Wayward goalkicking may have spelled the difference in Saturday's 13-11 World Cup qualifying loss to Canada, but it was more difficult to separate American progress since Charleston from the conservatism of a Maple Leaf side playing not to blow an 18-point advantage.
The US is approximately 40 percent of the way through its match preparation for the 2015 championship. Having posted a 3-10 record since the 2011 tournament, including an 0-7 2013 season that has become the longest losing streak since 2007-08's 10-game skein, whatever strategic and tactical changes are being made must bear out soon.
'Today proved that we are a team with guts, a team with determination, and that is always the cornerstone of a team. We just need to execute to get the points to win the games', US head coach Mike Tolkin said in an interview with Rugby Canada.
Scoring tries certainly tops the national team's list of problems. The US has tallied just 5 this season, 3 in a single match against Japan. The Edmonton contest also showcased continuing struggles with possession and controling field position.
Turning from strategy to personnel, the Eagles also are struggling to work younger players into the starting lineup. The XV's average age against Ireland was 27; it was the same in the final Pacific Nations match against Japan; and it was the same in the second World Cup qualifier. On this trajectory, the US will be one of the oldest teams at the 2015 World Cup.
Two rounds of November internationals, a two-game World Cup qualifying series against Uruguay, two Pacific Nations tournaments (presuming the International Rugby Board does not again pull the plug, as it recently did on the Pacific Rugby Cup), and perhaps two to four friendlies remain before fall 2015. No more than 4 of the next 20 or so American internationals will be against so-called tier 1 opponents, based on recent evidence.
'Right now, Uruguay in April has to become the center of our world. We have to do what we need to do to win those games', Tolkin said. 'We learned valuable lessons in this series, and we need to take those, especially the positives, and apply it to our qualifier against Uruguay'.
The US resumes action against the New Zealand Maori on November 9 in Philadelphia, before playing Georgia in Tblisi on the 16th, and Russia at an underdetermined location on either the 22d or the 23d. The Uruguay series could be played in Montevideo on April and in the US on the 12th, according to unconfirmed reports. If successful, the 2015 pool would feature South Africa, Scotland, Samoa, and probably Japan.
Canada 13 United States 11 (halftime: tied 8-8)
United States of America
Try: Takudzwa Ngwenya
Penalties: Chris Wyles (2)
Blaine Scully; Takudzwa Ngwenya, Chris Wyles, Andrew Suniula (Folau Niua), Luke Hume; Toby L'Estrange, Robbie Shaw (Mike Petri); Shawn Pittman (Titi Lamositele), Chris Biller (Zach Fenoglio), Eric Fry, Louis Stanfill (Cam Dolan), Brian Doyle, Scott Lavalla, Peter Dahl (Derek Asbun), Todd Clever (captain)
Tries: James Pritchard, Jason Marshall
Penalty: James Pritchard
James Pritchard; Matt Evans, Ciaran Hearn, Nick Blevins, DTH Van Der Merwe; Harry Jones, Phil Mack; Andrew Tiedemann, Ray Barkwill, Jason Marshall, Jon Phelan, Tyler Hotson, Jebb Sinclair, John Moonlight, Aaron Carpenter. Substitutions not available
Referee: JP Doyle (Ireland)
Attendance: not available