October 20, 2013 by Keith Raynor and Sean Childers in Analysis, Preview with 2 comments
FRISCO — Scandal will finally have their Club Championship chance. The question is whether the D.C. squad, as heavy underdogs, will be able to take it.
Going by Saturday’s semifinal scorelines alone, one would have a tough time handicapping the final in Frisco and the finish to one of the most exciting Women’s club seasons in recent history. While San Francisco Fury was taking half in their semifinal, Scandal, one field over in Memorial Stadium, was running away with their game against higher-seeded and higher-regarded Seattle Riot. The semifinals start times for were staggered but, when the dust settled, the scores were the same: Both Fury and Scandal won their semifinals 15-7.
And yet Fury is 8 out of 9 in Nationals finals. Their only loss, in 2002, was on universe point to Lady Godiva. Fury has stars, but perhaps more importantly, they have a tradition and a selfless, team-first system. Lots of commentators also point to longtime Fury coach Matt Tsang as an important piece of stability in the Fury system. His calm approach and demeanor aid him in not only creating team buy-in for his intelligent and constantly adapting gameplan, but in managing the most composed team in Ultimate. It all adds up for Fury to create the winningest team culture seen in the game.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, Scandal has been building their own team culture. The addition of Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere, former coach of San Francisco Revolver, seems to have dramatically impacted the development of a team identity. A high level of buy-in is evident in conversations with players and in Scandal huddles. They have become highly systematic in their on field operation, and have built a strong support and leadership system. Scandal’s rise into the elite tier has directly correlated with the forging of their strong culture.
While both teams enter the Championship game with spotless records and from high seeds, and while they have traveled along similar roads, the way they’ve navigated them is notably different. Fury has remained unchallenged from game one; they’ve had a few close games early, but mostly by their own doing, battling turnovers and execution errors. The games Scandal has struggled in have been significantly more dramatic: first, they spent most of their first game of the tournament trailing Molly Brown before an explosive comeback claimed them the W. Then in the quarterfinals, they let a 5-2 lead on Capitals evaporate, going down 10-9 before regaining control of the game.
The question is what effect that will have on the teams once their clash begins. Scandal knows how to respond to being pushed, having a deficit to deal with, or when they are struggling. San Francisco does know how they will react to someone who can challenge them for a whole game. Fury has spoken about missing the upward progression of talent they face under the old power pool format. Being truly tested for the first time in the most important game of your season is not ideal.
Fortunately for them, both teams have veteran and experienced players that are beginning to operate at their highest levels. If the Championships are all about peaking at the right time, Scandal & Fury each have players powering their ability to do that. A high profile handler drives the offense, as Alex Snyder of Fury and Anne Mercier of Scandal provide dependable playmaking for their respective squads.
|Alex Snyder||Anne Mercier|
|Throwing Attempts >30 Yards||6||18|
|(Completion % on >30 yard throws)||67%||44%|
|Assists Per Point||0.28||0.31|
|Involvement Yards per Off. Possession||16||20|
|Percent Yards Obtained Throwing||82%||68%|
|Offensive Usage Rate||19%||26%|
|Yards Against per Def. Possession||3.6||-0.4|
|Def. Disusage (preventing touches)||19%||10%|
Scandal’s elite players are highly productive, with threats on both their offensive and defensive lines. A lot of Mercier’s assists land in the hands of Kirsten Unfried, who has the second most goals on the team — leading the team when that number is adjusted for her points played — and second in reception yardage. On defense, Sandy Jorgenson has been generating a huge number of blocks, getting a D on roughly 18% of the points she takes the field. Allison Maddox turned in a sterling performance in their semifinal, the veritable MVP of the game after grabbing a first point Callahan.
Fury has a number of stars, but has shown a tendency to spread out their scoring and playmaking. Anna Nazarov is a consistent threat from all positions on the field, and made some massive plays in the semifinal against Showdown. Claire Desmond is a terrifying athlete to compliment Cree Howard and Lisa Pitcaithley. Maggie Ruden and Julia Sherwood have been voraciously eating up yardage for the San Francisco offense. Fury more than lives up to their reputation as an incredibly deep squad whose play is highly team-oriented.
The contrast is stark, and while there’s a wealth of talent on both teams, Scandal’s players have more defined roles and Fury’s players tend to have more flexibility. It may come down to the reigning champ’s team play versus the challenger’s starpower. At low points during this tournament, it has been the takeover ability of Opi Payne and accomplice Alicia White that has turned things around. Payne sometimes seems to find that zone that only sports superstars gain access to, where it is as if her will is bending the shape of the game around her. White is the most consistent operating weapon in the Scandal arsenal.
“Our base of our defense is going to be really trying to pressure their handlers and making them throw to each other and not upfield,” said Tsang. “And so taking away the middle from them. That’s going to be our first look and we’ll see how that goes.”
The finalists both feed off of their defense. Each is very aggressive after a turnover, often moving the disc within the first couple of seconds in which they gain possession. Scandal is unafraid to open possessions with immediate deep looks, while Fury tends to move the disc to the middle of the field to set up yardage gainers or break throws. They apply heavy, but highly targeted, pressure, aiming to attack throwers when they are in weak field position. Each is armed with some poachy tricks to slow forward progress.
“We understand that we’re going to have tighter windows and we actually have to go away from those windows. Clearing some of those handlers out or throwing to other people,” said Tsang. “It’s harder [against elite defenders], but if we stay disciplined, we can be successful.”
Despite the many reasons to place a bet on Scandal, Fury is the obvious favorite coming into the game. They’ve proven time and time again that they don’t crack under pressure or fear any team or situation. More importantly, Fury has been there and intimidates teams who have not; that was clear in their matchup with Showdown. Scandal qualifies, even with a strong foundation of defined team mentality and some impressive resumes on the roster. White, a former champion with Fury, will be looked to as a leader. The seven titles Fury has claimed will metaphorically stalk the sidelines, supporting San Francisco and menacing DC.
For the past few years, Scandal has been fighting for this. They’ve been knocking on the door. Their complete domination of Riot in the semifinals is a perfect invitation and they’ll finally have a shot at Fury in the final. It isn’t a classic underdog story, but the twists merely modernize an old tale. Make no mistake about it: a Scandal win would be a huge upset and a monumental shake up in the Fury-dominated women’s division.
This is the chance Scandal has been asking for. Today we find out if they’re ready for the answer.