Quick analysis: Japan’s defensive flash-poach

Transcript:

In this video I’m going to look at the Japan-USA World Championships final from 2016 – specifically the Japanese defence for one particular point. They do some interesting stuff – it’s not the very advanced switching defence they do that I’ve looked at in other videos and articles, but they do do some interesting things nonetheless. I noticed it whilst watching and thought I would make a quick video to look a bit closer. Enjoy!

First look at #22’s movement after his mark releases the disc.

He has moved downfield and created separation, narrowing the crossfield throwing channel.

Now watch #97’s movement after the disc is released.

Significant separation is created. Again, watch the next defender’s movement after Beau releases the disc.

He moves downfield quickly and tries to cause some trouble for the offence, distancing himself from Beau in the backfield. But wait, it looks like Beau is marked by somebody else now? How did that happen? Keep your eye on these two.

You can see it was not an actual switch – it was just an illusion caused by the movement of the Japanese defenders. At this point the flow stops and there’s an immediate pick, so let’s rewind a little.

Here is the defender that ends up appearing to mark Beau. You can see he leaves his mark – Cassidy Rasmussen – whilst staying super-aware of everything that’s going on around him, covering Beau to help his team mate. He keeps an eye on Rasmussen so he’s able to close him down quickly when he becomes a threat again.

This movement by the Japan defenders is so repetitive that I believe it’s a specific tactic they are employing. In the conventional style of ultimate, the first few seconds of the stall count are almost always spent looking for a positive-yards throw. By overloading this area early in the stall count, Japan are attempting to counter this offensive trend, knowing it’s unlikely USA will throw backwards immediately.

In this point, Cassidy Rasmussen finishes the offence off with some clever footwork – but later in the game the tactic did cause a turnover – one of only three of USA’s turns in the game. If you want to see more analysis on that turnover and the other 8 turns in the game, take a look at the video linked below.

I hope you enjoyed the analysis – I know it wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking. I think you could describe it as a flash-poach, if you were to use conventional ultimate wisdom & lexicon to describe it. I hope you got something from it, and enjoyed watching a point from that game, which is a brilliant game which I recommend you check out in full – I’ll be looking at other points of this game in the future. Subscribe and like if you want to see more!

Quick Analysis: Failed switch in the AUDL

Quick analysis of a failed switch by San Francisco vs Seattle in this AUDL match from week 16, 2017.

Colombia WG2017 – Analysis of a Gender-Weighted Offence

In this video from the 2017 World Games we’re going to look at how Colombia adapt their offence to effectively counter the one-to-one defence Poland play against them.

Interview with Colombian coach Mauricio Moore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN65_cIBYy8

Transcript: During the game it became apparent that the Colombian women were winning their matchups with greater ease than the Colombian men. To play to this advantage, Colombia manipulate the space on the field to reduce the risk of clogging and poaching from the male defenders, and maximise the space available to the women – in this case on the far sideline & deep – whilst the men are concentrated in the near-side and backfield areas.

There is some initial poaching from the male defenders, but the Colombian men stay involved and calmly take the open pass. The women on the far side have now formed a triangle, they are no longer being inhibited by the poaches, and they have a clear channel to the end zone. Note how the male players resist the urge to reposition downfield when the disc is near the sideline, instead trying to draw their defenders away from poaching positions.

Once the Colombian women are in flow the offence looks fairly unstoppable, with the defenders not able to apply any real pressure, however in the end the turnover is caused by an unforced execution error.

Colombia get the disc back later in the point, but the women are disconnected at the start of the offence, and there is some sagging and poaching from the defenders. When one of Poland’s male defenders gets sucked in on a poaching opportunity, their mark rightly takes off deep, but the disc doesn’t come and when he comes back we see Colombia fall into a similar setup to the one we saw earlier.

The women retain their shape deep on the far sideline whilst the men take a few easy open passes to keep the tempo of the offence. The triangle shape makes it very difficult for the Polish female defenders to poach or switch effectively.

When Lauras Ospina gets the disc, Colombia have a favourable one-to-one matchup completely isolated in the attacking half of the field, where Yina Cartagena scores without the defence having a bid.

By utilising the space on the field, manipulating the defence, and taking the open pass, Colombia were able to play to their advantage – their female one-to-one matchups – whilst minimising the poaching opportunities for the male defenders.

Utilising space and manipulating defence happens with all offenses, but which offensive structure would be most suited to this gender-weighted tactic?
Vertical stack creates space down the sides of the field but is very susceptible to poaching, as one or two male defenders start in the centre of the downfield space. 4-women in the stack with the three men in the backfield is possible, but is open to counter-tactics such as defenders sagging off the handlers, or downfield defenders surrounding the vertical stack to make it overconcentrated and difficult to initate flow from.

Splitting the vertical stack takes things to the extreme – it maximisises the space available, but it asks cutters to make big initial movements to get free. This is well suited to the hard cutting, yards-focused style which is prevalent in the game at the moment, particularly in North America.

How about horizontal stack? This is more dynamic and can work in a few different ways… when there are two male defenders downfield poaching could become a problem, so having three downfield female players can work nicely, offering loads of space… My favourite setup – which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my work – is called Hexagon Offence. This setup naturally supports the triangle shape Colombia’s women were forming, whilst keeping every other player connected, meaning any poaching can be quickly and easily punished.

