World Games semi-final: USA gain ground against Colombia

The United States took advantage of Colombia’s mistakes in the playoff game.

Claire Chastain of the United States scores a throw-in in the semi-finals of the 2022 World Games. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — Ultiphotos.com

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BIRMINGHAM, AL — In a rematch of the 2017 World Games final, the United States put on a spirited first-half performance for a tense 13-11 win over Colombia. The victory cements a sixth straight appearance for the Americans in the tournament final, where they have won all four previous gold medals.

Colombia came out of the group game thanks to the most stable attack in the tournament and the most opportunistic defence. Both qualities were rare at the start of the semi-final. The Americans scored with relative ease on their first possession, relying on their men – in this case, Dylan Freechild and Nate Goff – to win isolated clashes. It was the start of a fine sail for the American attack. Neither their own early tournament demons nor the Colombian defenders could slow them down for most of the match.

The approach taken by the Colombian O line against the United States resembled their approach to the game of pool: lots of small passes, lots of horizontal movement, an embrace of lean reset windows and accelerated red zone work. It could have been a winning strategy again in the semi-finals. As with any offensive approach, however, it must be built on a foundation of well-executed throws and catches. This foundation has cracked. Between the American defenders who make a point of hunting under the cuts and the American sidelines who make a point of being as loud as humanly possible, Colombia played the offense in adversity from the start, and she made mistakes. Maria Forero and Ximena Montaña dropped the disc on consecutive points, and the United States converted both chances to take a 3-0 lead.

“A big part of the game plan was: play them tight and don’t give them a lot of space – because they’re so good at finding space,” Claire Chastain said. “They have such good throws that if you give them two or three yards in any part of the field, they’ll find it. We wanted to play really tight and make those wastegate options no longer options. This led to high pressure and higher stall situations.

Finally, on their third offensive possession, Colombia managed to chain together enough throws and catches to get past the defense. The catalyst was Jonathan Cantor, who looked almost as good in the semis as he did in his brilliant turn against Australia a day earlier. He ate forty meters of open side space on four touches before throwing the assist. Cantor had been a designated alternate until just days before the tournament, and it’s hard to see how he could have taken advantage of that sudden opportunity any more. His combination of turnover-free play and quick, unpredictable movement – he bounces from place to place with the energy of an excited electron – has been a major boon for Colombia.

After taking a two-break lead, the Americans were in no mood to let Colombia back into the game. Memories of sloppy attacking team-wide from the pool game faded ahead of their assertive and controlled performance in the first half. Freechild and Jimmy Mickle played clean games as distributors. Goff, Opi Payne and Sarah Meckstroth continued to create downline match issues. Carolyn Finney dialed in her deep shots. Jack Williams stepped in in a feature role, generating movement for the entire offense.

On top of all that, they had the ultimate ace up their sleeve in Claire Too. She is a comet. Who can follow its orbit through the field? Certainly, no one in Colombia has found a way to keep up with his pace. His first score (out of four), a flying layout on the weakside sideline to catch a low throw, was exceptional – and not just for the rare talent and athleticism it takes to make a game like this at top speed. It was also exceptional in the sense that it was an exception for Trop to have to make a difficult hold in the semi-finals. She spent most of the semi-final eight to ten yards from her closest defender: simple finishing for her was the rule.

Valeria Cárdenas did her best to keep Colombia close. A timely block prevented a Colombian miscommunication from turning into a third American break. She later shocked the defense and elicited a reflective whisper of admiration with a dazzling lookless scoober assist to Simon Ramírez. But from the O line she could do little to help Colombia close the gap, and they went into the second half with a 7-4 deficit.

Another Colombia error provided the opportunity for a third American break. American defenders and Colombian resets, five or six in all, flooded the same reset area within ten yards of the pitcher. A turnover was practically inevitable amidst the confusion. Payne and Grant Lindsley were only too happy to take the easy score.

Offenses dominated the next five points. The US scored quickly on two draw plays. Finney’s Hucks and Chastain found their respective targets in Freechild and Williams with very little visible defensive effort to break either connection. Meanwhile, Yina Cartagena has shone for Colombia. In classic Cartagena fashion, she operated less than a foot from the touchline to break free and fire a continuous throw towards the end zone for Jose Jiménez in that same tight band. Manu Cárdenas scored when an absolutely perfect forehand from Cartagena showed him the open space. And then, taking a page from the American playbook, Colombia called for an in-depth first look at her. (It was, oddly enough, Colombia’s only blow.)

Trailing 10-7, Colombia finally found a way to get back into the game. Miscommunication from the red zone for the United States set up Colombia a 70-yard counterattack to earn the first of four breaks needed. A knockdown from Lindsley in the lane set up the second. Suddenly, the comfortable American buffer had shrunk to a single point.

The United States was prepared for the late push. “Lots of talk before that [game] we wanted to go out and start strong, and if they fight back, we don’t go down and we don’t let that shake us, and we just keep punching,” Chastain said. “I think we did it very well.”

At 11-10, efforts from Mickle and Chastain were the only reason Colombia would not see a break again. Mickle thundered down the weak sideline and floated out for a massive offer to save possession just outside the attacking end zone. Two resets later, he saw that Chastain had an open side separation at the front of the goal area and sent a forehand to the cone. The flat shape of the throw, however, wasn’t going to keep him in bounds, leaving Chastain to do the work. Planting her foot on the sideline and fixing her eyes on the disc, she launched into a tree fall attempt and just managed to secure it while maintaining contact with the ground.

Colombia responded with a Medellín Revolution special – Cárdenas, Cárdenas and Cartagena dancing together in the red zone – to avoid elimination for at least another point.

USA returned to their look from the first point of the game, with some slight changes in personnel. It was Williams who took the cut for the long open forehand. Colombia, however, were much more prepared to challenge the pass this time around. Andres Ramírez and Williams both set foot to attack the high disc where it floated near the sideline. Williams made the catch, but Ramírez’s contact knocked him off course in the air and he landed out of bounds. The body control error was unfortunate for Colombia, as it was far from certain that Williams would have been able to put a toe before his own momentum knocked him off the line.

At first, Ramírez disagreed that he had committed the foul of expulsion. He and Williams began discussing the game with the Game Advisor. It looked like they wouldn’t be able to see eye to eye and the disc would go back to the thrower on the disputed call. Then the situation caught a really weird, 21st twist of the century. It turned out that Khalif El-Salaam had filmed the side stitch from his mobile phone. With proof in hand, he entered the discussion and showed Williams and Ramírez his footage. The video evidence was clear and Ramírez had nothing to do but admit fault. The game restarted and Chastain scored the disc to the front cone for the win.

It was the best game yet for Team USA, and it couldn’t have happened in a bigger time. They became stronger and more united every day. “The team cohesion and the amount of work we’ve done to build a team identity around this group of people this week has been really helpful for our mental resilience against a really good team,” Chastain said. Australia will have a lot to do to try to unbalance them in the final.

Despite their uneven performance and ultimately their heartbreaking defeat in the semi-finals, Colombia performed very well at the World Games. The Frisbee community in Colombia – in fact, the entire nation – can be proud of the team’s heart, preparation and energy. The support for the team was on full display in the stadium. They understand that the end of their gold medal hopes only came after a few short moments. “All the points at this level are just the intensity and the ability to be aware of everything that’s happening on the pitch – and to take advantage of the little mistakes. [The United States] did a good job and that’s why they are in the final,” said Jiménez.

Certainly, Colombia will compete again in three years.

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