Friday, March 11, 2016

Vancouver 7s Preview: Injury Depleted Eagles Ready For Pool Of Death

The Eagles head into the Vancouver 7s with some changes, challenges, and with an opportunity. With injuries to Maka Unufe, Zack Test, and Will Holder, coupled with Carlin Isles running track the Eagles are going to have a very different team than the one they had in Vegas. Complicating those changes are the fact that the Eagles have been put in the "pool of death" with France, England, and New Zealand. If there was ever a time that the Eagles might not be favorites to make the Cup quarterfinals this season this might be it.

However, don't tell anyone on the team that. For the Eagles this weekend is also an opportunity. The point of this season is a dry run for the Olympics; testing out different scenarios and seeing what happens. There has been a lot of buzz about Isles missing the tournament to run track but in our opinion it's a win-win for both teams. Yes, Isles could help the Eagles to a higher finish in Vancouver but at the same time there is no guarantee that he doesn't get injured just before Rio and the Eagles will have to find a replacement. The same goes for Test, Unufe, or any other player. By having new players come into the team head coach Mike Friday can get a better sense of where his total squad is at, not just his starters. It also allows Isles to pursue a dream. Win-win.

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All that said, make no mistake, the Eagles are in Vancouver to do very well. There was a sense of relief and hunger when they made the semi-finals in Vegas and they don't want that to disappear this weekend. Expect them to come out gunning not only for a Cup quarterfinal place but also top spot in the pool and to make noise on day two. Their expectations may be different from reality but it's going to be fun to watch.

The Team

As mentioned, Test, Unufe, Holder, and Isles are all out this weekend. Coming into the team are Thretton Palamo, Ben Leatigaga, Pat Blair, and Seth Halliman. All bring different tools and level of experience to the table. Palamo and Blair are the veterans and are going to be asked to do the dirty work. Palamo can change matches with his offloads but it has to be consistent. Blair is a bulldog while Leatigaga is good in the air and Halliman is deceptively fast.

The way the team is going to play the game is going to be different than what they did in Vegas. There is no one-two punch of Isles and Perry Baker. It's possible that you are going to see Baker shoulder more of the load this weekend. Additionally, players like Palamo and Halliman are going to be asked to do the dirty work. How they respond will make or break the weekend.

Squad: Thretton Palamo, Ben Pinkleman, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Ben Leatigaga, Pat Blair, Folau Niua, Seth Halliman, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo

The Opponents

France (1:58 p.m. et/10:58 a.m. pt): How the Eagles do against France could define their entire tournament. France finished third in a tough Pool C in Vegas and then went on to be Shield runners-up. The French often before well in the second week of a tournament set so expect them to come out strong. That said, even an injury depleted Eagles team should win.

England (5:34 p.m. et/2:34 p.m. pt): England were dreadful in Vegas finishing without a win and only one draw. It was a shocking performance from the team that has been tough to beat all season. Reason would suggest that they wouldn't be as bad this weekend but 7s often throws reason out the window. If the U.S. can beat England and qualify for the Cup quarterfinals and at the same time knocking England out that would be a good result.

New Zealand (9:44 p.m. et/6:44 p.m. pt): While New Zealand are consistently one of the best teams on the Series they are not the invincible All Blacks of a few years ago. Once again Vegas showed some of their faults. The U.S. has won the last several match-ups with New Zealand but without Test and Isles they face an uphill battle.

Keys to the Tournament

Stay Aggressive: When the Eagles come out with intent they are hard to beat. Not only do they put defenses on the back foot but they also tend to get on the right side of the officials. When they are aggressive they often run out to three try leads.

Consistency: The Eagles have gone on runs of scoring three tries but then they have also given up as many or more right after. Consistency has been the key word for the Eagles the last several tournaments and it eluded them at times in Vegas. They will be focusing in on it in Vancouver.

Chip on their Shoulder: The U.S. plays best when they think the world is against them. There is no better place to feel that than in the stadium of their fiercest rival. Like in Vegas, they need to harness the energy of the crowd for their own good.

The Takaway

As we mentioned, if there was a tournament for the Eagles to slip up this one seems the most likely. However, it would be foolish to count out a Mike Friday team. We think that even with the depleted roster the Eagles make the Cup quarterfinals.

TIAR"s Vegas coverage is brought to you by Canterbury USA.

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