Space in the Hex setup is created dynamically – when one player makes a cut they create a space where they came from, which is not how it works in vertical or split stack. This new space can be used by any adjacent team mates, and unlike horizontal stack, these second cuts can be made directly from the setup positions within the Hex shape. This dynamic creation and use of space has a cascading effect which maximises options for the offence and denies the defence any leverage.

Hex has taught me a lot about Ultimate, and there’s a bunch of other reasons why I prefer it to traditional offences, but I digress! I can talk about that more in another video.

If four women are on the field winning their matchups – perhaps related to a lack of female subs from the opposition – then a number of other interesting setups are possible to make use of this advantage.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to Mauricio Moore, the Colombian coach, about this video at all, so it’s just things that I’ve kind of seen, and my interpretation of them. He did an interview recently which is really really worth checking out – it’s a subtitled one, it’s in Spanish, but the subtitles are great, he’s clearly got a way with words, I’ll put the link down in the description below. Definitely check it out, I think everyone can learn from his experiences and what he has to say.

He says they focus very little on on-field tactics, so probably they just identified that the women were mismatched and just encouraged their men to just stay back and out of the way whilst the women had their own space to work with, rather than it being something they had drilled or it being a formal structure or arrangement they had. In this way I think they’re similar to Japan in terms of national teams, in that they’re more dynamic and organic with how they play, rather than sticking to set rules and cutting patterns and reset patterns, they kind of make it up as they go along to a certain extent, which is an approach that I really like.

Quick analysis: EMO switch v Clapham, Tour 2 2017

Transcript:

  • Good switch initiated with gesticulation
  • Switched-with player showed no urgency to close down new mark. Perfect opportunity for second switch missed – two Clapham players are currently being sandwiched
  • False positive (successful interception)

Japan v USA – every end-zone throw to Taiyo Arakawa, plus brief analysis

Transcript: Most notable in this video is the angle Arakawa takes when cutting deep. Conventional deep-cutting wisdom states that deep cuts should be made in a straight line aimed at the back of the end zone, in order to give the thrower the largest space to aim at, and the easiest read for the receiver.

Arakawa’s diagonal deep cut, although a harder throw and read, is difficult to defend against if done well, as the deep-break space is usually a defender’s lowest priority. If the defender takes a straighter line deep, it immediately gives Arakawa lateral separation which he can use to cut under. He times his deep break-side cuts perfectly for the throwers to be able to catch, turn, pivot, and release smoothly, putting the disc out to space.

Clapham v Chevron – Analysis of dominant defence leading to a footblock

Transcript:

In this video I’ll look at Clapham’s intense defence which results in a turnover against Chevron at a critical point in the Tour 3 2017 Final.

First look at Justin Foord on the mark, forcing away from the camera. As Ben Burak catches the disc, Foord is moving quickly to cover the break side. As soon as Burak plants his left foot and shifts his balance to his right, Foord mirrors. Burak then throws a shoulder fake, which Foord moves slightly to the right to cover, staying balanced enough to be able to get a foot ready to cover the inside-out flick threat. He keeps his balance and positioning, so Burak doesn’t even pivot for the around backhand as he knows Foord is still covering it.

Burak then threatens the inside-out flick again, and note how it’s Justin’s right foot that moves first. This puts him in a much better position to be able to stop the throw, and means that his resulting balance is automatically aimed towards recovering his position to stop the around backhand break. Watch again how closely his footwork matches that of Burak’s.

From this angle, notice how Foord doesn’t kick his foot out for the first flick fake – Burak has wound up for the throw but does not pump the fake realistically, so Foord essentially winds up for the footblock, does not commit to it. This is a masterclass in appropriate reactions to a thrower’s movements – he respects and matches each move, without overcommitting at any point.

Now let’s have a quick look at Ashley Yeo, #20 for Clapham. He makes a decision to dial back his coverage of James Mead’s break side cut when he sees Burak is not going to attempt the throw, meaning the short break area of the pitch is no longer an urgent threat. By dialling back at this exact moment, Yeo makes the window behind him smaller, whilst also using his energy efficiently. Note the quick chain of events – Burak pulls out of the throw early, Yeo changes his coverage, and Parsons, #25 for Chevron, pulls out of his cut.

The two Clapham defenders on the far side maintain close coverage, forcing their marks towards the clustered area, denying any easy reset into the space behind them, and also contributing to Parsons’ decision to pull out of his cut. Ben Funk catching the D greatly increased Clapham’s chances of converting the turn, they instantly split the deepest defender and punch it in.

But what could Chevron have done differently?

After working the disc over to the break side, #50 Sam Turner gets open, albeit for a break throw. Burak should put more energy into trying to get the disc to Turner – even if this pass doesn’t happen, the effort would move the force further around to open up the inside-out channel, it would communicate to Turner that the pass wasn’t coming and encourage him to clear the space faster, and it would get his defender committing to stopping the pass, which would potentially open up a deep option to Turner.

This is a very fine point and only a narrow opportunity – at this late stage in the game, the big differences are to do with how the offensive and defensive strategies have adjusted to counter each other, and although Clapham are playing excellently individually, it’s likely a team-wide approach which has exploited the weaknesses in Chevron’s offence.

I hope you enjoyed this video, go to felixultimate.com for more analysis and strategy articles.

WUGC2016: Japan v USA – Every turnover of the match analysed

Audio/video analysis of each of the nine turnovers in the Worlds Final from last year.

Transcript:

In this video I’m going to look individually at each of the nine turnovers in the 2016 World Championship Men’s Final between USA and Japan.

