Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Playing Devil's Advocate: The Eagles Post-Saturday

Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin told us yesterday that he and his team were heading into Toronto expecting a win. That's the kind of attitude that you hope a national team coach in World Cup qualifying would have. Do you really expect the coach and players to go into a match expecting to lose? Even against Ireland this summer the team believed that they can win. It's not different this weekend.

But at the same time the odds are very much stacked against the Eagles. The U.S. has never beaten Canada by more than 15 points. The last time they beat a Canadian team--four years ago--the margin was only six. Canada is going to be pumped up for the match on Saturday. Not only can they seal a World Cup spot but they can do so in their national stadium during the National Exhibition. Put it all together and it would be a near miracle if the Eagles were able to overturn the result.

Take the jump to read more.
So playing devil's advocate, what happens to the Eagles if they lose on Saturday? First things first, there have to be changes. Right now the combination simply isn't working. The team's objective was to reach the World Cup and they are near failing in that objective. Yes, they will still likely qualify for the World Cup after beating Uruguay in the Spring, but the point isn't to follow the same path as four years ago, it's to get better. Plus, the team will have gone 0-7 in the summer. There have to be changes.

There have been a lot of calls in social media and on the comments of this site to axe Mike Tolkin. In our opinion, the time would not be right for him to go. While he certainly has to be held accountable for the results, we should remember the results of last summer and last fall. The U.S. barely lost to Canada last summer, then beat Georgia before falling to Italy. During the fall the U.S. took it to both Russia and Romania and held a lead against Tonga, the same Tonga that has regularly beaten Tier I nations, before ultimately losing. This summer has been a disaster, plain and simple, but as last year showed, Tolkin has proven that his game-plan works. Think about how different things could be this summer if the scrum had actually been decent rather than giving up points or if Mike Petri's box kicks actually gained field position? The plan is solid but the execution isn't there. That falls on Tolkin's shoulders as well, but at least he's done it before.

Additionally, it's probably a little to late to switch coaches. Let's say that Tolkin and his staff were let go after Saturday. The incoming coach would have the ARC and three matches to get ready for Uruguay in the Spring. The coach would then likely only have ten or so matches before the World Cup. If it's an international coach that isn't nearly enough time to get acclimated. Remember, Eddie O'Sullivan was at least familiar with the U.S. system having been in it previously. The last coach to come in highly touted was Scott Johnson and he didn't last long. Plus, the U.S. job pays peanuts. Good luck finding a top coach to take it. All this said, Tolkin is on a short leash.

In all likelihood, if the U.S. lose on Saturday you are more likely to see some of the older guard moved out. That means players like Lou Stanfill, Phil Thiel, Andrew Suniula, Mike Petri, and even Todd Clever could have played their last game's for the Eagles. If the current group of guys can't get it done then it's time to bring in the new guard. These players still have plenty of value, but is it enough to keep them around just to possibly win a match at the World Cup. It's better to blood new players with an eye to 2019. The U.S. has had a good crop of younger players in the Junior All-American ranks over the last few years. It's not a stretch to see players like Will Magie or Pierce Dargan get their chance. Cam Dolan was great at the ARC before getting hurt. He could be the number 8 for the future.

It's not just older players that could go as well. The scrum was much better against Canada than it has been in a long time but over the summer it was dreadful. If a player can get time overseas, like Eric Fry is doing, it's probably worth keeping them around. After all, props get better with age. But if one of the forward pack can't get high-level experience week in and week out we should probably go with players that are. If the Eagles lose Saturday Titi Lamositele could be given the starting job for conceivably the next decade.

Still, it's not just about the coaching staff or the players. If the Eagles lose on Saturday it's as much about the structure of rugby in this country as anything else. Simply put, our high-level players aren't training enough and they are not tested enough. One of the reasons for Canada's success as been the success of the Canadian Rugby Championship. Their elite players play together and against each other regularly, that helps immensely. The U.S. needs to follow a similar pattern. The top teams should be playing against each other. Maybe that means more matches between Elite Cup teams and teams like BYU or Cal. Maybe that means encouraging the best teams in the country to migrate to the West Coast and play on one of those teams.

No solution is going to please all parties. Even just saying that players should concentrate on the West Coast is going to get people upset. Then of course there is money. Money in American rugby is limited. There is not enough to go around for proper youth development and high performance. If the U.S. loses on Saturday we need to look at how we fund rugby in this country. If we take all our high performance players and put them on a few teams is it possible that we can find funding for those teams outside the high performance budget? It's worked for the Olympic Development Academy's. Maybe it's time to find something similar with 15's.

No matter what there have to be changes if the U.S. lose on Saturday. In our opinion, changing players will help but true improvement will only come when we fundamentally change our high performance structure.

What do you think should happen if the U.S. loses on Saturday?


  1. In most US sports, if the coach has a losing season, that season is on him. If he/she has two losing seasons, team management (General Managers, Athletic Directors, Owners) will generally terminate the coach.

    However, if that same set of team managers goes through two (or more) coaches with losing records, the problem no longer belongs to the coach. Multiple coaches with losing records usually means something is amiss in the management of the team.

    Tolks should be held accountable for the losses, but the people who hired Tolks should be standing directly next to him, taking the brunt of the blame for this summer.

  2. Curtis your comment "One of the reasons for Canada's success as been the success of the Canadian Rugby Championship." The Canadian Rugby Championship gives each regional team 5 games during Aug/Sept. Hardly the main reason for Canada's success. It's a small part of the high level rugby being played, better to look at BC Premier league which has 10 teams playing 14 games each between October and May. National team players from across the country play in the league which covers Victoria and Vancouver, a geographical area where all 10 clubs are within 4 hours travel. If you want to look at a formula for improving you should be looking at quality/density ratios of the domestic leagues you run. Also the national centre of excellence is now in Victoria so you have a hub of high level rugby in a small concentrated area.

    1. That should read 8 teams not 10 playing 14 games each...

    2. That would likely be the rationale behind USAR's attempts to push D1 across the country into a regimented 14-16 game season.

  3. Nothing is going to change. If the Eagles don't qualify for the 2015 RWC through America 2, they will do so via the playoff spot. Hope Tolkin and the boys enjoy the tourney in England paid for with CIPP dues (tax). They try hard and that's all the counts. That Clever is soooo cute! Yeah Eagles!

  4. Canada by 20 unless the Eagles revolt against the coaching staff and decide to play their game plan and have a very inspired performance. If so, Canada by 5.

  5. November is the only thing you can point to that has been good for Tolkin. How about the ARC, which included an embarrassing 18 point loss to an experimental Uruguay team? And last summer gets a big dose of "meh" from me. A win over a Georgia B team, a small loss to Canada and a 20 point loss to Italy really can't be claimed as good or bad IMO.