Since 2001, 10 states have hosted a Men’s Eagles international rugby match. In the one-year time span from July 2013 to July 2014, a total of 11 international rugby events will have been held across six states, excluding the USA Sevens and Atlanta 7s events in Nevada and Georgia, respectively.
Let’s take a look at where the Eagles have been since the turn of the millennium.
The British Invasion hit San Francisco, Calif., in 1966 when The Beatles played their final concert at Candlestick Park. Thirty-three years later, England again came knocking at the West Coast’s doorstep.
Coming off of a Quarterfinal exit at the IRB Rugby World Cup 1999, England traveled to North America for two tests against Canada and one against the Eagles at Boxer Stadium in San Francisco June 16. Boxer Stadium had been the unofficial home of the Eagles from 1996 to 2000, hosting 12 of 17 matches before the record, 106-8 loss to England.
The Eagles were then visited by South Africa, who defeated the All Blacks in the World Cup Third-Place Match in 1999. The Springboks won one of three matches in Europe before they headed to Houston, Texas, for a Dec. 1 match at Robertson Stadium. Though the Eagles played a New Zealand select side in 1980 in front of a record 14,000-plus crowd, the test against South Africa set an official record with more than 13,000 fans in attendance.
The Eagles’ stretch of matches against Tier 1 nations continued in the summer of 2002 when they returned to San Francisco, again at Boxer Stadium for a June 22 match against Scotland. The 65-23 loss was the Eagles’ third consecutive defeat, and it did not get better in the Windy City.
Rockne Stadium was the destination of choice for the Eagles when playing in Chicago. July 13, 2002, marked the fourth time international rugby was played on the Rockne pitch. The match, against Canada, was one of six the Eagles played as part of the qualification process for the IRB Rugby World Cup 2003. The Eagles lost their first match to Canada in Markham, Ontario, and added a second in Chicago. It was the last time Rockne Stadium held an international rugby match.
Pool play continued in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the Eagles played Chile Aug. 10 at Murray Park Stadium, which would go on to host the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2012. The Eagles ended their five-match losing streak with the win against Chile and another win against Uruguay at Boxer Stadium.
Qualification eluded the Eagles, however, as two losses in South America cemented a 2-0-4 record and third place in the pool. The Eagles moved to the Repechage and thrashed Spain, 62-13, in the first leg April 12 in Madrid. The second leg was held at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., April 27. Just a few months earlier, the only tenant of Lockhart Stadium – Miami Fusion FC – was contracted by Major League Soccer, giving the Eagles a pitch free of wear and tear. They took advantage and secured World Cup qualification with a 58-13 win.
The Eagles extended their home winning streak to four in the last match played at Boxer Stadium May 17. The Eagles scored 11 tries in a 69-27 win.
Fiji, France, and Scotland were each too much for the Eagles in Pool B at the World Cup, with a sole win against Japan not enough to reach the Quarterfinals. France toured North America and won the rematch against the Eagles July 3 at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Conn. It was the only home match of the season and drew nearly 6,000 fans.
Another one-and-done home match was held at Dillon Stadium June 4, the first time the Eagles had played Wales since 2000 in Cardiff. More than 8,000 fans witnessed Wales extend its unbeaten run against the U.S. to six matches with a 77-3 victory.
USA Rugby and Rugby Canada joint-hosted the 2006 Churchill Cup in June, with the Eagles playing their matches against Ireland A and the New Zealand Māori in Santa Clara.
Buck Shaw Stadium opened in 1962 as a multipurpose facility, hosting baseball, football, and soccer events before renovations in 2005 made it a soccer-specific stadium for Santa Clara University and the San Jose Earthquakes, who would re-enter the MLS in 2008.
The Eagles did not find much solace in the fact Brazil had used the stadium to prepare for its 1994 FIFA World Cup win, as two losses in pool play placed the Eagles in the fifth-place match against Canada.
The only win for the Eagles on the Buck Shaw Stadium pitch came less than a month later when they hosted Barbados in an IRB Rugby World Cup 2007 Qualifier. It was a record victory, too, as seven Eagles combined for 13 tries in the 91-0 win.
The Eagles did not qualify for the World Cup due to Canada’s superior record and point differential in the qualifying pool, but they had another shot at it with a two-leg series against Uruguay. A 42-13 win in Montevideo gave the Eagles breathing room for the second leg at Stanford University Oct. 7, and Paul Emerick scored two tries to secure qualification for the Eagles.
Less than two years after its grand opening, the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park hosted the three Finals matches of the 2008 Churchill Cup, including the Eagles’ loss to Canada in the Bowl Final.
Rio Tinto Stadium, another soccer-specific facility used by the MLS’ Real Salt Lake, hosted the Eagles’ only home match of the November window against Uruguay one month after it hosted its first MLS match. Though only 5,000 fans attended the match at Utah’s self-proclaimed “Home of Rugby,” which seats 20,000, it was the largest crowd to witness the Eagles play Los Teros until 2014. The stadium in Sandy went on to host USA Rugby’s College National Championships for several years.
The Eagles hosted two Tier 1 nations in the summer of 2009. Ten thousand fans witnessed a close match between the Eagles and Ireland May 31 in the last international test held at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara before Wales visited Toyota Park in Chicago a week later.
