The Boston Whitecaps defeat the Seattle Rainmakers 31-17 in the 2015 MLU Championship, winning their second title in three years.
August 11, 2015 by John Phillips in Coverage, Recap with 1 comments
There were three minutes left in one of the biggest ultimate games of his life, and the Boston Whitecaps’ Christian Foster was urging his teammates on from the sidelines. He made sure that the bench players were on their feet and that each of the seven players on the field had someone on the sidelines talking to them. It was as if their playoff lives were on the line, as if their entire season depended on them scoring this point.
The scoreboard told a different story: the Whitecaps were up by 10 and would eventually go on to win their second MLU Championship in three years, defeating the Seattle Rainmakers, 31-17. Boston routed Seattle for the Championship, in large part because Foster and his teammates refused to take their foot off of the gas until the clock hit zero.
During the regular season, Boston had a habit of easing up after getting a lead, which led to tough losses against the D.C. Current and the Philadelphia Spinners. Heading into the championship against Seattle, the Whitecaps wanted to make sure that they would keep the energy high throughout.
“I think a lot of us went into this game saying, ‘Okay, [Seattle] went 5-5. We might just roll them.’ And we came out with good energy. We were generating turns,” Boston’s Christian Foster said. “We just wanted to play an all-around game.”
With Foster and Boston’s other leaders setting the tone, the whole team bought in.
Boston’s intensity paid off, as the Whitecaps demoralized the Rainmakers and prevented any type of run from the Western Conference champs after jumping out to an early lead. Boston broke three times in each of the first two quarters to open up a 12-6 halftime lead and it was easy sailing from there.
Once coach Sam Rosenthal and the veterans on the team knew what tone to set, there wasn’t much left to do, as buy-in had come easy up and down the roster all year.
“This has been the easiest team to coach,” Rosenthal said. “Great leadership on the team. A whole roster of players who buy in.”
The Whitecaps’ strategic decision to play tighter on the Rainmaker handlers paid off big time. Out west, defenses often poached off of Seattle’s off-disc handlers, allowing quick disc movement as well as easy resets. Boston recognized this and tightened up on Seattle’s resets, leading to a number of first-half turnovers. Often, these throwaways came close to the Rainmakers’ own end zone, leading to easy breaks for Boston that gave the Whitecaps a leg up early. The Rainmakers’ finished with 26 turnovers, compared to just 12 from the Whitecaps.
Meanwhile, the Rainmakers’ struggled to stop Boston’s offensive attack, failing to record a single break in the game. Boston’s standard vertical stack got the job done for most of the game, keeping the disc in the hands of the Whitecaps’ stars. When Seattle’s poach zone forced the Whitecaps into a more horizontal look, Boston adjusted well. Pull plays sprung Eastern Conference MVP Jeff Graham wide open deep a handful of times; when the deep looks weren’t there, Boston was more than content working the disc up the field. Graham would be named the game’s MVP, his second time winning the award.
Both teams had their stars put up big numbers on the night. Western Conference MVP Mark Burton ended the night with nine points while Khalif El-Salaam put up seven; both were involved in over half the scores the Rainmakers managed on the night. Meanwhile, Boston saw Graham, Teddy Browar-Jarus, and Matthew McDonnell put up six points apiece, with Josh Markette—who flew in for the game on Saturday, despite his wife sitting at home ready to go into labor at any moment—and Piers MacNaughton chipping in five points each as well.
But the difference between the stars’ stat lines on the night—and between Seattle and Boston on the whole—was that none of the Whitecaps’ players listed above turned the disc over more than once. Four of the five were turnover-free on the night. For Seattle, however, their three leading point-scorers—Burton, El-Salaam, and Danny Trytiak—had as many turnovers (12) as Boston’s entire team.
While any of the Boston stars mentioned could have taken home the MVP, Graham was a deserving winner. This time around was different for him than his first, as he finished the game on the field with the rest of his teammates. Two years ago, he was in the hospital after a rough collision in the second half of the game against San Francisco when his teammates raised the championship trophy.
After the game, Graham deflected the team’s success onto the 20-odd new players on the roster who joined the core that had won the championship in 2013. The overall make-up of this year’s team is far different than the one that took home the championship in 2013—new management, a new head coach, and plenty of new faces on the roster. Of the 35 players on the Whitecaps’ roster, only 13 played with the team during the first title tun.
Ultimately, it’s been the veterans—Graham, Markette, Foster, Alex Simmons—who have enabled the Whitecaps to sustain such success through the first three MLU seasons, especially in taking home this year’s championship.
“The leadership on this team is what makes it work,” Rosenthal said. “They’re veterans and they make this whole thing work. We had tons of turnover this year, but we had a whole core of people buying in. It helps when they’re led by huge names in ultimate, some of the best players out there.”
It also helps when those names come up huge when it matters most.