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Though the exact game-day roster still needs to be trimmed by one from the 13-man traveling squad named earlier this week, when the Eagles take the field Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. there’s a fair chance Chis Wyles will be kitted out and ready to contribute. With 45 appearances for the 15s team, making him the most-capped American fullback of all time, Wyles is creeping towards a decade of being an Eagle, during which he's built one of the most substantial careers of any back to ever wear the USA jersey.
He endured much of the seven-game losing streak to Canada in 15s from 2009-2014. He made his debut for the United States during the 2006/2007 Sevens World Series, in which the Eagles finished lower in the final standings than Tunisia, despite playing the same number of tournaments. Through all the ebbs and flows he's made himself available whenever possible and done the badge proud, so it’s only fitting that when the Men’s National Team is on the verge of its greatest accomplishment since winning gold at the 1924 Olympics, Wyles is there for it.
“He wants to be a part of this,” said USA coach Mike Friday. “And this is testament to the bloke, the number of caps he’s got, he’s just won the Premiership title, and he still wants to be pushing, because he wants to be part of the Olympic team if we can get there.”
It’s a bit serendipitous that Wyles would make his return to the 7s team (he hasn’t played for the 7s Eagles since the 2008/2009 season) under Friday. The two have a decade-long relationship dating back to when Friday was coaching England and Wyles was an up-and-comer. Born in the United States and raised in England, Wyles had a choice – wear the rose or the bird.
“Chris was with us back when we were with England in 2005. He was part of the development program,” said Friday. “He was at Nottingham at the time. Chris had decided he was going the USA way, and that was the best decision he probably made, in hindsight, in terms of what he’s done."
If Friday had pulled Wyles up to the England 7s team a little earlier, the last eight years of American rugby would have looked a bit different void of the talented fullback, and the Eagles would be without a seasoned pro this weekend in Cary.
“He probably would have competed for [England] in that 2006 season [if he hadn’t left],” said Friday. “He wasn’t far off.”
There’s no way Friday could have known 10 years ago that Wyles’ decision to pursue an American career would end up potentially helping him become an Olympic coach, but he appears happy it has.
“He’s always had the characteristics and the traits that are aligned to our culture in the 7s, so he’s very hard working, very professional, very grounded, and his work ethic is second to none,” said Friday of Wyles. “Those types of non-negotiable traits which make up the DNA of our culture, he ticked the box. I was very comfortable about including him and giving him the opportunity.”
Familiarity with Friday and assistant coach Phil Greening has undoubtedly helped Wyles' assimilation to the team, as has his experience with the likes of Danny Barrett, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua and Brett Thompson, all of whom he’s played with in 15s. There are another eight guys on the team he hasn’t booted up with, but everyone stands to gain from his experience.
“He’s a leader, and he can lead in many different ways,” said Friday. “He doesn’t need the armband – his experience, his knowledge of the professional game will help the other players in those situations, and that work will go on out of sight and out of earshot of the coaches.”
The USA will likely have to win five games before reaching the final, all of which are foregone conclusions. The North American-Caribbean bid to Rio will come down to a single meeting with Canada.
“What Chris will bring is he’s been there, he’s seen it, he’s done it, so he’ll bring composure to the squad,” Friday added. “He’ll bring confidence to the squad. And he’ll be able to share his experiences. This is a guy who just won the Premiership final. That’s a high pressured one-off game, and we’re going into a high pressured one-off game.”
Whether he's on the field or off this weekend, Wyles will provide invaluable experience to a young team. And he'll do it, as always, with utmost professionalism and pride for the jersey.