Thursday, November 30, 2017

Preview: Eagles Open The Season In Dubai

The men Eagles kick off their 7s season this weekend in Dubai. Traditionally the Eagles have struggled in the desert for a number of reasons but mainly because they haven't had a lot of competition in the lead in. This time that's not the case. They had a full tournament to get ready in the form of the Silicon Valley 7 and they should be ready to go. The fact is they are also healthy is a big plus.

The U.S. have a lot of goals this season. With the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco at the end of the season the team not only wants to improve their seeding (there is some confusion here but it appears that the Series finish will determine the seeding for the Sevens RWC) but also give them momentum heading into the tournament. Last year the team finished in fifth and it was disappointing tournaments in Dubai and Wellington that did them in. If they can get off to a strong start in Dubai they will have given themselves a leg up on previous years.

Take the jump to read more.

The Team

Head coach Mike Friday has named a very, very fast squad for the tournament. Carlin Isles is healthy and in the team. When he and Perry Baker were healthy at the same time typically Baker started and Isles came on in the second half as the opposing team was winded. It will be interesting to see if that continues after Baker had World Sevens Player of the Year performance last year mainly as the number one speed option.

The rest of the team is speedy as well. Maka Unufe and Steve Tomasin have pace as well. Outside of pace there is power. Danny Barrett is back and ready to go along with Ben Pinkelman. That duo should make for a very strong threat at the breakdown. Then you have the playmaking of Folau Niua and Martin Iosefo. At some point this season Niua has to make a Dream Team. All of that said, we're looking at Joe Schroeder to earn playing time and for Madison Hughes to come out of the gates very strong.

Squad: Carlin Isles, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Matai Leuta, Joe Schroeder, Malon Al-Jiboori, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Steve Tomasin, Madison Hughes (C), Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo; Alternate: Naima Fualaau

The Opponents

Argentina (12:00 a.m. et (Friday)/9:00 p.m. et (Thursday)): Argentina are a great opponent for the U.S. to face first on the season. In many ways Argentina and the U.S. are fighting for the same space. On their day they are a threat to win any tournament but can also have mental lapses. Argentina has tripped up the Eagles in the past but given that the U.S. just came off the Silicon Valley 7s they should be ready to go.

Samoa (3:00 a.m. et/12:00 a.m. pt (Friday)): Last year Samoa were terrible. It was only a few years ago that they won the whole thing and then they finished a lowly 13th last year. Gordon Tietjens had his team playing well in San Jose and if some of that can continue in Dubai Samoa will be a big threat. So much so that depending on how the Eagles do against Argentina they could really be up against it here.

New Zealand (9:22 a.m. et/6:22 a.m. pt): This is not the same New Zealand that lost to Chile at the Silicon Valley 7s. That was an experimental squad and this team will have a lot more experience. That said, the aura of invincibility that the All Blacks once possessed is gone. The U.S. have actually had the better of the match-up between the two teams recently. The U.S. will certainly hope that this is for the top spot in the pool but it could mean much more depending on results.

The Takeaway

As we mentioned, the Eagles will have high expectations for this tournament. They have traditionally struggled in Dubai but with a warm-up tournament under their belt (and a trip to the finals) they will have had the opportunity to shake off a lot of that rust. We think that serves them well and they make it to the semi-finals to kick off the year right.

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