Yet this is the first time either of these two teams have made the MLU Championship Game.
Undeniably these were the best two teams in the league. At 9-1 both of their losses came against the defending champion, but both dominated their respective conferences. They both tout incredibly successful offensive units and two of the three highest scoring teams in MLU history.
Setting up the most anticipated championship game in the past four years, both teams are looking to write their own history.
With the Stags making the title game, all teams in the Western Conference have had the opportunity to play for the Silver Disc. Their previous three rivals have not been successful. The Stags climb to the MLU Championship has been one that is four years in the making. In 2013 the team held the worst record in MLU history (1-9) and this season there is not a team that has been more dominant in their conference than perhaps the 2013 Boston Whitecaps. Portland was the first team to go undefeated in Western Conference play, not only did they win but they dominated with a +80 point differential in only nine Western Conference matchups.
Five of their top players have been on the roster all four years of existence. The 2016 West MVP and the MLU's all-time leader in scoring, Cody Bjorklund tallied 57 points (16 goals, 41 assists) and held the charge in 2016. Bjorklund scored at least four points in every game, with a two goal and seven assist performance being the highlight of his season. Breakout Player of the Year Raphael Hayes (18 goals, 23 assists, 14 blocks) followed Bjorklund for the Stags. Hayes was explosive on the year forcing defenses to put another player on the radar in addition to the commanding offensive lineup of Bjorklund, Timmy Perston, rookie Trevor Smith, and Ben McGinn.
That does not even mention the smothering defense of the Stags with Defensive Player of the Year, Peter Woodside, Topher Davis, and Riley Meinershagen.
Consistent improvement has been the name of the game for the Spinners. In 2013 they finished fourth, 2014 third, 2015 second, and in 2016 they finally made it to the top and broke through against the class of the MLU, the Boston Whitecaps. From the start everyone knew this season was going to be good. There were sixteen veterans coming back from 2015, mainly their core group of players on offense and their defensive superstars, with David Brandolph returning to the team with an incredible rookie class.
Like the previous year, Philadelphia broke out of the gate and looked to be contesting the Whitecaps for the top spot in the east. No other team in the conference came close to topping those two teams and for the second time ever, someone had Boston's number.
This year allowed the team to move some pieces around and let them determine where everyone was most effective. The previous leader of the team, Nick Hirannet (three goals, 16 assists), was not the usual facilitator of years past. The team used a plethora of handlers rotating out to keep their offense unpredictable. East MVP, Billy Sickles soon became everyone's favorite target downfield. His size and athleticism allowed him to command the field with 24 goals and 17 assists on the season.
The only wrench in their system was a hand injury to one of their main handlers, Himalaya Mehta (15 goals, eight assists), at the end of the season.
Offensive Edge: Philadelphia, barely
The Stags have perfected their high scoring system. Unlike Seattle, they are content to leisurely move the disc up the field. They strike when you least suspect it and nearly always come down with the disc especially when the best downfield thrower in the league, Bjorklund lets it go. In doing so they became the highest scoring team in league history with 228 goals.
Philadelphia is so successful by utilizing the entire width of the field. With a football field being a new facet in the game of ultimate, not every team has perfected that style of offense or how to play defense against it. Using the whole width of the field opens up the break side for the Spinners, where Sickles has been so successful on downfield cuts.
The Philadelphia system is one that can work with the entire team. There is a second O-line for the Spinners that consists of some of the top D-line players and some of the next tier of players for Philadelphia. This O-line has gotten reps not only when the team is blowing out opponents, but when their top line is not performing well. In Portland we have barely seen a secondary O-line.
Both teams execute their offensive schemes extremely well. With Portland's offense, if they get slowed down, get in a rut, or Bjorklund is slightly of his game, it will be harder to keep momentum going, whereas Philadelphia can put in their next line.
Defensive Edge: Portland
Unlike most defenses in the league, most teams try to score quickly off of a turn for a break. Partly because there is the mindset that your defense is most useful when they are scoring. Portland though is okay with their defense on the field. Having the other team's O-line go through a long, strenuous point can be more effective than a quick score. For that reason it is not often to see a deep look from the Stags defensive line.
When they are actually on defense, every throw and cut is contested. It forces even the best teams to re-think the simplest of throws.
For Philadelphia, expect to see aggressive marking. The Spinners know how valuable the break side is so they look to prevent that disk movement. This has the chance disrupt the rookie Smith for Portland and perhaps move Bjorklund back to the handler spot rather than a hybrid that he has been playing all year.
Special Teams: Even
The Stags primarily use their timeouts for the defense. Yes, teams do that for the MFP but Portland goes a step further. The Stags call timeouts for the MFP after a break, in hopes of getting another. In the Western Conference Championship they did it three times against the Rainmakers and scored all but once. A three point swing when they convert.
Philadelphia though is one of the most consistent teams in the league. The depth of the Spinners allows them to be in a close game for a full 40 minutes. They have 21 players that were on 90 or more points in the regular season. Portland only has 17 players in the same category. In addition, in close games (games determined by five points or less) Philadelphia played in seven and went 6-1, the Stags played in two and went 1-1.
And the Winner Is??
While Philadelphia has a more complete team, Portland has a more talented team. Both of which can combat each other. So far west coast teams have struggled due to travel but this is not the first time the Stags have gone coast to coast this season. The big difference will be the injury report that will be released on Thursday. Will there be any huge playmakers from Portland that cannot make the trip and will Mehta be back for the Spinners?
Another factor: home field advantage. Philadelphia will be playing in front of their home fans, an environment that the MLU has yet to see in a championship game. This will be huge and Portland will be forced to keep up in the opening quarter. Only one team can win and both feel that they are the ones that will be raising the Silver Disc at the end of the day.
Watch it all unfold this Saturday (7/16) at Franklin Field in Philadelphia at 6:30!