told Ultiworld that they have already adjusted their offensive approach after the Seattle matchup to take better advantage of the wide field. They added an additional handler to facilitate the swing.
But it shouldn’t matter. The Dogfish simply outmatch the Stags up and down the roster. With Kittredge and Mac Taylor cutting on offense, the Stags are going to have a very difficult time matching up.
#4 Vancouver Nighthawks (+2.5) @ #3 Seattle Rainmakers (-2.5)
A long-time heated rivalry between the two Pacific Northwest ultimate powerhouses is finally going to have an audience. This is certainly the game of the week.
We give the edge to Seattle because they’re at home, but we expect the game to be close. The trash talk got started back in January when Morgan Hibbert, Vancouver’s star cutter, signed with the Nighthawks.
“I am already buzzing about the opportunity to go into Seattle on opening night and to lay a beat down on them in front of their hometown fans,” he said. “There is something so satisfying about crushing their dreams right from the very beginning by ruining their big night.”
Seattle’s Tyler Kinley responded this week, dismissing Hibbert’s statement. “Morgan’s terrible,” said Kinley. “His trash talking? It’s a joke. Morgan’s a joke.”
Games between these two teams are always great because the top players know each other so well. Matchups have been honed over time and there are few surprises. But the new format of the MLU could offer opportunities for the teams to change things up. Defensive structures will be different, with zone less likely to be effective and double teams now legal.
Ben Wiggins will have some tricks up his sleeve for Seattle’s offensive sets as well. We’re likely to see some innovations out of the Rainmaker camp.
A side note: Seattle has never lost at home in a single-game setting. But Vancouver will be looking to change that.
#8 New York Rumble (+6.5) @ #2 Boston Whitecaps (-6.5)
With the all-out search for the remaining Boston bombing suspect grinding the city to a stop, it’s not certain this game will even take place tomorrow night. Major League Ultimate officials told Ultiworld this morning that the game is still scheduled, but that they are monitoring the situation closely. We proceed with the assumption that the game will happen.
Celtics v. Knicks. Jets v. Patriots. The list of great sports rivalries between the two Northeast cities is long. We can now add the Rumble v. Whitecaps to that list.
Unfortunately for New York, they are the big underdogs in this matchup. On the road facing a Boston team packed with superstars and a deep bench, they would be likely to stay within five points in this matchup.
The Rumble got drummed by Philadelphia in a preseason matchup, but they were without some of their starting players. With those guys back in the fold, they will definitely be better, but Boston is a much stronger team than Philly.
Boston’s Will Neff said, “I don’t want to have any expectations going into the Rumble game, but I do think that the heat of the rivalry will be felt from the opening pull, and both teams will be playing exciting, high intensity Ultimate.”
The Rumble will look to their defense to come up with some big plays and attack quickly to find the endzone. Watch for Chris Mazur to pick up and rip it deep on turnovers. With the skill to put the disc anywhere on the field, he will need a big game to propel the Rumble to success.
Boston doesn’t rely on one guy; they have talent up and down the roster. Neff, Jeff Graham, and Josh Markette should all have an impact on the game. Boston has long been known for possession oriented offense: The large field may well play into their hands as defense is much harder than on a standard USA Ultimate sized field.
Note: Peter Prial is listed as inactive for this game.
The game will be streamed for free on MLU Live with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.
#5 Philadelphia Spinners (EVEN) @ #7 DC Current (EVEN)
The most recent meeting between the Philadelphia top club team and the Washington DC top club team, both of which make up the majority of the roster of the Spinners and Current, was a vicious battle for a spot at the National Championship tournament. Truck Stop, the DC team, walked away with the victory.
Expect that energy and bad blood to pick up where it left off in this highly-anticipated first round matchup. Although the Spinners have the edge with a year of experience playing professional ultimate in the AUDL (where they won the Championship), don’t underestimate the power of home-field advantage.
With playmakers Sean Keegan, Tom Doi, and Jeff Wodatch leading the charge on offense, the Current have the firepower to score at will. But will they be ready for the seasoned Spinners lineup and the veteran leadership of Trey Katzenbach?
This game is a toss up.
- Check the injury report before setting your lines for this weekend.
HT to Sludge Online for the betting lines idea.
Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. He started playing Ultimate in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a high school student. He captained NYU's college team and has played Open Club with Sweet Roll (Albuquerque) and Medicine Men (Baltimore). He lives in Brooklyn. You can reach him by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).