Friday, March 7, 2014

Pro Teams in 2014: Upton 187 Crew

Once again we have a home grown team (from New England this time) that worked its way up the divisional ladder to earn a pro spot and Upton 187 has stayed true to their roots. It's a team that's easy to root for because they play hard and, for their divisional fans, they represent what is possible to the latest generation of East coast ballers dreaming of a pro future. They've also earned the respect of the rest of the pros because of their never say die determination. And with the addition of the Challengers bracket Upton was one of the few teams to earn their way into some Champions appearances in 2013. However ...
In evaluating 187 I have a couple important concerns. First, it is difficult to determine the skill ceiling of this team because of the way they play--particularly under duress. Despite two seasons in the pro ranks they tend to revert to a D1 style of play. Allow me to explain--before you grab the pitchforks and light the torches. Yes, I'm aware the team frequently tries some bold breakouts--and I'll even agree that superficially they often look like some of the other pro teams, but come crunch time, not so much. And as for those bold breakouts--they are terrific if they work--but they tend to be haphazard and suffer the same problem as the rest of 187's game. The team gets lost in the mid-game.
Normally this is the result of a game plan that doesn't really extend beyond the breakout. Or it can reflect poorly defined player roles or both. All of which are common problems at the divisional paintball level. Watching 187 during a crucial point is like watching salmon swim upstream to spawn. They will fight with every ounce of energy they've got while looking like they don't know exactly what they're doing or why. The big giveaway comes right after the breakout most of the time. The team takes up their primaries and rolls their guns. And then--they keep doing the same thing seemingly waiting to get a kill or two before looking to advance. They tend to be reactive to their opponents movements while delaying their own and they tend to treat the first elimination of a teammate as a signal to play defensively. Interestingly this was less true in their first season--and as I noted above--is a pattern more likely to appear when the team is under duress.
If their gun game was stronger across the board they might make such a strategy more effective but against the top teams it devolves into a war of attrition and inferior field position (for 187) that they will lose most of the time. All of these characteristics lead me to believe the critical missing component is coaching. And I don't mean match play coaching, I mean developmentally. There is no one currently involved in the program who can teach them what they don't know and take the talent, teamwork and commitment they already have to the next level. They have peaked in the sense they have either learned everything they know how to teach each other or they've built their game to the limits of their experience and knowledge. Far from being unexpected, it's a tribute to their effort they've achieved so much without having an expert guiding hand to help them.
If my assessment is accurate I don't know what they can do about it. It may also be that the pressure of the big points plays a role too. On the practical front I also have questions about their leads but it may also be that their support efforts and player spacing tend to leave their leads hanging. As mentioned before without some in-depth time spent with the team it's hard to judge just where their players are at in comparison to the rest of the pro ranks.
Competing without Nick Lieval this year could be a good thing for the team. It will force them to rethink their role assignments and spread the spins around the squad differently and should be a constant reminder to the whole team they all need to step up. Playing without Nick will give some others a chance to shine. We will soon see if they are up to it right out the gate in Dallas soon. Overall 187 Crew probably remains in the mix at the top of the Challengers, bottom of the Champions churn much like last season.
I don't think the team has reached its potential yet but every pro season makes the final hurdle that much harder to overcome and I don't have a good answer for how they get from where they're at to where they may be capable of going.

Next up (and last in this pre-Dallas series) Russian Legion. Hint: Rebuilding?

1 comment:

Dave Painter said...


Great read and pretty much spot on. No one, including our coach, had prior pro experience. With the Addition of Matt Darula and now Thomas Mantoni we pick up some additional pro experience but what we do with it has yet to be seen.

Maybe we should start a "Funding" campaign too - you can start the donations by contributing a few weekends of your time to helping us get to the next level.

See you in Dallas