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Team USA will attempt to make its fourth semifinal appearance in five tournaments at Hong Kong 7s this week. The Eagles kickoff Friday at 6:24 a.m. ET against France, followed by an 11:38 p.m. bout with Wales, and a 2:38 a.m. meeting with Argentina on Saturday. All matches will be streamed live on ESPN3.
Coming back into the fold for Hong Kong are Stephen Tomasin and Maka Unufe, two players the Eagles have been without. Unufe went down in Vancouver, Canada last month, and Tomasin has been out since getting hurt in Sydney, Australia in January. Both bolster the halfback positions greatly.
With Tomasin and usual starter and captain Madison Hughes being out for the better part of four tournaments, Unufe stepped in to fill the void. Then he went down, and a mix of Carlin Isles and Kevon Williams stepped in. Necessity birthed opportunity, and now the Eagles are the better for it having come out on the other side.
“What we’re starting to see now is the evolution of probably the entire backline that has flexibility in their positions, where we can mix and match,” said head coach Mike Friday.
“For example, we started Kevon and brought Carlin on, and there’s other examples where we started Carlin and brought Kevon on. Likewise, with Maka, we know traditionally, historically Maka has never, ever gone 14 minutes, but we also saw in Vegas that Maka can go 14 minutes.
“A lot of it will be on how they’re feeling and how they’re playing at that time, which is great for me, because hopefully it means that we have flexibility in our organization and our setup which means we can keep people guessing, but we still have continuity in what we want to achieve.”
The Eagles technically enter the competition as the top seed in the pool, because they did the best out of the lot in Canada, but Argentina is ranked a spot ahead of them at fifth. For the Americans to draw level or surpass the Argentines, they’ll need to finish at least four spots higher in Hong Kong.
While the Eagles are pool favorites who’ve added two starters to the mix, everyone else in the pool has strengthened, too. Wales as fortified its side heading into the Commonwealth Games, though the two Six Nations players they’ve pulled in didn’t make the 12-man roster for the weekend. Argentina has folded four regulars from last season, and France has welcomed back all-time leading scorer Terry Bouhraoua.
“They’re a big lumpy side, France, and what they’ve lacked is a somebody in the middle to move them around and orchestrate them,” said Friday.
“Having Terry back will significantly enhance their attacking game and make it far more difficult to get the ball back off them. I know that’s one player, but that’s one central, pivotal player they’ve been missing all season.”