Friday, November 3, 2017

Preview: Eagles Kick Things Off At Silicon Valley 7s

The Eagles 7s unofficially kick off their season this weekend at the Silicon Valley 7s. While not an official 7s Series event it has the feel of one. For starters it's played in a proper stadium and is expected to get a good crowd. It also has a strong field with the likes of Fiji, Australia, England, and New Zealand. That will be a great warm-up opportunity for the team ahead of the Series start early next month. The U.S. has traditionally gotten off to very slow starts on the season so being able to get a tournament in before Dubai is extremely important.

The Team

Head coach Mike Friday has selected a mixed veteran-newcomer team for the tournament. Leading the way are core players Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Steve Tomasin, Ben Pinkelman, and Martin Iosefo. At the same time Malon Al-Jiboori, Matai Leuta, and Ryan Matyas have sevens experience. It's expected that the U.S. will rely on those veterans for scoring but it will be up to the young players to fill in the gap. We're excited in particular to see how Pinkelman does after coming back from an injury and has had a full offseason. Also we want to see how Ryan Matyas does. He has performed extremely well for the 15s team and if can transfer that into 7s he could be a big strength for the team.

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There are also a number of newcomers are relative newcomers. Anthony Welmers, Chris Mattina, and Kevon Williams have all been in camp before and all have been huge on the club level. Welmers was a standout for the Ramblin' Jesters at the RugbyTown 7s. Williams has tossed up with with Denver very successfully the last few years. Williams have the potential to be a Carlin Isles type player but it comes with game time. Joe Schroeder has played well at the college level and will get a chance this weekend.

Squad: Malon Al-Jiboori, Ben Pinkelman (C), Joe Schroeder, Matai Leuta, Ryan Matyas, Anthony Welmers, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Stephen Tomasin, Chris Mattina, Kevon Williams, Martin Iosefo; Alternate: Madison Hughes

The Opponents

Tonga (3:50 p.m. et/12:50 p.m. pt):  It's hard to know what to make of Tonga. They have had some success on the 7s Series in the past and if this was 5-6 years ago they might even be parallel to the U.S. in terms of talent. However, the U.S. have far surpassed them at this point and it should be an easy win for the Eagles. That said, Tonga will have a passionate crowd cheering them on.

New Zealand (7:38 p.m. et/4:38 p.m. pt): This match should determine who finishes first in the pool. New Zealand are very talented, obviously. New Zealand are bringing a young and experimental team with not a lot, if any, veterans of the Series.

Chile (11:00 p.m. et/8:00 p.m. pt): You have to give a lot of credit to Chile. With time they can be a good team as evidenced by their Bowl semi-finals appearance in Vancouver. They will be a tough out but the Eagles should still cruise.

The Takeaway

This tournament is all about development. Yes, winning is important and you want to instill a winning culture among the younger players. At the same time it's about seeing how some players perform against world-class opponents and getting your core players ready for the season. If the U.S. can go far in the tournament while having their core players standout and a few newcomers put their hand up then it should be considered a success. 

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