EUC Open Final 2023 by Ian French

A look at some of the aspects that caught my eye

I had been anticipating this final matchup all season and we had gotten some tantalizing snippets of what it could be like: Mooncatchers and Clapham playing a thrilling 15-14 swiss draw game at Windmill, a tight game without full squads at London Invite that Belgium won, and then another intense, full length, universe point game during power pools in which both teams completely dominated a half.

What we got was a disappointment. In what was perhaps the best conditions of the week it it barely believable that we had to see a timed first half end at 6-4. A few factors that went into that:

  • Unfortunately, there were two injuries that needed on pitch treatment. Best wishes to Joel Terry for his recovery, and it was great to see Ben Jonkers retake the field after a few points off
  • There were a lot of calls, and they took too long to resolve. As mentioned in my EUC review, I think nearly every call reached the right resolution after these discussions with some complicated scenarios being resolved probably more fairly than I would expect in a game like this. But a good example that the way spirit is approached goes hand in hand with reaching the right resolution when it comes to creating a game played the right way. The spirit scores from the final seem to indicate that the two teams lost some trust in each other – again, credit should go to the players for eventually accepting the right outcomes, but if they trusted each other I would have expected those to be resolved quicker.
  • Belgium played some containment style defence while GB were playing quite conservative offence. This combined for long passages of play where GB didn’t move forward but there was no real attempts from Belgium to make plays to get the disc. That’s not a criticism and both teams should obviously play the way they think is best, but it was another factor in the slow pace in the first half.
  • Timeouts. OK, a little harsh here. But when combined with the general slow pace of the game, the three in-play timeouts in the first half just added to the feeling of inertia. Something about the in play timeout can really hit the flow of a game as a spectator in a way that doesn’t apply to the in between points timeout. Most notably when Belgium got an awesome handblock after holding GB out in front of the endzone for a couple of minutes – the immediate timeout call took all the momentum out of that moment. I’m firmly on No In Play Timeout Island though – if anyone else wants to join me there’s plenty of space

OK, onto the things I found interesting:

Belgium Pulling

Sofiene Bontempts in particular should take a bow.

Incredible pulling – deep hanging blades that gave the defence time to chase up but were a nightmare to catch. These consistently pinned GB in their own endzone to start the point.

On the other side, GB’s pulling was not very strong in this game. A clear gap between the teams here. After GB created an early break chance off a roller pull I as disappointed not to see it used more.

We’re of course used to seeing Connor McHale pull in these games for GB and Clapham but he was playing mixed where his pulling talents were somewhat wasted – his pull count in GB semi-final defeat only 3 out of GB’s 10 pulls.

Belgium Containment Defence

Belgium had a strong defensive performance, really pinning GB into tough spots after pulls. Then a combination of front forcing, conceding upline crash space to not allow power positions and really taking away unders aggressively forced GB into moving the disc around for no gains or forcing hucks under pressure.

Here’s the most extreme example – neither GB offence nor Belgian defence really attempting to force the play in this passage, leading to a timeout call by Tom Abrams.

Throughout the first half the GB offence seemed uncomfortable looking for any aggressive throwing options that might break the Belgian defence open. I would be interested to know if this was something that Belgium targeted.

The result of the play after that timeout typified the GB O vs Belgian D battle in this half. GB’s offence always immediately moves any player behind the disc forward which I think plays straight into Belgium’s defensive plan – they aren’t afraid of the big throws and they now have no resets to worry about so they can really squeeze all the underneath space. This results in an eventual forced huck into all that traffic blocked in the lane.

Daan De Maree’s wandering D

Dann De Maree has been the breakout star of European open ultimate this year and he’s most fun to watch on defence. De Maree only marks cuts he think are viable – a seemingly simple concept but it’s rare to see it performed to this extent at this level of play. If he doesn’t think a thrower is putting up a huck or breaking a mark he will ignore his matchup and find something else more productive to do.

Here De Maree is not remotely concerned about the deep cut in the play, barely even trotting with the cutter and focusing on looking into the lane instead for an opportunity to get involved.

Notably De Maree doesn’t fall into the trap that many players that want to poach do – which is getting too static and staying in the same space past the point where it’s useful. He constantly scans the pitch, keeps a tab on his matchup, and roams to the spaces that will be most useful to the team.

