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Ian Muir photo

Team USA opened its Olympic qualification campaign with a silver-medal performance in Dubai, accruing a 4-2 record with both losses coming to champ New Zealand. The Eagles defeated Fiji in the quarterfinals and Australia in the semis before falling to the All Blacks in the final, 21-5.

The result is the USA's best-ever start to a season. The previous high mark was a third-place finish in 2015. If the Eagles can finish the season in the top four, they'll be in the first crop of teams to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and be rewarded with a top-four seed. 

The Eagles kicked off to start the game, but they didn’t possess the ball long. Madison Hughes made the second tackle of the game, and Martin Iosefo was immediately on the ball, earning a penalty. New Zealand infringed again at the breakdown shortly after Folau Niua kicked to touch.

The Eagles got to the doorstep, but Matai Leuta had the ball ripped from him in a tackle just over five meters from pay dirt, ending the possession. New Zealand caught another break when Danny Barrett was penalized for poaching a ball cleanly, giving the All Blacks a point-blank penalty play from which they’d score in short order via Tone Ng Shu. The conversion was true – 7-0.

After methodically working the ball down the field, going sideline to sideline covering more than half the field, Leuta knocked on deep in the attacking end again, failing to haul in an offload from Ben Pinkelman that would have likely put him in for the USA’s first try.

The Americans caught a break a minute into the second half when Luke Masirewa was sent off for tackling Steve Tomasin around the neck. Then Iosefo made a break, leading to a Tomasin try in the corner. Hughes narrowly missed the conversion, leaving the Eagles down two with four minutes to play.

Perry Baker nearly hauled in the restart, but he was pulled out of the air by an All Black, giving the USA a midfield penalty. Baker nearly scored off the penalty play, but he was corralled just short and turned the ball over. New Zealand scurried in counter attack, and a bobbled ball in a tackle went out on the USA. The quick lineout caught the Eagles napping, leading to a New Zealand try.

Down two scores with less than two minutes to play, the Eagles were up against it. The last hope for a comeback went out the window when a subbing snafu reversed a penalty with about 90 seconds left, giving the All Blacks possession and the ability to kick to touch and run the clock. Then they scored an inconsequential try at the death to flatter the score line.