#1: Freechild layout

Keep your eye on Freechild, who will get the first D of the game. Notice how he takes the initiative to reposition as the disc moves. He’s keeping half an eye on the disc, meaning that when it is thrown for a swing, he is able to react a fraction of a second before Japan’s captain Kichikawa, and has position to get a fantastic layout D.

But wait a minute, where did Rehder come from?

Three passes before the turn, Gibson appears to be initiating a sandwich or bracketing setup with Rehder, using gesticulation to communicate this. This means Rehder is better placed to cover the break side. Like Freechild, Rehder keeps an eye on the disc and reacts very early to Japan’s attack, putting himself in a great position to clean up with a completely necessary D.

#2: Kolick poach

Kolick uses his position to keep half an eye on his mark, and half an eye on the field. It takes him one fifth of a second to react to Arakawa’s in-cut – he puts three hard steps in before getting a visual with the thrower Matsuno, who goes ahead with the throw because his view of Kolick was obscured by the force.

Point of note – Kickikawa and Tanaka’s close positioning here means Kolick and #24 Sefton have the opportunity to gain advantage through sandwiching and switching. Sefton should have covered Kolick’s mark as he drifted deep, as this would have allowed Kolick to make his poaching bid without exposing any significant vulnerability if the bid was not successful.

#3: Gibson layout

This is an incredible athletic block from Kurt Gibson. It’s possible he was able to be particularly tight due to anticipating Kichikawa was going to change direction when his first move was aimed towards a teammate. Just before the disc is released, Gibson is accelerating towards the exact point an accurate throw would be aimed at. His tightness keeps open the options of going either side of Kichikawa in the case of an inaccurate throw.

From the other angle, it looks as if Gibson is about to commit assault, with one hand either side of Kichikawa. Critically, he has already committed his body mass to passing on the right hand side, and his athleticism truly comes into play as he pulls his left arm well back and twists his body to keep contact to an absolute minimum. To continue to bid with his left hand here would be a clumsy, dangerous play. coughcanada

#4: Katsuta poach

#88 Katsuta sets up a sandwich (or bracket) with Arakawa when he sees their marks are close together. Playing heads-up, he sees Rehder’s under cut, checks if the disc will be thrown, and actively repositions. Making full use of the freedom given to him by the deep coverage of sandwiching setup, he’s sees Gibson’s up-line move, and simply needs to build on the momentum given from his active repositioning in the sandwiching setup to go and get the interception.

#5: Matsuno overthrow

As Matsuno catches, Arakawa sets off deep for their classic crossfield break flick huck connection. Russell Wynne puts a bid in on the force, as Matsuno releases the huck less than one second after catching the under pass. Slightly less angle or slightly less power and this would be a goal, but as it stands, it’s an execution error on Matsuno’s part.

#6: Kurono high D

Japan’s defence is looking very zonal after several turnovers in this point. #6 Kurono doesn’t fully commit to cover Nathan White’s deep cut as he can see Matsuno is helping out, and the window which White could receive an uncontested pass in is actually very small. This has to go down as a decision error by Trent Dillon, who had a wide open under pass available. White retracts his foul call after discussion, in a great display of normal spirit.

#7: Kurono overthrow

Arakawa cuts diagonally deep to the break side again, but slows up early because the thrower – Kurono – hesitates on the throw. When Matsuno throws to Arakawa from similar positions, his catch-pivot-release is always smooth, so when the thrower hesitates, Arakawa mistakenly believes the throw won’t come. If you watch Arakawa’s steps after the hesitation, you can see he slows and then speeds up. Tom Doi was close enough to have a bid on any throw, so the turn goes down to a combination of miscommunication, execution, and decision making.

#8: Komori poach phantom D

Japanese defender Komori chases the disc as soon as it is released in order to cause trouble downfield, getting a phantom D on Beau Kittredge’s infield pass to Cassidy Rasmusen. Phantom blocks, where a defender does not touch the disc with their bid but is rightly responsible for the turnover, break the catcher’s concentration as they start thinking about the potential interception, as well as often giving a visual distraction by changing the background to the catchers view of the disc. Point of note: If Beau had inverted his pivot – gone to the disc and turned to his right instead of his left – he would have seen the poach arriving.

#9: Japan miscommunication

Sad turnover to end on, but some interesting stuff nonetheless. When this stall-9 disc is released, neither Jimmy Mickle nor Josh Markette have the thrower in their field of view, which means #3 Takahashi just needs to put the disc out to space. Kurono had the easier catch, but Koike wasn’t leaving anything up to chance and committed to the layout. His first fake is excellent, and when Mickle bites he should ‘cash in’ on the fake by passing to Kurono, who has an easier shot at the Japanese player downfield on the far sideline. Instead he breaks the flow somewhat by faking the inside-out backhand, putting energy into a full fake which doesn’t accomplish much, and which didn’t seem like a realistic throwing option. He turns to Takahashi and – oopsie – puts the disc out, as he moves… classic miscommunication error.

There were only 9 turnovers in this match –

  • Five of them were caused by a defender switching, sandwiching, or poaching;
  • Two and a half turnovers were primarily decision or execution errors;
  • Two were mostly due to incredible athleticism – Freechild’s also counts as a sandwiching D due to Rehder’s necessary follow-up;
  • And one and a half turnovers were due to miscommunication.

I hope you enjoyed this video, obviously it’s been quite critical as the subject is turnovers, I recommend you check out the full game on YouTube and go to felixultimate.com to have a look at my other analysis pieces on this match, including a breakdown of Japan’s unique team defence, and a comparison between how each team approaches fielding the pull.

