The Seattle Rainmakers opened their preseason last weekend with an easy win over Portland Stags, but you can expect a closer, more hard-fought game when the Vancouver Nighthawks travel down to Seattle for their first match of the regular season tonight at 7 pm. The game will be held at Chief Sealth Stadium in west Seattle.

If you can’t get there in person, the game will be live streamed on MLU Live. Coverage begins at 6:45 pm.

Over the years the players from Vancouver and Seattle have faced each other many times, and are familiar with each other’s styles, but the makeup of the teams is a little different from the touring teams that have traditionally represented the cities, and the rule changes for MLU will also have an effect.

I asked Nighthawks Head Coach and GM Andrew “Luggy” Lugsdin to describe what he expects to see from the Rainmakers.

“Seattle always runs a very disciplined offensive style featuring quick movement from their handlers and good continuation cutting from the lanes. They are always a very well run team.”

What do the Nighthawks have to do to beat Seattle?

“We need to make their handlers work hard whenever they need to reset and hopefully push them backwards as much as possible to hamper any big yardage continuation cuts. “

“We also know that we need our offence to execute well because no matter how well we play defensively, they’re going to get their points. If we don’t score with high enough efficiency then we’re going to come up short. “

Nighthawks assistant coach Jeff “Shank” Cruickshank also expects a hard-fought game.

“Seattle’s club style will translate seamlessly over to MLU, especially because a lot of the players are the same, as is the case for Vancouver.”

“Realistically, when Vancouver and Seattle play it’s more about execution given that both teams know each other so well; it’s probably the most played match-up in the last 15 years of Ultimate. Seattle loves to reverse the field a lot so it’s important for our handler defenders to work hard to contain the disc. They love to play a poach-style defence that gives you a look early in the count and takes it away high in the count. “

“And of course they could recite the key elements of the Vancouver style of play. Because this knowledge and experience is so ingrained, it comes down to mental discipline and execution, and which team can make small adjustments to beat a new wrinkle they might not have seen.”

Having already played a preseason game, Seattle will have the advantage on one factor mentioned by Shank.

“I actually think one of the big factors in the game will be which team has absorbed the new rules most effectively and can translate that to execution on the field. There are enough differences between club team rules and MLU rules, particularly disc stoppage not leading to player stoppage and travels being turnovers in MLU, that the game could be decided based on which of the two teams has done a better job of adapting.”

Secondly, we will find out which team has adapted better to the larger field. Some of the strategies that work at the club level, especially defensively, will not be as effective on the larger field. Hence, the team that has adapted their defensive game plan more effectively and thereby generates more possessions will have an advantage.”

I asked Nighthawks co-captain Morgan “Morgatron” Hibbert about some of the key match-ups to watch for on Saturday.

“In terms of their offense, what will be key is how they integrate their new players like Seth Wiggins, Adam Simon, and Mario O’Brien, all standout players who played for club teams in other cities last year.”

We’ll be watching the return of ‘old man’ playing coach Ben Wiggins after a brief retirement, particularly since Seattle teams have long relied heavily on the skills and leadership of Mike Caldwell, so not having him in their line-up is a big change.”

“A key match-up to look out for would be Nighthawks defensive stalwart Nick Menzies against one of their main offensive handlers, potentially Adam Simon or Adam Holt.”

Head coach Lugsdin picks up on that theme.

“They have a number of strong handlers (Wiggins, Chicken, Adam Holt, and Danny K), so we’re going to need some big games from defensive stoppers like Al Cowan and Prez (Aaron Liu), to slow those guys down. We can’t let them reset at will and move the disc into dangerous positions. We need to try and hem their handlers in, giving up only short and contained resets. This will make their offence have to work that much harder and give us a chance to get some turnovers.”

“On the flip side, we need our experienced handlers Oscar Pottinger, Mauro Ortiz, and Kirk Savage to break down the defence with their throws and open up the field for our receivers. They’re going to have to get open from Seth Wiggins, Skip, and the rest of their stoppers.”

Coach Luggy knows this game is as important as any other.

“Most importantly, we need our compete factor and our intensity to be high. We can’t come into the game expecting to play our way into the season. We need to be in the mode where every game is vital. “

Hibbert agrees that they need to approach this first game like it’s a final in order to establish a dominance.

“With the schedule being so short and only the top two teams advancing to the playoffs, every game, even the first game this early in the season, really does matter, and you will feel like your back is up against the wall right from the very beginning. The stakes are definitely higher. I am confident in our ability to perform at a high level every game.”

So head down to Chief Sealth Stadium or check out the live stream on MLU Live on tonight to find out which of these long time rivals grabs their first battle in the MLU.

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