Once a throw does go up he has incredible speed and agility to be able to cover ground and get blocks. If you’re only focused on the disc while watching he might seem to appear out of nowhere – watch De Maree and you’ll also see the block coming seconds before it actually does. Belgium’s use of De Maree on D line – usually everyone else playing tight with De Maree the only ‘free’ defender has echoes of the way Giannis Antetokounmpo is used by the Bucks and Robert Williams is used by the Celtics in the NBA – don’t ask these destructive defenders to play a confined role, structure your defence so they can roam freely.

Justin Foord Limited by Benjamin Vereecken

For me as a coach, a star offensive player isn’t about racking up goal and assist numbers. It’s about being the person that’s always available when the going gets tough. Foord has been the guy for a long, long time. For the first time in my memory he struggled here. Huge credit has to go to #31 Benjamin Vereecken who had the agility, height and discipline to commit to the gameplan and make Foord’s life as difficult as possible.

Here’s two examples of the situations where normally GB/Clapham’s offence is triggered by an isolation for Foord – taking away that option from GB really helped slow them down.

In the second clip you can also see the impact of Belgium’s staighter marks, reducing the spaces Foord has to work with and simplifying the job of the Vereecken.

Finally, this is an example of both of the last two points. Watch De Maree scanning the field, looking to help and recover and then finally ‘staying’ in the open lane. Foord looks to cut deep for the bailout huck at the end with Veerecken shading him under, however Vereecken is able to get the block.

Tom Abrams + Will Rowledge firing back

At the start of the second half it looked like GB decided to be more aggresive. Their first 3 points out of half saw Tom Abrams shooting for scores, twice to Will Rowledge immediately off the pull and once to Ashley Yeo. Rowledge also scored GB’s next two holds, one a huge sky at the back of the endzone. A much more aggressive tone from GB that got them back into the game.

However, Belgium were able to cash in on Abram’s overthrown crossfield forehand to Foord, as well as being gifted another shortfield turn early in the half.

D Line Conversions

I’ve talked a lot about GB’s O line issues and Belgium’s defence but here’s another perspective:

GB had more chances to break than Belgium did, but failed to convert.

GB has 11 break chances and converted 2, compared to Belgium converting 4 of 7 break chances. Belgium created 7 turns from 12 GB offence points, but GB created 11 chances from 11 Belgium O points.

GB’s D line really struggled to find a rhythm in the redzone. Belgium’s O line does have a lot of their strong defenders, combining athleticism and intelligence, and as the space got squeezed it seemed harder for GB to find any seams.

These clips of GB’s first and last break opportunities are exemplary of their overall struggles – Belgium’s physicality and athleticism making it hard for handlers to generate anything moving forward, while downfield the defenders were all waiting to step into anything overthrown into the openside.

GB’s D line could have used an aggressive breakside thrower – it’s notable to me that both their D line scores did come from hitting the back half of the endzone, exploiting the spots that Belgium were daring them to hit. Maybe they needed to cross over some of their O line players to add that burst of scoring power – Abrams and Rowledge in particular were playing with aggression and purpose and may have been able to make a difference.

By contrast, Belgium seemed very comfortable converting redzone opportunities, making hitting the breakside look easy.

Timeouts

The final area of interest to me. Both teams used their timeouts poorly in this game.

GB only used 1 timeout in a game they were losing from the third point. This actually came early in an O point on that third point – so before they were down at all. They did not use any other timeouts. Timeouts are a great catchup mechanic for the team behind – whether it’s to break the momentum of the team in front, think over a new approach or most simply to give your best players more rest as you load up your lines to fight back.

Belgium only used timeouts during points. As they were in front from early on they didn’t really need to use any, which is fine, but they went 1 for 3 on mid point timeouts – not a good conversion rate at any time. I am particularly not fond of the immediate D line timeout after a block – that’s the time to press an offence line that might be a bit shaken and tired. Giving them a chance to recover physically and mentally is usually not a good idea.

Huge congratulations to Belgium on their first European Championship. With such a young group, could we see them sweep EUC in the 2020s?

Belgium Open 2023

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