Japan v USA – Analysis of USA defensive confusion allowing Matsuno score

Trying out a new style of analysis which I hope to use more in the future. Japan move the disc away from the end zone they are attacking; defensive confusion ensues.

Analysing Japan’s unique defence

I’ve been taking some time recently to analyse Japan’s defence against USA in the WUGC 2016 Final, and posting a series of mini analysis pieces on reddit. Ever since I saw Buzz Bullets in Australia winning WUCC 2006, I’ve been inspired by their alternate approach to defense. Here is a team that play defence like a team. Defensive teamwork has been largely overlooked in the development of Ultimate strategy, with focus being on how to beat your one-on-one matchup, or different zonal approaches looking to generate turns through specific scenarios. Buzz worked together and it was difficult to see what their aim was, or where they were coming from. However, it was incredibly effective, mind opening, and intriguing.

Below are a number of breakdowns which I originally posted to reddit /r/ultimate – I was waiting to compile my conclusions into a neat article for felixultimate.com, but now I figure content content content – if I’m writing it then I should be publishing it. By the end I will have improved my knowledge of Japan’s defence, so will be in a good position to write a summary piece. For now it’s more of a train-of-thought style approach.

Below are the analysis pieces, in chronological order from top to bottom (scroll down to the bottom to find the new content as & when it gets added!)

13:30 – Japan’s efficient D – helping & then rapidly tightening up on USA

Originally I thought this was a smooth switch on Beau, but after a few views it becomes clear it’s a couple of moves by individuals rather than coordination between them. The Japanese defenders sprint downfield after their mark releases a throw down the line, meaning their defensive efforts are weighted towards disrupting immediate throws down the line & short passes off the line, at the expense of allowing an offensive player to be immediately free in the backfield. USA’s style means they are unlikely to look infield or towards the backfield until around stall 3, at which time the Japanese defenders tighten up to their original marks to prevent continuations.
The defensive movement is efficient – the first clogging defender moves a shorter distance than their mark over the course of the clip, is next to their mark at the start and the end, and manages to cover a second offensive player in the middle. The second clogging defender moves the same distance as Beau, but by pre-empting his movement he’s also able to pressurise another offensive player cutting up the line during the first three seconds of the next stall, and still be covering Beau when he next looks to make a move.
If the USA cutters turned infield (to their right) after catching, and looked to utilize the free player in the backfield, they would sacrifice yards in exchange for moving the disc off the line with fluid motion, countering Japan’s immediate clogging tactics by making their defenders movements inefficient. Such an early backwards pass would be a stark contrast to the traditional style of Ultimate which USA champions, and using this style the USA retained possession here and won this game.

17:00 – Japan using communication by gesticulation to cover USA’s initial options

First thing that catches the eye here is Japan’s #5 not following the early deep cut, but switching onto Beau instead – he’s likely been given the task of stopping the first under threat whilst a teammate picks up the deep threat (a fairly common tactic to stop set plays).
More interestingly, the two Japanese defenders towards the top of the screen position themselves so they are able to see each other, and then communicate via gesticulation – pointing out the threat they want the other player to cover. They haven’t decided exactly who they will be marking until they arrive and analyse the situation. If Mickle (cutting under on the far sideline) had arrived earlier, it’s quite possible the Japanese defenders would’ve chosen to mark different players. Both defenders react immediately to the shared communication, and take their marks. This one-second of communication & teamwork puts USA on the back foot and results in a stall-6 layout save.
USA may be applying the old adage “run through the poaches” here, however the Japanese players are not really poaching – after the first couple of seconds they are each covering a specific mark. Note how every defender glances frequently between their mark, the disc, and the space – dynamically reacting to the positioning/space and where the thrower is focusing, so they are able to save their energy by only committing to cover realistic & time-critical threats. This gives the impression of poaching, improves the efficiency of their movement, and helps facilitate dynamic switching of marks.
Ben Wiggins (/u/blwiggins) realised that Buzz defenders pay a lot of attention to where the thrower is looking when trying to figure out their D in 2007 – this clip of him throwing a no-look score and then giving a knowing nod has stuck in my mind ever since! (excuse the quality – it’s more obviously no-look on the DVD)

It’s apparent that Japan run down the pull matching person-for-person, and when they arrive they re-analyse, focusing on communicating and switching where possible. This maximises their effectiveness and adds an unpredictable element which often negates any set play the opposition has planned.

17:17 – Japan defence regain control
As the disc is in the air moving downfield, the Japanese defenders behind the disc all bust a gut to get in front of it again. There are a couple of slight errors as Japanese defender #16 is trapped between two defenders and without a mark. He tries to communicate initially to get the player on the far sideline marked, and then to push white hat #97 onto marking the near-side handler. At the very end of the clip he switches again to make his teammate on the far sideline’s job easier.
Whilst all this defensive switching & re-marking is going on, USA #4 Schlacket has slipped through the net and is temporarily unmarked. #10 Matsuno, who may have poached to stop Beau’s deep cut, recognises this and has begun to close him down at speed before the disc is thrown, but is narrowly unable to get there in time to stop the pass.

18:05 – Japan’s Blown Sandwich
This is a mistake from Japan, caused by a misunderstanding and/or a lack of communication. As the two USA offensive players meet, the deeper Japanese defender (#16 Jun Kusano) seems to expect he and his nearby teammate will form a sandwich around the two cutters, and positions himself accordingly – covering any deep moves and expecting his teammate to cover either cutter going under. At the moment just before the USA player moves, the positioning looks all good for a sandwich (they could even work together with the other nearby defenders to make it 3v3 or 4v4), however when the under cut happens it becomes clear that yellow-boots is not aware of the plan, and the opportunity has been missed.

