World Games Cali: Day 2, Part II

Posted: July 29, 2013 11:40 PM

The following is part of our of continuing coverage of the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia. 

The United States defeated Japan 12-9 in their fourth pool play match at the World Games. The win puts the team at 4-0 and guarantees a spot in tomorrow’s gold-medal game regardless of the final pool play outcome against Great Britain. 
The Japan game lacked the early jitters the United States showed against Australia, the exciting plays that it constantly traded with Canada and the palpable adversity confronted before playing Colombia.  It was, instead, an ongoing exchange of moves and counter moves, a back and forth chess match between the tournament’s two most calculating squads.
"That was a fun game," grinned coach Matty Tsang after the win. "They’re my favorite team to play because they’re so well prepared. You could see in their emotion after the game that they trained to beat us. That was a hard game for us, and it highlighted things about our game that are weaknesses."
When Japan broke to make the score 6-7, it was the first time at the tournament a team had taken half on the United States. The Japanese showcased a fast, smooth offense, with cutters sprinting from behind the disc and across the field and the disc reaching mid-field mere seconds after the pull came down. A bright spot for the Americans was another Mike Natenberg Greatest (this one completed to George Stubbs), but the difficulty of the play was indicative of a Japanese defense that used various methods of lane clogging to slow down a United States team that thrives on open space.
"Their zone is really soft, meaning that there’s never any real pressure on the handlers," said Tsang. "It puts a lot of mental pressure on you because you end up moving a disc for no yardage, then you try something in an area that looks open, and all of the sudden you’ve got two people coming in on you."
"We looked totally out of rhythm. There was nothing to attack, whereas in a trap zone, there is. We became super tentative."
Particularly noteworthy was Japan’s method of defending Beau Kittredge, the United States’ top deep threat. Though defenses using the traditional method of standing behind him to deny an open cut to the end zone have recently been made to pay because of his much-improved throwing ability, Japan employed the method well by using Kittredge’s defender to patrol deep lanes and deny the first easy up-field throw once he caught the disc.
"Their plan actually kinda worked," said Kittredge. "I usually would always take the free pass, but as soon as we couldn’t huck it anymore, they’d tighten down."
Kittredge still had one assist and three goals, a point total that tied him for the game’s best along with Natenberg and Japan’s Masahiro Matsuno. But the Japanese defense forced the U.S. to execute something other than its practiced game plan, which is a sign of quality.
At halftime, coach Alex Ghesquiere praised his own team’s defensive pressure while imploring them to fight through Japan’s defense. Continuously throwing short passes, he said, was playing right into their hands.
Tsang followed Ghesquiere with a positive spin on the gravity of the moment. "This is the game we want!" he said with a smile. 
The United States strung together a three-break run out of half that put them up 9-7. The run came on the strength of a strategy that pressured both the open and break side cuts for players close to the disc, making it hard for the Japanese to put break throws out into the lane.
"I was really happy with our defense," said Tsang. "We were forcing them open side and letting their cutters that were close to the disc get it. We wound up generating blocks downfield in more traditional ways. If you watch their tempo, they were throwing on stalls three and four when generally it’s on zero or one."
After the United States’ run of breaks, they would trade with Japan, break again, and trade out for the 12-9 win.
The Japanese were emotional after the game, saying in the spirit circle that the focus of their last six months of training had been to beat the Americans.
"They’re one of the best countries to ever play the game," said Kittredge. "It was a huge honor to play them."



2013 World Games (official website)


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