What a game.
June 25, 2016 by Charlie Eisenhood in News, Recap with 0 comments
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LONDON — In what was undoubtedly the best game of the tournament, the United States Men’s National team defeated Japan 15-11 in the final of the 2016 World Ultimate and Guts Championships.
A sellout crowd filled the 10,000-seat Allianz Park stadium to watch the day’s matches, which were capped off by the only competitive game of the day between the US and Japan in the Men’s Division.
Turnovers were at a premium and breaks were even scarcer. The US managed just three breaks in the game, but gave up none of their own. And that wasn’t for a lack of defensive effort; both teams were giving their maximum on every point. The US team was just a bit sharper, turning it over only three times in the game and just once on offense.
“We studied them a lot, but, you know, today’s USA team was so great,” said Japanese coach Yohei Abe.
The game started extremely even as both O-lines looked strong. Yohei Kichikawa floated a forehand out to space for Masahiro Matsuno, the match’s most impressive player, for the opening hold.
Cassidy Rasmussen bombed a forehand to Jimmy Mickle, who dished it in to Joel Schlachet for one of his six goals.
Tension built up over the next few points as both teams put on a show for a thrilled crowd. Jonathan “Goose” Helton put a nice hammer up to Schlachet. Matsuno bombed a forehand.
At 4-4, the USA finally broke the stalemate. Dylan Freechild managed to get a piece of a throw into the endzone with an incredible layout reminiscent of his most famous moment as an ultimate player. The disc floated up in the air and up for grabs, but Matt Rehder, who followed the play, ensured the turnover with a leaping block.
Then the clinical D-line offense went to work for 70 yards and Freechild hit Henry Konker for the game’s first break.
The second D-line came out for the US on the next point and Alan Kolick read the offense beautifully to creep into the open side throwing lane for a poach block. A few throws later, he tossed in the goal to Tom Doi and the US went up 6-4.
“At first we were nervous there, but still we were going to play our ultimate,” said Matsuno through a translator. “But still they are better.”
The Japanese offense settled back down, but the damage was already done: the USA offense was so stingy that Japan would almost never sniff a break.
Matsuno did everything he could for the team, bombing a flick huck to stay within two in the second half and ripping down the game’s best sky just before the finish.
“[Matsuno’s] got speed, he’s got hops, and the offense runs through him,” said USA’s Kurt Gibson. “You can’t really stop him. You just have to try and contain him.”
Ultimately, it was the offense — usually Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Joel Schlachet, Jonathan “Goose” Helton, Jimmy Mickle, and Josh Markette — that sealed the game. The only true mistake came on a Rasmussen drop at 13-10, but the Japanese had a miscue on a reset and blew their chance to close down the lead.
Japan did all that they could to keep the disc out of the hands of Jimmy Mickle downfield and get it into the hands of Beau Kittredge, who was often left unguarded underneath. Kittredge was happy to act as a facilitator, but he almost gifted the Japanese a turnover when his flick to Helton in the endzone was high. Helton, however, leapt up and just managed to pinch it for the score. Helton had his best game of the tournament, finishing with two goals and an assist.
After Matsuno’s huge sky to make it 14-11, the US offense was calm and worked it down. Mickle hit Rasmussen to claim gold.
“Winning a game like this is the ultimate achievement,” said Gibson, who’s won enough titles to know.
“We went from the first [practice] weekend in San Francisco looking pretty poorly, to DC where we started to look pretty good, and over the course of this week, we just got better and better each day, especially as the competition got harder, and it all just came together here,” he added.
USA coach Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere said that this game was unquestionably their hardest match of the tournament. “You saw what it took to win it,” he said. “We had only a couple turnover margin. Our offense had to be perfect.” Luckily for the US, it was.
The Men’s team victory clinched a United States sweep at Worlds as the USA went undefeated and won golds in all five divisions.