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Olympic Qualification is breaking just the right way for the Men’s Eagles. If you’d asked an informed observer a year ago about the USA’s chances of qualifying for Rio, he or she would have cringed, saying it’d take either an upset over Canada in the North America qualifier or getting lucky and winning the repechage for the American men to be involved in 2016.
No one, at least no one being honest, gave the Eagles a snowball’s chance at qualifying by finishing in the top four of the current World Series. Sitting in seventh place just past the halfway point, the Eagles actually find themselves with an outside shot at doing just that.
20 points adrift of fourth-place Australia with four tournaments to play, the USA will have to catch up to the Aussies by an average of five points a competition in order to be in consideration. Not only have the Eagles not finished five points better than Australia at any one tournament so far this season, if the Americans won a tournament, Australia could finish no better than fourth for the USA to gain at least five points.
In Las Vegas, where the Eagles reached the Cup semifinals for just the fourth time ever, they managed to gain just two points on Australia. So, while the USA isn’t mathematically eliminated from finishing in the top four, it’s still a very long shot.
That’s not all bad. If the Eagles don’t qualify via the Series, they want Australia, and as many Oceania teams as possible, to do so. Of all six qualifying regions, Oceania is by far the deepest, with Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Samoa all core teams on the Series. If the season ended today, all but Samoa would qualify for Rio, and Samoa would be the odds-on favorite to win the Oceania qualifier.
That’s the second-best-case scenario for the USA, because it would likely mean the best team in the repechage tournament is France or Portugal, two teams the Eagles are well capable of beating. If chalk holds in the Series standings, here’s what qualification probably looks like:
Qualified through Series
S. America – Argentina
N. America – USA/Canada
Europe – Great Britain
Asia – Japan
Africa – Kenya
Oceania – Samoa
Left for Repechage
S. America – Chile, Uruguay
N. America – USA/Canada, Jamaica
Europe – France, Portugal, Spain, ???
Asia – Hong Kong, Phillipines, ???
Africa – Zimbabwe, ???, ???
Oceania – Tonga, Cook Islands
Before this season, it appeared as though the USA men’s chances of getting to the big show would hinge on one 14-minute game against Canada in the North American qualifier. Now, the USA could conceivably pull off qualifying through any of three vehicles. And if the current top four holds strong, allowing Samoa to win Oceania, the Eagles could well be the favorite in the repechage should they fall to Canada in the North American qualifier, which seems less and less likely every time Mike Friday's charges play the Canadians.
A year ago, smart money was on the women representing the USA by themselves in Rio. While their worsening chances are probably fodder for another column altogether, it's refreshing to be able to say the men have actually a better than 50/50 chance at being part of the most anticipated event in modern rugby.