Viva la Revolution

Sean Colfer was keen to see how Revolution, reigning US Open champions and hot tip for the Women’s title here in Cincinnati, would perform against Atletico, the reigning European champions and themselves no slouches.

This was a hotly anticipated game, not least because it was the first look at Medellin’s Revolution against a European power. Atletico snatched the EUCF title away from Iceni last season with an excellent and precise long game, something that the Colombians will surely face as they get further into this tournament.

Revolution feature plenty of experience despite their relative youth – their top players have played at WUGC and the World Games in the last couple of years, so this kind of environment is familiar to them. Valeria Cardenas started the game on the D line with Elizabeth Mosquera, while the other twin, Manuela Cardenas, started on the O line with Yina Cartagena, Laura Ospina and Alejandra Torres (amongst others). They have also picked up some excellent foreign talent – Maddy Frey, formerly of Atlanta Ozone, and Mish Phillips, of Australian team Ellipsis, have added some punch to both lines.

Atletico had a cadre of deep receivers led by Sarah Eklund, and some excellent throwers – particularly Essi Inkinen. They would be a stern test for the favourites from Colombia despite their relative lack of legs; their squad features only 16 women, while Revolution has 26.

Sarah Eklund discusses a call with Revolution. Photo by Andy Moss.

The game started out quite even, with both teams showing their strengths. Atletico boosted it deep several times, with Eklund, Inkinen and Inka Wessman heavily involved. Revolution, in contrast, worked it nicely around their handlers and used quick movement on both sides of the field to make yards constantly. Cartagena caught a huck from Torres, but otherwise they were calm and composed – although a particularly filthy jab-step from Torres, who was then found for a score by Manuela with a high release flick, does bear mentioning. The only difference score-wise between the two teams in the first nine points was a Revolution break off a dropped pull by Inkinen.

At 5-4, Atletico’s long game failed to work for the first time. They turned on a huck, throwing it out of the pitch. Revolution took a long, long time to score, passing it 30 to 40 times before they finally saw daylight and slotted in another break. Atletico’s defence was admirable and it needed two great plays by Ana Molina and Maria Beltran to keep the disc alive. Revolution led 6-4, though, and had the impetus to seize the game.

Cartagena came out on a D line and almost got the second break but a huck was just too flat for her receiver. Atletico showed her how it’s done, Hanna Rantanen hitting Mariia Martus for a great score. Revolution began attacking the shorter Atletico pulls, Manuela sprinting to catch them high above her head and dishing it off to her teammates to pop it between them; they were almost at half by the time Atletico set their D. Eklund still had time to make a great D play though, earning a turn that was wasted with a poor swing. Cartagena picked it up and went quickly and Revolution scored easily for a 7-5 lead.

The next two points were about those sisters. Atletico set up another huck, which Valeria read like a book from her position on the widest cutter on the open side of Atletico’s horizontal stack. She went deep before the throw from Inkinen had even left her hand and got to the spot before the offensive player with ease. She leapt to high-point the catch and banged it deep without hesitation to a sprinting Mosquera. It landed squarely in the breadbasket, an incredibly impressive play from one Cardenas to take half 8-5.

Manuela seemed to take this personally. Revolution came out of half with a split stack and sent her underneath. She caught it, turned and ripped a perfect rolling backhand to Maddy Frey for a score. Revolution were rolling now, up 9-5 and looking every inch the kind of team to trouble the Americans.

Laura Ospina on the disc against Atletico. Photo by Andy Moss.

Atletico weren’t about the roll over, though. They’ve been in big games before themselves, and feature plenty of great athletes. Another huck pulled one back and they put on a great D on the next Revolution offensive point. It’s tough to defend Manuela, though, and she pulled down a high disc before dishing it to a wide-open Torres who threw the score.

Revolution began testing stuff out. They threw a zone, a kind of one-chase junk zone with a very active and wide open wall in front of the thrower. Atletico did a wonderful job of dropping outside-in throws into the space between the wings and the wall, scoring easily with some lovely throws. There were a lot of hand slaps after the point between the teams – the spirit throughout was excellent, and the game was played in a notably respectful way from both teams.

Revolution made a rare error on the next point but Atletico couldn’t get free from some stifling defensive pressure. Revolution eventually got it back and converted. Manuela was shifted to D, but couldn’t stop Eklund scoring. Revolution scored another easy point, and we were at 12-8.

The next point was the clear demarcation where both teams began to tire. Atletico turned on a high stall; Revolution threw a bad huck. Atletico tried to huck to a player marked by Manuela for some reason, and she showed them exactly why that was a bad idea. Revolution worked it up but Phillips went for an ambitious throw for a score that was blocked. Atletico called a timeout to try and calm things down, but Lillian Weaver made a great read on a long shot and got a block for Revolution ahead of Eklund. Three turns in quick succession followed, followed by a poor Atletico shot into the endzone. Manuela grasped the point and willed the disc into the endzone, although the eventual receiver Mariana Montoya, was absolutely not who was intended and she had to lay out for it. The point had featured 10 turns and had taken 10 minutes. It was a slog in the Cincinnati humidity.

Atletico scored quickly, pulling the Revolution O line back out after a tiring previous point. The problem was that Atletico didn’t have the legs to take advantage, and so there was another tired, turn-heavy point. Eight turns later, a picture-perfect huck from Carolina Londono found Frey for a 14-9 lead.

Atletico scored with another huck play, Raakel Pfister slotting it in after pulling down a long shot. It gave them brief hope, but Londono repeated her trick with an absolutely beautiful shot to Frey for the win – drifting just over the defender to allow the American a clap-catch.

Revolution looked imperious at times, but struggled with precision when they let the tempo of the game get away from them near the end. They take some eyebrow-raising options at times but their overall level of athletic talent is going to be difficult for any non-American team to stop. In the Cardenas twins and Mosquera they have three dynamic defenders who are all superb pullers (Mosquera left three in the back corner of the endzone in a particularly impressive demonstration) and they have plenty of confident, able and skilled offensive players they can rely on to grind out points. Atletico are a good side and have a great long game – Sarah Eklund is a beast – but Revolution are here to take the game to the Americans and snatch the trophy away from their hometown favourites. They’re looking to shake up the established, hegemonic order, and they couldn’t be more aptly named.