World U24 Ultimate Championship 2019: Semifinals Recap (Men’s)

The semifinals are done and we are onto the gold medal match.

Canada elevates for a score against Japan. Photo by Quentin Dupre La Tour.

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HEIDELBERG, GER — The top four outfits in the men’s division clashed with their chances at a gold medal on the line in the semifinal round.

USA vs. Italy

In a rematch of last year’s thrilling final, the teams were visibly excited to get this one started. The Italians may have dreamed about getting the better of the Americans in this championship for the past year, but game soon turned into a nightmare. After the USA held to start the game, they rattled off three  breaks in quick succession to go up 4-0, including scoring after a dropped pull by Italian star Toby Mine. Italy got on the board at 4-1, but the Americans responded with another trio of scores. The Americans took half 8-2 in dominant fashion.

With a firm grasp on the lead, USA added three more breaks in the second half while surrendering just one of their own in garbage time, as the outcome was all but assured at that point. Eventually winning 15-7, the Americans are playing some fantastic ultimate. The Italian team is good – they have throwers and athletes – but the US is so deep. Italy has relied on breaking marks at will for most of this tournament, lasering the disc into tight windows, but against the USA this didn’t work. The marks and downfield defenders were too good, and the Italians couldn’t find another outlet.

USA will be looking to take their level of play in the bracket into the final. Since a somewhat of a slow start where their offense was out of sync, they have been nigh unstoppable, destroying teams in the first half. They are in peak form, routing Australia 8-0 and Italy 8-2, respectively, in their bracket matches. That’s unreal, and if it wasn’t the USA, I would say it’s untenable. But the players are smart as well as athletic and the coaches will make sure they are ready for Canada in the final.

Canada vs. Japan

Canada was looking to get their 10th win for the tournament and a chance to go perfect in the final on Saturday. In their way was a Japanese team who, outside of a 15-13 loss to the USA, had no blemishes on the week. It set the stage for a challenging matchup.

The game started off with a few jitters, and a drop for Japan gave Canada their first chance for a break, which they claimed with an aggressive shot down the field connecting to a bidding Malik Auger-Semmar to make it 3-2. Japan managed the subsequent hold, but it was clear early on that Japan was working hard for everything they got. They tossed a lot of passes without putting Canada on the back foot, and Canada was able to clamp down in their tall four-person cup zone. The North Americans ran that effectively, slowing down the generally quick disc movement the Japanese team typically excels at. As a result, Canada got a couple more opportunities to get breaks, and although they weren’t quite as efficient as they’d like, they were pretty darn good with the disc.

When Canada started on offense, Japan often utilized a zone look in order to slow down Canada, but it had little effect. Canada was 10/11 on offensive points, the only break they allowed coming early in the second half. Cole Keffer was a workhorse in the backfield, doing the little things right, and hitting the shots his teammates expect from him in a two assist and one goal effort. Kinley Gee had a great game as well, hitting over the top shots and aggressive hucks to stretch the field and open up space for the cutters to the tune of four assists.

Canada looks like a machine when they’re working well. They can perform with understandable aggression, disciplined swings and a talent with the disc that matches any team at this tournament. For Japan, they had a tough go of it. They showed they could work against Canada, but not consistently. As the pressure would mount, Japan missed shots that they had been making all tournament. On defense, they never got into a rhythm, as the Canadian O-line was chilly and controlled in their throws and decision making.

This sets up a monumental final against the Americans. Both teams were seeded first in their pool and have been undefeated during the week. While each team has had their scares and their battles, both teams seem to have hit their groove at the right time. It will be interesting to see who can punch first, and whose strategies will translate into on field performance.

Bronze Match: Japan vs. Italy

To round the day out, Italy faced Japan for the final podium spot. Both teams were eager for a medal, but tired and battered after a long week and their earlier semifinal losses. It would be Italy who persevered and won 15-11.

Impressively, both teams fought off fatigue and played the first half cleanly. In the first half, there were a handful of turns, but no breaks, as each offensive unit was able to work and get the disc back. Italy regained their precision and was hitting the corners on their blades and the outside shoulders on the unders. Michele Angella owned the score sheet, with three goals and two assists in the first half alone.

In the second half, a few Japanese turnovers allowed the Italians to jump out to first real lead of the game. That run of breaks to start the second half separated the two teams. Italy scored 6 of 7 points to start the half to build a 13-9 lead. After this they would trade to end the game, 15-11 to Italy. This run of form was built on good old fashioned person defense. They made the Japanese work for every inch and that sort of pressure mounted, manifesting in a few throwaways and supported by a few great plays by the Italian defenders.

Italy was happy to rebound after their disappointing game against the USA, and Japan was crestfallen as they dropped two games in a row to finish without a medal.1

  1. Editor’s Note: This piece previously incorrectly stated that the two games that Japan dropped were the only two losses of the tournament. It has been corrected. 

  1. Nick Smith
    Nick Smith

    Nick is 26 years old and has been playing ultimate since he was 17. Starting with the UC San Diego Air Squids, he has since played with San Diego Streetgang, SoCal Condors, and the San Diego Growlers. He now lives in Munich and is currently playing with MUC.In the real world, he is getting his master's degree in informatics, specializing in bioinformatics. Outside of ultimate, his hobbies include surfing, backpacking, and cooking.

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