Friday, March 2, 2018

Vegas 7s: Eagles Looking To Shine At Home

For a team in need of something positive the Vegas 7s arrives at the perfect time for the Eagles. Consistency has been hard for the Eagles to achieve this year with a last place showing in Dubai followed up with a quarterfinal appearance in Cape Town followed by a semi-final appearance in Sydney, and the a Challenge Trophy win in Wellington. It has hardly been straightforward for the team this year. Injuries to key players like Perry Baker, Madison Hughes, and Steve Tomasin all had an impact. So did an offseason program that saw many players get real world experience (which is fantastic, btw). Now that they are headed home it is the perfect opportunity to put it all together with their best performance of the year.

The Eagles also like Vegas. Over the last few years they have consistently made the top four and electrified the crowd in the process. Players like Perry Baker, Carlin Isles, and Danny Baker all feed off the energy of the crowd. It also brings out some of the best in their opponents but when the U.S. have energy they do well.

Right now the Eagles sit in the middle of the table in 7th place. Right now the top four seems untouchable but if the Eagles do well and get help elsewhere they can move up the standings. The Eagles are also warding off a challenge from underneath them.

Take the jump to read more.

The action starts tonight with the U.S. playing Samoa and Australia before they finish up against Spain on Saturday. That can make for a tricky situation. Two wins on Friday and they will almost certainly be in the quarterfinals. One loss, or even more disastrous no losses, could make that very difficult.

The Team

There are just a few changes from the team that won the Challenge Trophy in Hamilton. The core remains. That includes the likes of Danny Barrett, Perry Baker, and Folau Niua. Ben Pinkelman will captain the team. The new name on the team is Cody Melphy. After his armed forces commitments he's now a WCAP athlete. Melphy was fantastic for Life and for several selects sides. The Eagles and Mike Friday are going to love having him and his various abilities.

Squad: Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Martin Iosefo, Carlin Isles, Malon Al-Jiboori, Matai Leuta, Chris Mattina, Cody Melphy, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman (C), Joe Schroeder, Maka Unufe, Kevon Williams

The Opponents

Samoa (Friday: 7:28 p.m. et/4:28 p.m. pt): Samoa and the Eagles have mirrored each other in a lot of ways this year. They have had some solid results but have also struggled. The U.S. lost to Samoa earlier this year in Dubai and they lost in Hamilton. That loss in Hamilton was particularly damaging as it cost the Eagles a spot in the quarterfinals. In both matches the U.S. probably should have won but let Samoa have the ball late.

Australia (Friday: 10:51 p.m. et/7:51 p.m. pt): The Australians have been very good this year and they currently sit in fourth place. Australia has some young athletes that can go toe to toe with the Americans. The U.S. won in Cape Town but then lost in Sydney.

Spain (Saturday: 4:04 p.m. et/1:04 p.m. pt): The Eagles really need a win against Spain no matter the results against Samoa and Australia. Spain are a team the Eagles should beat easily but nothing is easy on the Sevens Series. The U.S. won 29-12 in Hamilton.

What To Watch For

Restarts: The Eagles are the best restart team on the Series. It all starts with the magical boot of Folau Niua. We've said it before and we'll say it again that Niua is maybe the most underrated player in the country and on the Series. When he's cooking it all goes well for the Eagles. If Niua can master the wind in Vegas than Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, and Ben Pinkelman should have a great day in the air.

Controlled Energy: Playing at home can boost a team when they need it. The home crowd can also maybe amp up a team too much. We've seen it before. Generally the Eagles do well with this and in fact having a strong crowd should do wonders for them against Samoa and Australia.

Penalties: Excitement can lead to too many penalties. That would be disaster for the Eagles because it gives away possession. What the penalty counts against Samoa and Australia.

The Takeaway

Regardless of the final result (although the Eagles need a quarterfinals or semi-finals appearance) what the Eagles need out of this tournament is momentum. Every time they seem to get momentum it disappears. Winning the Challenge Trophy in Hamilton helped with some momentum and now they need to make the top eight. That can be tough. For us it all hinges on their result against Samoa. If they can finally come up with a big win it should propel them to a strong tournament.

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