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The USA Men’s National Team flight to Japan had to have been a long and depressing one.
No one on the team felt anything went well. Head Coach Mike Tolkin, told that Scott LaValla said he was embarrassed by the performance, and that Todd Clever was clearly angry at how the team played, nodded his head.
“Those two emotions are running through the club right now,” said Tolkin, who added his own word, “deflated,” to the mix.
The 18-9 loss to Tonga, where the Eagles made a series of bad mistakes, dumb decisions, and did not challenge Tonga’s defense much at all “was hugely disappointed,” said the coach. “We had expectations. We didn’t come out with energy. We were just flat all-around. We never really penetrated or put them on the back foot much. We wanted to make them play in their end, but our kicking was poor.”
The change, said Tolkin, has to come from within. He will make some rotational changes for Wednesday’s match with Fiji (which is really Tuesday’s match as they lose a day in traveling west over the International Dateline) is too soon to make drastic adjustments, and also too soon to expect some players to front up once more.
So he needs the players to just play better, harder.
“I can’t, and the coaching staff can’t, generate the feelings of passion,” Tolkin said. “We’ll address how to play the game better, [but] we have to come out firing all cylinders against Fiji.”
Clever, the captain, agreed with the assessment.
“It was just our mental approach to the game and I’m absolutely gutted with the performance we put out there,” he said. “There have got to be some changes … that’s what I expect and that’s what we deserve. I wish we had a whole week to play game, but we have to travel across the world and we play on Wednesday.”
As the captain, Clever saw his team unraveling. Tolkin saw it, too – players getting impatient, coming up too flat, trying plays that no one else expected them to try, and making a lot of mistakes. They’d get a turnover, and give it right back. They’d get a penalty, and knock the ball on.
“I said my words out there; I talked to the boys, and the guys didn’t respond,” fumed Clever. “I don’t know. It’s disappointing.”
Tolkin said he will make changes in the roster if the players don’t start playing better. He also said tactical changes could come if the points don’t start flowing.
“It was a kind of a U-turn for us,” Tolkin said. “I feel like a guy who lost 50 pounds and then gained 30 of it back. We were really excited to get out there and play this game, and it didn’t happen – we didn’t even play, really.”