What’s interesting is that Kusano was expecting the sandwich to happen, suggesting it is an element of the defence which Japan have agreed upon / practiced. If the USA players moving towards each other had triggered all the nearby Japanese defenders to look to set up a sandwich, it could have presented the USA with an unfamiliar situation from which they would need to work to get free, and upped the defensive efficiency by requiring less movement. This would have looked like classic confusing Japanese not-quite-man, not-quite-zone defence.

Kusano was on the Buzz Bullets’ universe point D line against Ironside at WUCC 2014, and scored the winning point. Yohei Kichikawa – who blows the sandwich here – is also a veteran Buzz player and the top assister for Japan in 2016. It’s possible Kichikawa was given the strict matchup of Mickle for this point, making him exempt from what are revealed to be standard switching/sandwiching defensive moves by Japan.

26:04 – Classic ‘Dump-Give-Go Switch’ vs Kolick
Japan have a tendency to not mark anyone behind the disc until after stall 3, meaning they’re in a good position to counter this classic ‘dump and give-go’ move (often seen run by Freechild) with a switch. Mizuho Tanaka (red headband) shouts and points as soon as Kolick releases the disc, but Kichikawa is already aware & moving to switch – meaning both players are familiar with and practiced at switching in this situation.

This is an often-seen switch made by Japan & Buzz Bullets – in GB in 2011 we practiced emulating it and called it the ‘Buzz switch’, although with so much to learn about switching this name now seems too generalised; something like the Dump-Give-Go Switch could suit it, as the dump pass & sagging off the 2nd dump for the first 3 seconds of the stall is an important element.

A switching principle that could be applied is “*if a teammate is in a better position to cover your mark, and you are in a better position to cover theirs, switch*”. This sounds obvious, and if you check the defenders positioning as Kolick releases the disc you might agree that not switching in this situation would be a big mistake.

22:14 – Japan with a switch, then poaching with missed switch opportunities vs USA
#2 Tanaka passes his deep-cutting mark off to #10 Matsuno who has allowed his player to get the disc under – Tanaka gesticulates for clarity as this happens. Matsuno is clearly prioritising covering the deeps for this point, as his mark is completely free under a second time, however this time no switch occurs and he is seen at the end of the clip arriving late to close down the thrower.

Matsuno crossing paths with #80 Kichikawa at the end of this clip is an indication that an opportunity for a switch has been missed, and there has been an inefficiency in the defense. Kichikawa can be seen considering the switch when he’s running past Matsuno’s mark (Gibson) earlier – he was likely reluctant to take it as he was unsure whether the mark he was leaving would be picked up by a teammate (unlike Tanaka’s switch earlier, where he visually connects with Matsuno first).

Ideally Tanaka, Kichikawa and Matsuno are all fully aware of where each other and and where each other’s marks are, so can make split second decisions to switch when the opportunity arises. Tanaka has been beaten deep – he should be immediately passing his mark to Matsuno and looking to pick up Matsuno’s previous mark, or at least see where he can help under. Kichikawa is in a great position to switch onto Gibson – if he did this whilst Tanaka was heads-up analysing the situation, then Tanaka could take Kichikawa’s previous mark, and Matsuno would be marking the off-screen player in the end zone. This is a triple-switch, which can be difficult to perform in such a fast-moving, rapidly changing situation, but is possible if all defenders have their heads up to the situation, have a constant communication channel open, and know they are looking to switch whenever it can benefit them.

The cause of the breakdown of the defence in this clip is off-screen poaching from Matsuno, without a switch being initiated by him, Tanaka, or Kichikawa. The deep poach from Matsuno gives false security to Tanaka, who does not fully commit to following his mark’s deep cut, but does not commit to taking Matsuno’s mark either. This has the knock-on effect of putting more reliance on Matsuno’s poach, meaning he has to stay in the deep space for longer, and his mark is able to both get the disc and throw a flat cross-field break. This is the fundamental problem with poaching without switching – it encourages the other defenders to play to your poach, meaning you become trapped whilst there is a completely free offensive player elsewhere on the field who will get the disc, and will break your defence down. If Matsuno, Tanaka or Kichikawa had tried to switch, then the deep space would have remain covered by Matsuno, and Tanaka & Kichikawa would have had to only make small movements to make sure all remaining offensive players were relatively covered. Very difficult, but possible if all defenders are heads-up and on the same page.

31:00 – Japan point and shout but leave Schlacket unmarked
Japan don’t care about marking players who are behind the disc – you can see #17 look around to find alternate marking options when his player occupies the backfield. He does however make a mistake at the end of the clip by paying too much attention to the thrower and biting on a backfield threat.
#3 Yasuo Takahashi, top left, bumps into Beau early on in the clip, then points and shouts in order to pass him off to a deeper defender. When #19 Mickle comes near to him, he takes him as a mark, but doesn’t follow him into the backfield – instead takes the force.

#19 Masashi Koike as the central defender is the first to point and shout to pass off an offence player who is jogging deep. Note how often he looks at the disc, checks the space around him, points to any nearby offensive options, and closes down offensive players when they are potential threats (depending on the status of the disc).

