Friday, May 20, 2016

London 7s Preview: Eagles Looking To Finish Strong

After making the Cup quarterfinals for more than a year the Eagles have now found themselves in the Bowl the last two tournaments. Both times they lost to Scotland--the Bowl final in Singapore and Bowl semi-finals in Paris--a team that have beaten regularly in the past. That's been in the case for several teams over the last few tournaments for the Eagles. For the most part over the last two years they have not only beaten teams like Scotland regularly but have picked up big wins over the likes of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. All you have to do is look at last year's London 7s for an example of the Eagles scoring big wins.

So which Eagles team is going to show up this week? Will it be the team that pushed their way to fifth in the Series (until last week when they fell to sixth) and had a three match winning streak over New Zealand at one point? Or will it be the team that struggled against France and Argentina last week? The fundamentals of the team haven't changed. They still have the same group of players (minus an injured Carlin Isles) and are running much of the same system. At the same time their energy seems to be missing.

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Ebbs and flows are inevitable but what has fans worried this go around is that it comes so close to the Olympics. The Eagles need to be excelling at these final tournaments of the season, not slumping into the Bowl.  It's not as simple as just flipping a switch and the team will regain their mojo. However, as sports have shown, all it takes is one big performance. Going back to London last year you can see how some good results in the build-up to that tournament and then the tournament itself helped give the Eagles confidence heading into this year. Despite their recent struggles if the Eagles can have a very strong tournament they could gain momentum heading into the Olympics.

The Team

There is only one change from the team last week with Nate Ebner playing with the Falcons in Paris to gain more time. Ben Leatigaga is taking his place. It's been the same consistent group of players for the team for a long time and it seemed like last week there was a little complacency setting in. They hold themselves very accountable so look for them to shake things up this week.

Squad: Ben Leatigaga, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zach Test, Thretton Palamo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo

The Opponents

Samoa (5:14 a.m. et/2:14 a.m. pt): Normally this would be a match that the U.S. should be favored in. After all, prior to Paris Samoa had only made the Cup round three times. But after their win in Paris Samoa suddenly look very strong and a real threat in Rio. They are also playing with confidence which as the Eagles know is a game changer. Still, the chance is there for a win if the Eagles play how they are capable.

South Africa (8:42 a.m. et/5:42 a.m. pt): How the U.S. does against Samoa could set the tone for how they do against South Africa. The U.S. has had some success against the Blitzbokke in the past but that's in the past. South Africa are number two in the standings and will be pushing hard to grab the top spot. If the U.S. lose to Samoa they are going to be up against it against South Africa. A win isn't out of the question but it's unlikely.

Canada (11:26 a.m. et/8:26 a.m. pt): Once again this rivalry match is going to be intense. The U.S. used their match last week to run off their frustration gained against France and Argentina and that might be the case again this next week. Canada will have Phil Mack back. He's a difference maker but overall the U.S. seem stronger.

Keys to the Tournament

Mentally Sharp: We're going to go with only one Key to the Tournament this week. At this point the Eagles know they have the ability to be amongst the best teams in the world and win a Series. It's all about focusing mentally, something that head coach Mike Friday wants them to do. If they can be sharp mentally they should have a strong tournament.

The Takeaway

Given their draw are the Eagles going to get a Cup quarterfinal spot? We're not sure about that but if they can play better, like winning the Bowl or at least being in contention to advance then that should be considered a success. Doing well in London isn't a make or break but it does limit their opportunities to gain rhythm ahead of the Olympics.

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