Tomorrow's Samoan match, long seen as pivotal to America's World Cup campaign, could become the defining contest of Mike Tolkin's tenure.
The Brighton opener has seemed the likeliest stepping stone to a two-win tournament. In the wake of Japan's toppling South Africa, the stakes have increased concomitant with unexpected possibilities of advancing from pool B.
How the Eagles respond to entwined opportunity and pressure will indicate how effectively coach Tolkin and his staff have shaped their charges. Focus, like strategy, is predominantly the coach's responsibility.
"Guys are focused. They know their business and are prepared. They've been working hard', Tolkin told This is American Rugby earlier this week. 'It's been a good build up. When we take the field we'll know everything we need to do.'
After two years assisting Eddie O'Sullivan, the Xavier and New York AC head man has led the Eagles the entire 2012-15 quadrennial. The US has played nearly 8 matches per season, more than the 2007 and 2011 cycles, and logged additional squad training during 'A' assemblies such that its training and competition are broadly comparable to 'tier 2' rivals.
Having dropped long-time captain Todd Clever just weeks before the World Cup, there can be no reason the team's mindset would not bear Tolkin's stamp.
Further, especially if one stipulates the superiority of the opposition's roster (because virtually all its players are UK or French professionals), Tolkin's strategy for reversing July's 21-16 loss to Samoa in San Jose occupies center stage. What did the US learn? What adjustments has it made? Anticipating the September matchup, what did it hold in reserve?
It may seem undue or unfair to saddle 1 game among 35 played over 4 years with such significance. But the circumstances of real opportunity are often unpredictable. In practice, the chance to make one's mark at the World Cup is as good as it gets.
2015 World Cup: United States v Samoa
Blaine Scully (Cardiff Blues); Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz), Seamus Kelly (San Francisco Golden Gate), Thretton Palamo (London Welsh), Chris Wyles (captain, Saracens); AJ MacGinty (Life Univ.), Mike Petri (New York AC); Eric Fry (Newcastle), Zach Fenoglio (Glendale Raptors), Titi Lamositele (Saracens), Hayden Smith (Saracens), Greg Peterson (Glasgow), Al McFarland (New York AC), Andrew Durutalo (USA 7s), Samu Manoa (Toulon).
Reserves: Phil Thiel (Life Univ.), Olive Kilifi (Seattle Saracens), Chris Baumann (Santa Monica), Cameron Dolan (Cardiff Blues), Danny Barrett (USA 7s), Shalmon Suniula (Seattle Saracens), Folau Niua (USA 7s), Brett Thompson (USA 7s)