Wroclaw, Poland (July 22, 2017) – Heading into their fourth match up at the World Games, the U.S. National Team knew it was a do or die moment. A win over Japan would cement their spot in tomorrow’s gold-medal game, while a loss would create a huge tie at 2-2 in the end-of-day-two standings.
As is their routine, the team huddled up before game time to go over specific strategies for the impending game and to review match ups and their opponents’ tendencies. And as usual, the coaches were right on. It’s well-known in the ultimate world that Japan’s playing style is very different than the typical North American style, which can lead to challenges with the unfamiliarity. But with some tweaks to defensive positioning to account for Japan’s hucking style, the U.S. was ready to roll.
Much like the game against Australia earlier this afternoon, the U.S. opened with a hold before jumping out to an early lead. U.S. defenders didn’t actually get hands on many discs, but the pressure was tight enough and intense enough to cause Japanese miscues, either drops or throws that were just too wide or just too long. And a backhand force, used primarily in the first half, made it difficult for Japan to get off the slicing flick hucks they use so well. The U.S. took advantage of the turnovers, using great, quick movement to advance the disc and prevent Japan from settling into their defensive schemes.
Japan got on the board at 4-1 with a two-throw score. It was a pattern throughout the game: While the U.S. typically took their time, gaining yards in smaller chunks and moving the disc from side to side, Japan was most successful when they could score with just two or three lightning quick throws. And it usually all came in the same third of the field. More than two or three throws, and the U.S. defensive pressure was often enough to force a turnover. The goal to put Japan on the board was one of five for Andy Kunieda, definitely the bright spot for Japan in the game.
Japan tried a couple different zone looks on defense, largely based around a 1-3-3 structure. But they did mix it up on occasion, trying to go with more of a box-and-one shape at times to take away the center reset handler or sagging off the handlers into the cutting lanes. The U.S. carved up whichever defense Japan chose. While the U.S. hasn’t played strict offensive and defensive lines, the “D line” handlers – George Stubbs, Chris Kocher and typically Georgia Bosscher as the third – were particularly impressive as they worked their way through the zone. Jimmy Mickle also had a big game, accounting for three assists and five goals to go along with his massive pulls. But another important thing to note is how well-balanced the U.S. is in their stats – 12 of 14 players tallied either a goal or assist in this game, while only five made the stat sheet for Japan.
The game clipped along at an impressive rate. The U.S. took half 7-3 about 25 minutes into the round, and the game was over in less than an hour. Coach Matty Tsang told the team at halftime that he liked the quick pace. It kept the Japanese defense off balance and prevented them from compressing around the disc. The pace certainly continued through the second half.
The U.S. added two more breaks after halftime, including the game-winning point. After the Japanese turn, Anna Nazarov, Grant Lindsley and Carolyn Finney marched the team up the field, with Dylan Freechild and Jimmy Mickle popping through the middle of the zone. A beautiful low-release break flick from Freechild to Mickle led to another break throw straight into Lindsley’s hands for the goal and a spot in tomorrow’s gold-medal game. U.S.A. won it 13-7.
The U.S. does have one more pool play game against the host country, Poland, scheduled for tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. local time (6:30 a.m. EDT), before they meet Colombia for a rematch of their first game here in Poland in the gold-medal match. The battle for gold will get underway at 5:00 p.m. (11:00 a.m. EDT).
Both the gold-medal and bronze-medal games will be livestreamed on the Olympic Channel. Follow along with the U.S. National Team on their quest for gold!