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.
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.
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.
Chatting to Mario helped me clarify my thoughts on & for the first time verbalise how poaching causes the progressive collapse of Flex D. I’ve now incorporated this specific example into the Flex theory clinic – it now feels like there is a frame in place, and we’re no longer fumbling in the dark trying to figure out & define ‘smart defence’; we’re working out what fills the frame & where the holes are. The task for the first time feels relatively finite.
I’ve got a lot of time for Sockeye – I hung out with them a little in Prague during WUCC 2010, I love a team that knows how to play hard, party, and isn’t afraid to innovate on the field and openly discuss new strategies and tactics.
To read Mario’s full AMA click here, and be sure to check out his new ULTACADEMY project.