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USA Looks to LA Sevens With Squad Changes

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USA Looks to LA Sevens With Squad Changes

Maceo Brown flips the ball inside as Perry Baker and Joe Schroeder are in support during the Malaga 7s in Spain. Martin Seras Lima photo.

USA Men's 7s Head Coach Mike Friday has chosen his team to play in this weekend's LA Sevens.

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Captain and leading try-scorer Kevon Williams is not in the squad as he picked up an injury during the team's camp and was only just recently ruled out. Stephen Tomasin will instead captain the side. Veterans Joe Schroeder, Folau Niua, Maceo Brown, and two-time World 7s Player of the Year Perry Baker are also in the side, but no Carlin Isles.

There's a return engagement for Maka Unufe, who has been in the USA 7s program off and on since 2011, when he was still a teenager. His last time with the USA team was in LA and Vancouver in 20202. Cody Melphy, who has captained the USA at times and is a steadying presence in the middle of the backline, also returns.

The USA team hosted Korea, Japan, France, Uruguay, and Argentina in Chula Vista in two different scrimmage series, giving those teams that weren't in the Commonwealth Games some live game time. It was, said Tomasin, hugely valuable.

The USA will arrive in Los Angeles with Series leaders South Africa awaiting them for match one of tournament play. The USA have matched up well against the Blitzboks this year, walking away with a nail-biting 12-7 victory over them in Singapore when these two teams last met. This opening fixture will be an opportunity for the USA to set pace and engage the home crowd advantage from the get-go. Next up will be New Zealand who arrive in LA with intermittent competition, having missed the first half of this year’s series and filling the summer break with a bronze medal finish at the Commonwealth Games. The Eagles and All Blacks Sevens have only faced off once this year, in another close affair that fell the New Zealand way. Pool play will then close with a North American border-battle as Canada take on the USA. Though another tough pool that the USA have frequently drawn this year, Los Angeles comes after a constructive training period, and as ever, the tenacity and passion of playing on home soil. Dignity Health Sports Park is primed for an electric finish to the Eagle’s season and precursor to the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

“We have been working extremely hard following the last leg in London, primarily on our physical preparation and robustness to go for 14 minutes or more, as this is an area we need to continue to mature in," said Friday. "As an evolving group, we have continued to work on the foundations of the game so that we can be more consistent in those fundamental moments which we are currently not winning, more due to our actions rather than the opposition. These last four weeks we have had a number of visiting teams and competitive matches hosting Argentina, France, Uruguay, Korea and Japan throughout the month, which hopefully will stand us in good stead this coming weekend." 

Friday said his side will miss Williams.

“As always, injuries are part of the game and unfortunately we will be without Kevon Williams for the next few months due to an injury picked up during this block. We are hugely disappointed for him as he was not only leading the boys so well on and off the pitch, he was also playing fantastically well on both sides of the ball," said Friday. "Stephen Tomasin will step up to captain the team, a player with huge experience and most importantly he will lead by example and give us the best opportunity to be successful. No doubt Joe Schroeder will be a calming dominant figure as well, in what is a group of death. We have been involved in a number of spicy groups this season, but this challenge surpasses all others I would say. New Zealand will be hungry and fierce coming into this, along with South Africa who will be relentlessly chasing the Series title foillowing their Commonwealth gold last month. To round the dynamic off we have an all encompassing North American derby with Canada, which are always highly emotional tussles. 

"We are fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead and excited to have the World Rugby Sevens Series back on home soil for the first time in nearly three years. If we play our game to our potential, we can go deep into this final tournament.”

The rest of the side is relatively new to the World Series.

Aaron Cummings is a tall, speedy player somewhat reminiscent of Baker. He played rugby at Grand Haven HS in Michigan and with Davenport University, and has been knocking on the door for some more USA time.

Gavan D'Amore was a standout for AIC and Brookline HS in Massachusetts. He's 30 years old but he has not been a regular on the USA team. A versatile player who can handle himself as a forward or a back, he has scored two tries in the World Series this season.

David Still played football at Saginaw Valley State before taking up rugby and signing with Glendale's crossover academy. Tall, deceptively strong, and very quick, he is the first player out of Glendale's crossover project to get international time. He has already scored four tries in the World Series.

Malacchi Esdale is a shifty player with a good burst of speed. We was part of the USA's squad at the Tokyo Olympics, but is still working his way into more playing time. Esdale played some rugby for the Naples HS team in Florida and University of Central Florida. He has six tries for the USA this season on the World Series circuit. In the shortened 2021 season he actually led the USA in tries with 12.

Naima Fuala'au is perhaps the most established of this list, having played in 14 tournaments. The Washington state native is a playmaker and the heir apparent to Folau Niua, although perhaps more accurately he has taken on the Madison Hughes role after Hughes retired from the Eagles. 

Lucas Lacamp. The UCLA standout and finalist for the Rudy Scholz Award, Lacamp got a look with the USA team this spring and has turned heads. He has shot to be near the top of the try-scoring rolls, and stands 2nd among USA players with 23. He has vision, pace, and, most importantly, acceleration. He has led or tied for the lead among USA players in tries in the last three World Series tournaments.