Week seven of Old Glory D.C.’s 2023 MLR campaign already upon us, and features what may be Old Glory’s most daunting fixture yet, with a road trip to Southern California to face off against the San Diego Legion.
This preview is tricky to sugar coat, San Diego are among the best teams in the MLR this year. They are tied for first place in the highly competitive Western Conference, second only to the Seattle Seawolves on points difference. They boast a 4-1 record, only tasting defeat in a visit to the Houston Sabercats, and have scored an impressive 20 tries in their five matches, averaging 29 points per game.
Legion’s performances thus far this season have been professional and efficient, including a shutout victory against the Dallas Jackals in March and victories in two Eastern Conference tests against the New England Free Jacks (29-12) and Rugby ATL (10-35). They have also gone three-for-three in home matches at San Diego State University’s Snapdragon Stadium, the largest venue in MLR with a capacity of 35,000.
Between the flawless home record, formidable arena, and lengthy journey, Old Glory are facing perhaps their biggest challenge of the season so far, and the side will be bracing to upset one of MLR’s most serious title contenders.
Old Glory arrive in the Golden State with a 2-3 record and sit third in the Eastern Conference. Despite a heart-wrenching loss to NOLA Gold last time out, the side is just 6 points off division leaders New England and could move up to second with a result this weekend. Our primary shortcoming against NOLA was a somewhat toothless offence, which, despite its vigour and relentless attacks, struggled with breaking the NOLA line. Our backs exhibited a wealth of energy and creativity, with Marcos Young and Mike Dabulas dictating the game from the back three positions and dealing well with the wet conditions. Our discipline also played to our strengths, as we conceded just seven penalties over the 80 minutes.
Our maestro in midfield, Tito Diaz Bonilla’s kicking was once again incredible in both its efficacy and consistency. He was responsible for 12 of our 17 points, scoring 4 out of 5 attempts at the posts, as well as kicking a further 493m of territorial kicks and leading the team in running meters. His wealth of experience is obvious even to the uninitiated rugby fan, and his signing proves to be increasingly shrewd with every passing match. He still leads Major League Rugby in points scored (52), successful goal kicking (19), and kicking meters (3350).
Our captain Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz sits second in the league for carries (71), and Collin Grosse sits fourth for tackles made (73).
On the San Diego side of things, there are a few players worth keeping an eye on. Fly-half Will Hooley plays a similar role to Tito and boasts a similarly cosmopolitan resume. He won the Gallagher Premiership in 2014 with Northampton Saints, and has 20 Eagles test appearances to his name. He aims to dictate play with his kicking, and has clocked 1455 kicking meters so far this season.
Also worth looking at are scrum half Nate Augspurger and wing Mikey Te’o. Just like his partner half-back, Augspurger also has a wealth of Eagles appearances, playing both sevens and fifteens for the national side. He has scored on four occasions this season for San Diego, the most of anyone on the team, and the OGs will have a job on their hands to keep him contained. Electric winger and Long Beach native Mikey Te’o will be equally tricky to manage, with his speed and acceleration allowing him to record impressive carry meters.
This trip to sunny SoCal will mark Old Glory’s biggest challenge of the season so far. Bringing home a result would mark a major statement of intent from the team, but it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. After getting upset by NOLA last time out, it is time for Old Glory to play the role of the underdog and do some upsetting of our own.
-By Arthur Ferridge, @rthur_ferridge