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As the Eagles are in Chula Vista preparing for New Zealand, the fourth stop on the IRB World Series, they’re still targeting they’re first foray into the Cup quarterfinals this season.

By the fourth tournament last season, the Eagles had already reached the Cup round of one tournament. In 2009/2010 they hadn’t, and in 2008/2009 they had done so twice. That signals stagnation.

So does a look at the Eagles’ records through three tournaments the last three years.

This season they’re 6-10. ‘10/‘11: 5-11; ’09/’10: 5-11. This year they’re 1-8 against core teams and 5-2 against non-core teams. Last season they were 1-10 against core teams and 4-1 against non-core teams, and in ’09/’10 they were 2-9 against core teams and 3-2 against non-core teams.

It’s hard to find progress in those numbers, but if you believe the pool draws to be tougher this season, you can argue there is indeed progress.

“Last year I would have said to you there’s no way we could have a tougher pool than we did this season. Last season every country we went to we played the host team and then another top team,” said USA 7s coach Al Caravelli.

“This one’s even tougher. We’ve never had four core teams in the same pool. I know everybody says all the pools are tough, which they are, can’t take anybody for granted, but when you look at Samoa, England and Argentina all in the same pool…So yeah, I think they’re definitely tougher.”

That pool with Argentina, Samoa and England was where the United States scored their lone win over a core team this season, beating Argentina 21-14. The Eagles also had Samoa on the ropes and were competitive with England.

“I’d rather have these pools every tournament than you giving me teams that weren’t as good as those guys, because the only way we’re going to get tested, and our goal is to be the best in the world, we have to play these teams every time,” added Caravelli. “It’s the only way we’re going to get better. It’s the only way that we can measure ourselves against these guys.”

The Eagles have another chance to measure themselves in New Zealand the first weekend of February, where they draw England and South Africa, along with Cook Islands.