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They are better, much better, than they were. Several players continue to improve. Kelly Griffin’s play, especially her cover tackles and grit, have taken a step up. Vanesha McGee seems just more imposing, certainly stronger. Her aggressiveness is a big part of why the USA finished the Amsterdam 7s 4-1-1 and second behind Canada.

Deven Owsiany’s work rate is increasing, and she scored a brilliant try against Canada, winning the ball in the lineout, and then getting to the ground and in support quickly enough to get the return pass. She has learned a lot.

Bui Baravilala has grown up, too, and can also give the USA something they really need – a kicker who can turn 5 into 7 regularly.

But, really, the improvement is small. The Eagles have gone from losing games you kind of wish they had won, to winning those close matches. Yes they were 4-1-1, but a tie with Spain and close wins over England and Australia, while welcome, could easily have turned the other way. There is room for improvement, but fans should also welcome what has come so far and see now, perhaps, the potential for the USA to challenge as one of the best in the world.

But they aren’t the best yet. They had a shot to win the Challenge Cup and keep it until the next time. That would have been a wonderful reward for all the work they’ve put in this year. But Canada came back from a 19-5 deficit to win 26-19 in the final in Amsterdam. Here’s a look at that final, and see what the Eagles perhaps could have done to change the outcome:

USA v Canada Amsterdam 7s Final
Possession #1: USA receives kickoff. Bui Baravilala slides across the field, fends off a tackler, and races alone for the try. Sad to see Jen Kish of Canada dive on Baravilala as she touched down and give the American a forearm to the kidneys. Cheap shot by an excellent player for Canada.

Poss. #2: Canada receives the restart, works through one phase, and then kicks downfield and chases.

Poss. #3: USA receives kick. Baravilala fields the ball, and is tackled. Penalty against Canada. The USA taps and then kicks to space, with almost not chase.

Poss. #4: Canada fields the ball and kicks far downfield.

Poss. #5: USA takes ball. Marchino kicks a long ball that slides on the wet grass into touch.

Poss. #6: Canada gets a lineout. After a phase they get a penalty, take another lineout, and a big break. USA defense gets them in a maul, and stops the maul, forcing a scrum.

Poss. #7: USA scrum. Passed out to backs and a kick downfield, chased by Marchino. She commits a common and avoidable penalty – not allowing a sliding player to get back on her feet. That perhaps costs the USA a try.

Poss. #8: Penalty for Canada right on front of their own posts. They tap and run, het another penalty, and then after a phase pass out to Kish, who scored. Conversion no good, but a possible 12-point turnaround in this play.

Poss. #9: USA receives restart. Hands quickly to McGee, who is tackled into touch.

Poss. #10: Canada lineout. They run through a phase but are called on a forward pass.

Poss. #11: USA scrum. After a couple of phases and somewhat optimistic passes, Baravilala runs from the back of the scrum and fends off a tackler. But she is tackled and ball poached away.

Poss. #12: Canada steals ball in tackle, Marchak is tackled by Griffin. Owsiany out-rucks her much larger opposite and USA steals the ball.

Poss. #13: USA steals ball in ruck. Pass to McGee, who runs 37 meters to score.

Conversion is good. 14-5 USA leads at halftime.

2nd Half
Poss. #14: Canada receives kickoff and knock on.

Poss. #15: USA scrum. Cutback from Baravilala and she almost scores. Ruck, pass to Griffin, who sidesteps in to score. 19-5 USA.

Poss. #16: Canada receives restart and kick it downfield.

Poss. #17: USA run through couple of phases, but are penalized for diving on the ball and then another ten meters for throwing the ball away.

Poss. #18: Canada tap penalty. Kick and chase by Phillips. No sweeper, but Griffin somehow gets there to make a tackle. McGee forces Canada penalty.

Poss. #19:  USA kicks to touch, but misses touch.

Poss. #20: Canada kicks.

Poss. #21: USA runs back. Potter, Griffin and Baravilala get distance, but USA penalized for holding onto the ball (fatigue reducing support speed?)

Poss. #22: Canada tap penalty. Move the ball to Marchak, who scored. 19-12.

Poss. #23: USA receive kickoff. Accidental offside. Scrum to Canada (good call).

Poss. #24: Canada scrum. Ball out to Marchak, who breaks three tackles. Try ties game 19-19. Now in the 18th minute (10-minute halves) and the USA looks tired.

Poss. #25: USA receive restart. Ball knocked on by Canada. Scrum USA. Ball passed to McGee, but pass too high and she can’t catch it. Try-scoring opportunity (?)

Poss. #26: Canada scrum, USA steals put-in.

Poss. #27: USA steals scrum. Work the ball inside then outside and to McGee, who is caught and put into touch after a 30-meter run.

Poss. #28: Lineout Canada. Canada kicks to space. All McGee can do is soccer kick the ball out.

Poss. #29: Lineout Canada. Hands out to backs, Canada sets up a 2-on-1 and Steacy scored on the overlap. 26-19 Canada wins.

Conclusion: The USA played superbly in this game, and were the better side for the first 15 or 16 minutes. But fatigue set in after that – they are not used to playing the longer games played in cup finals. The inability to get support to the ruck in Possession #21, and the poor pass to McGee in Possession #25, as well as McGee’s being caught in Possession #27 can all be chalked about to tired legs and arms.

Still, tired or not, it seems that had McGee received a good pass in Possession #25, she could well have scored.

Nathalie Marchino’s penalty in Possession #7 was a bad one, because if she’d allowed the Canadian player to get to her feet before making the tackle, she could have forced a penalty or stolen the ball. Vanesha McGee was right there to help, too.

So the USA could have won this game. They flagged late, but the key to winning was their decision-making at crucial moments, including some early in the game.