#7 Yuta Inomata enters screen left after a few seconds, and is also clearly conditioned to point and shout at any nearby offensive players, as he does three times in these first few seconds of defense. He makes a mistake however – not marking #4 Schlacket, who receives the “zone-busting” pass at the end of the clip (though I would not call this defence a ‘zone’).

The reason Inomata did not mark Schlacket was two-fold – firstly, he was in a zonal mindset, (falsely) trusting that #19 Koike would pick up any player in the middle of the field. Secondly, he was drawn towards drawn towards a deeper offensive player who must have posed a threat (we can’t say for certain as we can’t see the deep marking). #19 Koike, who starts as a central defender, was occupied with a live offensive threat on the sideline, however by slightly poaching he sent a false-positive signal to #7 Inomata that he could cover a central offensive threat, hence why this player was left unmarked.

If the deep marking was tighter then this would have sent Koike a positive signal that he could commit to marking Schlacket and not worry about the deeper threat. Of course the tighter deep marking would have increased the risk of a USA huck – which was likely against the general Japanese team-strategy for this game.

The interesting positive theme of this clip is the repeated pointing and shouting whenever a Japanese defender identifies a potential offensive threat – even if it isn’t always directed towards a specific teammate. This is clearly a cornerstone of the defence – communicate the location of offensive players through gesticulation and vocalisation.

What could be improved, is making sure every offensive player is covered, as this would help prevent the “zone-buster” to Schlacket. It’s worth noting the root cause of the offensive player being unmarked was a knock-on effect of poaching (by #19 and the deep defenders), meaning #7 Inomata felt he could pass off Schlacket rather than mark him.

30:56 – Japan with lots more pointing & keeping the field evenly balanced

The first thing I notice is the Japenese defender #3 Yasuo Takahashi at the top of the screen, passing off an offensive player (Schlacket) as they run down the wing – pointing in their direction as #81 Masatsune Miyazaki picks them up.

Watching #81 Miyazaki from the start (on the very left of the screen), you notice he allows an offensive player to move away from him across the width of the field, but he points in the general direction they went, which alerts #19 (Koike) to the potentially unmarked player. Miyazaki tracks Schlacket for the remainder of the clip, continually checking in with the disc and the other defenders around him.

#19 Koike in the centre also points towards Schlacket as he moves down the line, and later gesticulates towards the deep space as he moves towards it. Why does he prioritise the deep space? In the backfield at that moment there are three defensive and three offensive players, meaning the situation is balanced. In the deep space however there are 4 offensive players and 3 defenders – until he arrives to help. I believe Koike is player-counting, and that this is an important job for whoever finds themselves in the central defender position. By keeping track of the ratio of downfield vs backfield players, the central defender is able to position themselves to keep the field balanced, and prevent a heavy concentration in any particular area – which often leads to a defensive breakdown. It is of course critical for them to stay in constant communication with the rest of the team whilst doing this, as they act like the central node in a network.

A fairly clear ‘rule of thumb’ for the Japanese defence which we can extrapolate from this clip is one which we also identified in a previous clip: communicate the location of offensive players through gesticulation and vocalisation – especially important if those players are potentially unmarked (i.e. when you let your mark leave you). This would fall under the general defensive principle of communicate. Less clearly, it appears the central defender is trying to maintain the balance of players on the field by player-counting and adjusting his positioning accordingly, which essentially leads to every defender having a mark / every offensive player being covered / no area being overloaded. Whether this is a rule of thumb, a principle, or part of a more general principle being adhered to is currently unclear, although the next clip I will analyse shows it is definitely an area of focus for Japan.

These two elements of the Japanese defence work very well together – through each defender communicating where the potentially free offensive players are moving around the field, and trying to maintain field balance, the team can work together like a network, and is able to flex in order to cover the offensive team’s movement & positioning, as commentator Bryan Jones makes note of during this point. This level of teamwork lifts the ceiling off what is usually expected from traditional approaches to defence.

31:20 – Central Japan defender acknowledges an error after two USA players crash into the backfield space

#19 Koike, in the centre of the field, crashes towards the disc / backfield space at the start of this clip, at the same time as two USA players move into the backfield space. For a moment, it’s 4v4 in the backfield, but then Koike moves away. This leaves the backfield defenders overloaded, and #17 Furikado is torn at the end between following his mark down the line, or taking Mickle in the backfield. Koike’s slight lapse in concentration is addressed as Furikado shouts and points to the free player – Koike acknowledges and marks up. He’s acknowledging with both hands, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a deeper defender was also communicating with him – they could be saying they’re already marked up 3v3 in the deep space so Koike should be picking up his mark from the backfield.

The root of this slight error started when the Japanese defender at the top of the screen (#3 Takahashi, although we don’t see his number as he’s facing infield the entire clip) poached off a player in the backfield and gesticulated to Koike to move deeper – pointing to a player that was already covered by #81. This left Koike without a mark, meaning the defence was being overloaded in the backfield. Although Japan are not concerned with marking players tightly in the backfield, if they keep track of the number of players behind the disc and match them with players just in front of the disc, then they won’t be overloaded when the offence start to advance forward. Koike’s attention should have been focused on the players behind the disc, and this was where the next potential unmarked threat would be coming from – if the downfield defenders are doing a good job then he should leave them to mark 3v3. I believe this is the lapse he acknowledges.

An element that added to the confusion was that two USA players simultaneously moved into the backfield. Combined with the misleading communication from Takahashi, this is what caused Koike to momentarily lose track of the spread of offensive players (to miscount).

