CARSON, Calif. – The USA Eagles will look to bring a winning brand of rugby to southern California June 14, when Japan crosses the Pacific Ocean for the Eagles' opening match of the 2014 IRB Pacific Nations Cup.
StubHub Center previously hosted the Eagles’ Pacific Nations Cup match against Tonga last year, as well as the Women’s Eagles’ final match of a three-game series with France. Though both matches were losses for the home teams, support shown for the Eagles prompted a return to the stadium in Carson.
“On a personal level, it’s like a homecoming,” Eagle Tai Tuisamoa, who plays for San Diego’s Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, said. “I know a lot of people and I’m expecting a lot of family and friends to come. I’m excited for it.”
The match has added significance after Japan qualified for the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 last month with an Asian 5 Nations championship. As the Asian 1 qualifier, Japan will play the Eagles, Samoa, Scotland, and South Africa in England next year.
The Eagles have struggled against Japan, winning only three of the last seven meetings since 2000. Last year, tries from Eric Fry, Luke Hume, and Chris Wyles could not save the Eagles from a 38-20 defeat at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
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Tuisamoa, holder of two national team caps, has not yet faced Japan, but could conceivably line up against the Cherry Blossoms twice in the next 15 months, adding to the significance of the match at StubHub Center.
“It’s an awesome build-up for the World Cup,” the lock said. “We’ll see what Japan has. Obviously, from previous summer tours, performances have been disappointing.”
Home to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, StubHub Center holds 30,510 fans and is no stranger to rugby: the first three editions of the USA Sevens event were held in Carson.
StubHub Center is one of five soccer-specific stadiums the Eagles have called home in the past year, along with BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas, Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C., PPL Park in Chester, Pa., and Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in Marietta, Ga.
New attendance records were set at BBVA Compass Stadium for highest-attended match and PPL Park for largest sold-out match, though StubHub Center’s capacity is higher than both of those stadiums.
Tuisamoa was one of the Eagles on the pitch in Pennsylvania against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks as the sold-out stands deafened the haka challenge proposed by the visitors.
“Compared to that Maori game, where we had a sold-out crowd, we’re expecting the same thing with family and friends and the whole U.S.A. nation behind us,” Tuisamoa said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Southern California is a growing rugby community, consisting of more than 4,000 collegiate and club players and over 200 teams. In the Men’s Division 1A playoffs, San Diego State represented the region as one of four California schools.