(Photos: USA's Tai Enosa [top], Zack Test [middle] and Luke Hume [bottom] on the attack. Judy Teasdale photos)
If you’ve heard it once, then you’ve heard it a million times: The USA’s restarts are a hallmark of their 7s play. The Eagles deserve the acclaim, as it was one of the highlights of the NACRA 7s championship today. It was one of the few areas of the game on which the team got plenty of practice, which is saying a lot since the Eagles only had two, instead of three, matches today.
“The kickers were fairly accurate,” USA 7s coach Alex Magleby said. “The opposition was inexperienced, so all the kickers had to do was put it in the general area, and our jumpers were able to do their job. Better teams will be able to cover that, but it was a good start.”
Yes, the jumpers did their job, and it wasn’t just Zach Test and Colin Hawley leaping down the sidelines. Maka Unufe was just as solid, same with Luke Hume, Rocco Mauer, Peter Tiberio, Taylor Makate, Mike Palefau. Everyone played a role in keeping the ball in hand.
“You’ve got to put some uncertainty into the receiving team,” Magleby said. “They don’t know where the ball’s going and have to move their best aerialists around, challenge them. It’s creating the one-on-one matchup, just like any other set piece really.”
“We’ve been working on a lot of aspects of our game,” Mokate moved the focus away from the restarts. “We’ve been working on our kick returns, set pieces, defensive line, so it was good to get the practice today and prove ourselves on the field. It’s been a long training session but well worth it.”
Mokate in particular had a nice try off a kickoff. He first considered the pass to Mauer on the wing, but then trusted his own speed as he took on the last 30 meters alone.
“Nothing personal against Rocco,” Mokate said. “We have a long-standing tradition together. It was a show-me ball, and we had a good laugh about it afterward. He’s always throwing me dummies, so it was nice to return the favor.”
The success rate of the USA’s restarts will be key should they meet Canada in the final. The hometown team not only will have the crowd behind them, but they’ve had more time playing together as a squad. Players like Hume, Jack Halalilo and Carlin Isles, while dynamic, still need more time on the field with their teammates.
“There are pros and cons,” Magleby said of the two-game Saturday. “You don’t get as many reps as you want, and our team is still coming together. On the positive, we got to rest some guys today.”
Where Canada and USA will be even – at least by the start of tomorrow’s quarterfinals – is their untested defense. When pressed into service, Jamaica was able to slap through some outstretched American arms.
“The first game [against Jamaica], the second half – we were forced to play defense way too long,” Magleby recalled. “We’ve got to do a better job just closing down the space and turning over ball.”
To be fair, the Eagles did well to frenzy Jamaica, who advanced and retreated five meters on their 22 meter before surrendering possession.
“It’s not a concern, it’s a building block for us,” Mokate said of the untested defense. “It’s just the nature of the game.”
The USA will kick off tomorrow’s quarterfinals against the Bahamas at 10:40 a.m.