Japan are not immediately punished for this slip, however at the end of the clip the knock-on effect is that #17 Furikado doesn’t have a mark, and there’s a free player towards the top of the screen – which is where the next USA pass goes.

31:18 – Japan with a near-window of opportunity after a Mickle 270

There is a moment in this clip where Japan swarm towards the disc – this is when Mickle does a 270 spin, and it’s a window of opportunity for a Japan D. Each option begins to be closed down just *before* the thrower focuses on it – the relative speeds throw him off – so he ‘looks off’ two reset throws without even a fake (I think he should fake quick-but-possible throws to get the defenders to commit).

How could Japan have better used their window of opportunity? If the Japanese defender at the top of the screen had stuck to the player he quickly closed down at this moment, and prevented the dump pass, then there would likely have been a bid on the next pass, or at least very high stall.

You can see that the excellent movement to close down the option at the start of this clip started a chain reaction in the Japan defence – probably aided by on-pitch communication – which becomes apparent at the end of the clip, when the deep defender comes in to cover Beau – good timing if he were to get a bid after Mickle’s 720.

Relevant further reading: the Stall-3 game changer, and Flex principle 3: cover all offensive players as a team

Pull Fielding Analysis of the WUGC 2016 USA-COL Women’s Final

The image below indicates where each pull in the WUGC Women’s Gold Medal match – USA v Colombia – was caught or landed, and the path of the disc up until the point where flow stopped or a turnover occured. For the purposes of this article, “flow” refers to the disc being released within 3 seconds of the stall, with a maximum of 1 fake. This definition is less strict than the one I used for the USA – Japan final (passes made in fluid movement within 2 seconds) – early fakes followed by a throw after 2-3 seconds seem to be far more prevalent in this game.

wpulls-full2

Points of note:

  • COL pulled out 2/8 times, USA 1/14 times, and USA also had a pull that slid out the back after landing in
  • USA caught 2/6 in-bounds COL pulls, COL caught 7/13 in-bounds USA pulls
  • COL moved the disc to the opposite side of the field 10/12 times
  • USA’s first pass moved the disc further away from the centre of the field 6/6 times, and onto the backhand side 5/6 times
  • COL took more than one pass in flow 10/12 times
  • USA took more than one pass in flow 4/6 times
  • Both teams pulled roughly the same average distance
  • COL turned over 3/12 times in flow, USA turned over 2/6 times in flow
  • Neither team scored from flow off the pull, though USA passed the disc beyond the half-way point 4/6 times
  • COL completed avg. 5.25 passes in flow off the pull, USA avg. 3.5

Colombia’s consistent pulls, occasional poaches, and USA’s flick-side-stack double-iso play

Most of Colombia’s pulls landed in the centre of the field, between the brick mark and the end zone. Colombian defenders generally arrived with simple person-to-person defence, however at 3-1 there’s a (possibly unintentional) poach off a handler, and at 8-4 there’s a clear poach off one of the downfield players in the side-stack – which Colombia use to clog the USA’s throwing lane. Both instances of poaching led to USA being slowed down with their advance, but not stopped.

When Colombia did not poach, USA would execute their pull play near-flawlessly – essentially setting up a side-stack on the flick side, then isolating a first and second cut on the backhand side of the field; #1 catches the pull and throws to #2 who is towards the backhand side of the field. #2 catches and looks downfield for #3 who is isolated. #3 looks to continue to #4, who is isolated deeper on the backhand side (and usually cuts deep). The other three players hang out in a side-stack near the flick-side sideline, and become activated if the play breaks down (or sprint to the end zone to score).
In the first point of the game, USA handlers pass the disc to the flick side of the field, and Colombia subsequently get an interception – I put this down to USA having not yet found their routine for the game as this is the only instance when the first pass goes to the flick side instead of the backhand side of the field, and it encounters more traffic. The lateral cut following this by #7 Kami Groom is at an awkward angle, and she does not attack the disc as aggressively as the Colombian defender, leading to the turnover.
For every other pull reception, USA follow their flick-side-stack double-iso setup as described above – being disrupted only when Colombia would put a poach in the mix.

USA’s variable pulls, containing defence, and Colombia’s 4-person crossfield swinging

USA’s pulls came down in a variety of places between the brick mark and the end zone line, and the defence would arrive with person-to-person marks (except for a zonal point at 3-0 and possibly 5-1). USA defenders marking Colombia’s handlers would ‘sag’ off slightly downfield, allowing the disc to swing to their player before closing them down and putting a flat / straight-up mark on.

Colombia kept four players back to receive the pull, spreading them laterally across the field. Without fail they would move the disc across to the opposite side of the field after catching the pull. This has the effect of dramatically changing the angle of attack, however results in the disc being nearer the sideline if flow is stopped by the USA. Downfield, Colombia’s cutters seem to be opportunistic – spreading across the field with no clear tendency to stack, the three cutters have plenty of room to work with, and cut into space as they see it developing – often after one of the four handlers pushes downfield (which they were happy to do in a very dynamic manner). The combination of increased downfield space and the disc swinging causing the angle of attack to change frequently makes the downfield defenders’ jobs hard.

Conclusions

USA allowed Colombia to swing the disc against their flat / straight-up handler marks. Usually swinging works as a tactic because the angles of attack change so dramatically, but USA defenders downfield were aware of which side the disc was swinging to, and their handler-marks would sag to clog the throwing lane, which stopped Colombia from gaining many yards through flow. USA also managed to get two early-point interceptions, and Colombia’s flow often stopped near the sideline, so USA’s defence can be viewed as a successful counter to Colombia’s offence.

USA’s pull fielding routine was well practiced – the disc was moved to the backhand side of the field 5/6 times, presenting the downfield players with a standard look to work from each time. Twice Colombia forced backhand, and these were the two times the USA’s plays were most successful – with two downfield passes being made to the iso players (although one of these resulted in an unforced turnover). Twice Colombia poached, and these were 2 of the 3 times the USA weren’t able to complete their first iso throw in flow – so it’s a tactic which Colombia should have explored further. Poaching off the handler encouraged USA to run handler-led flow for almost the whole length of the field, but poaching off a player in the side-stack prevented the first iso throw and stopped USA’s flow entirely. Forcing towards the side-stack and/or poaching off a side-stack player every time would have been good a tactic for Colombia to employ to try to counter USA’s well-drilled pull fielding routine.

Analysis of specifics

Colombia poaching off a handler, USA’s handler-led flow

Throughout the duration of this clip, USA have a 2v1 advantage in the backfield which they should be looking to maximise. Looking downfield and faking in this situation uses valuable time and energy, so must have a clear purpose – ideally one that ultimately plays to the 2v1 advantage. #52 Claire Chastain‘s play in this sequence is excellent – her first fake unbalances her mark, giving her an advantage which she immediately ‘cashes in’ on with a give-go move towards the near side of the field. She then tries to set up #18 Leila Tunnell to attack the far side of the field but they’re not quite on the same page. Chastain positions herself to receive the return pass – staying on her toes and moving dynamically. Note #8 Octavia “Opi” Payne on the near-side sideline, recognising the 2v1 situation and being happy not to get involved, leaving the handlers to exploit the advantage themselves. At the end of the clip, the poaching defender arrives and Chastain makes a well-timed throw & go move to counter the defenders velocity and get downfield of her – putting herself in a very powerful position. The Colombian defender’s overcommital suggests to me the poaching may have been unintentional.

Chastain pulls out of the throw & go – possibly predicting that #2 Calise Cardenas will look downfield after catching, and wouldn’t spot the give-go move early enough. Sure enough, Cardenas looks downfield and auto-fakes before hitting Opi coming under. Chastain has stayed dynamic & on her toes, always threatening and never allowing her defender to get comfortable, so is able to time her move to get the disc off Opi in perfect flow. Opi’s defender overcommits, Chastain immediately recognises and cashes in by dribbling with Opi, and then times her final fake to get her defender over-committing again. Other than Chastain continuing to initiate flow whenever she can by using her deadly dribbling skills, it’s worth noting Opi’s efficiency of movement – always aware of the positional advantage she has over her defender, never moving unnecessarily, always a threatening option – even when walking at the end she gets ready to receive a pass in the backfield as Chastain pivots infield. At the end of the clip, flow stops when Chastain doesn’t have an option to cash in on after faking her mark out – possibly another fake aimed at #2 Cardenas streaking into the end zone (or looking back to Opi) could have created an option of switching the play over to the far sideline, hard to say for certain.

Near-perfect USA pull play

USA execute their pull play nearly perfectly – #3 Lien Hoffmann gets free under as the first iso cutter, #6 Sarah Griffith gets free deep as iso #2, however she’s decided very early to cut for huge separation and reception of a flick huck over her right shoulder. She angles her cut slightly to the left corner (to create more space on the right), but gets so free with this move that Hoffmann rightly decides to throw to the left, putting up the immediate backhand huck. Griffith has taken her eye off the play and was expecting the backhand fake leading to flick huck on the right side, so looks over her right shoulder. She quickly realises she’s second-guessed Hoffmann and the throw has already been thrown to the left side – despite overcompensating with her read and putting in a good bid she’s unable to reach the disc. #51 Claire Desmond is free moving into the end zone as Colombia accidentally double-marked one of the USA cutters in the side-stack.

Textbook USA pull play

Great early read & adjustment from #51 Claire Desmond, who then slows down faster than the Colombian defender is expecting. Check out the speed from Griffith to create separation in the end zone! In 8 seconds USA have advanced the disc 60 yards, despite the pull being the best Colombia made during the game. Nightmare for defenders who chase down the pull & then must immediately turn 180 and sprint back to their end zone.

Colombia swinging the disc against USA’s containing defence

Colombia demonstrate how happy they are to move the disc quickly across the field – they are looking for ways to advance yards through disc movement opening up gaps in the defence, rather USA’s style of hitting isolated cutters from a particular disc-position on the field. You can see USA’s containing defence – each Colombian receives the disc in space, and is then closed down by their respective USA mark putting on a flat force. Note #24 Alex Snyder, after her player swings the disc she drops back slightly whilst matching the lateral movement of her mark, clogging the lane and encouraging a yard-losing pass back to her mark before closing her down again with a flat force – classic ‘sagging defence’ movement.
Interesting to note #44 Maggie Ruden on the near sideline (off the field) gesticulating to indicate the direction Colombia are swinging the disc – demonstrating without question that USA were aware of & trying to counter Colombia’s offensive movement by allowing the swings but being aware downfield of which side the disc was moving to.

In summary, it’s easy to see how Columbia’s dynamic swinging offensive style got them to the final, however USA had clearly done their homework and were prepared to counter it effectively. USA’s pull routine was very effective and was still being worked out by Colombia, who could have countered it more consistently by forcing flick & poaching off the side-stack to prevent the early iso passes.