USA Rugby found use in another MLS stadium in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., for the 2009 Churchill Cup in June. It was the first time all matches of the tournament had been held solely in the United States, with Infinity Park at Glendale hosting the pool matches and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park hosting the Finals.
The Eagles played non-test matches against the Argentina Jaguars and England Saxons at Glendale’s 5,000-seat rugby stadium, the first of many matches at Infinity Park. Georgia awaited the Eagles in the Bowl Final in Commerce City, and Colin Hawley scored a try in his first capped match for the Eagles to aid a 31-13 victory. The Eagles had gone three years without a trophy in the Churchill Cup.
The five summer matches served as preparation for the Eagles’ World Cup-qualifying campaign, which went through Canada once again. The Eagles hosted the first leg of the Qualifier July 4 at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C. The stadium is home to USL Pro’s Charleston Battery, who modeled the stadium on the English football experience complete with a built-in pub.
Ten years after the stadium opened, the Eagles celebrated the fourth of July with a 12-6 victory against the Maple Leafs, the last time a victory against the neighbors to the north was achieved. Despite the first leg advantage, however, Canada earned the Americas 1 qualifying spot in New Zealand with a 41-18 win in Edmonton, Alberta.
The Eagles’ November window was reserved for their second attempt at qualification, and what better place to play in November than Florida? Broward County Park in Lauderhill took over Florida hosting duties from Lockhart Stadium, which was inhabited by Miami FC that year.
Estadio Charrua in Montevideo hosted a 27-22, first-leg win for the Eagles before the return trip to Florida. The Eagles improved to 2-0 all-time in the Sunshine State and qualified for World Cup 2011 with a 27-6 win in front of more than 2,000 fans.
Infinity Park again hosted the Churchill Cup in 2010, but just the pool matches between Canada, France A, and Uruguay (Pool A) and England Saxons, Russia, and the Eagles (Pool B). The Eagles defeated Russia in their opening pool match, their only full test of the competition, before falling to England Saxons a week before the Finals at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Red Bull Arena, constructed for the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, opened earlier in the year and was made available because of the MLS’ break for the World Cup. France A took the Plate from the Eagles, 24-10.
The Eagles played five matches to prepare for the World Cup in New Zealand, and Infinity Park hosted the only home match of the five Aug. 13. It was the back end of a home-and-home series with the neighbors, with the Maple Leafs taking the first round in Toronto a week earlier. The home crowd could not buoy the Eagles, who suffered a third consecutive defeat to Canada.
A turning point in Eagles home international tests was reached in 2012, both on the field and in the stands. Infinity Park hosted the 17th-ranked Eagles against 14th-ranked Georgia during the summer. The Eagles had lost a close match to Canada north of the border to open the year, but four try-scorers helped Mike Tolkin earn a victory in his first match at the helm.
During the planning stages of the construction of the MLS’ Houston Dynamo’s new, soccer-specific stadium in 2007, USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville made sure the BBVA Compass Stadium pitch would have enough space to abide by IRB regulations.
“They took out a row of seats for us,” he said.
It paid off, as the stadium was bombarded with more than 17,000 fans for the summer test against Italy June 23, the highest-attended international test in the United States at the time. It was a losing effort for the Eagles, but a long-term win for USA Rugby.
The Eagles finished 2012 with two wins and a loss during the Fall Tour, and were looking ahead to a busy 2013 schedule, which included Tier 1 opponent Ireland and an IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier playoff series against Canada.
Rugby fans outdid themselves June 8, nearly filling BBVA Compass Stadium stands with 20,181 people to set another record. The Eagles rewarded the paying fans with a hard-fought, 15-12 loss.
The MLS’ other soccer-specific facility in California was the next destination for the Eagles. Home to the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, StubHub Center (formerly The Home Depot Center until two weeks prior to the match) seats 30,510 and celebrated its 10-year anniversary at the beginning of June. There were no celebrations for the Eagles June 15, however, as Tonga ended their IRB Pacific Nations Cup title hopes with an 18-9 win.
The Eagles finished their summer schedule in Japan and returned to the United States’ east coast to conclude the calendar year. Blackbaud Stadium was again utilized for rugby in August for the first leg of a Rugby World Cup qualifier against Canada. More than 5,000 fans could not will the Eagles to victory like the 2009 win, and the Eagles would eventually seek qualification through alternative means following the second-leg defeat.
PPL Park in Chester, Pa., set a record for the largest sold-out rugby match when the Philadelphia Union’s pitch was painted with the logos of USA Rugby and the New Zealand Maori All Blacks Nov. 9. A capacity crowd of 18,500 fans deafened the Maori All Blacks’ haka with chants of “U-S-A” as the lights of the Commodore Barry Bridge’s lights illuminated the Delaware River. The Eagles trailed, 22-19, with seven minutes remaining in the second half, but a late Maori All Blacks try sealed the match.
Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University had held soccer and lacrosse events in its short history (the stadium was built in 2010), but never rugby – until 2014. Following Atlanta 7s – a stop on the 2013-14 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series – the Georgia stadium hosted the second leg of the World Cup qualifier between the Eagles and Uruguay.
The Eagles had plenty of work to do to satisfy more than 6,000 fans at Fifth Third Bank Stadium after drawing the first match in Montevideo. Starting scrumhalf Mike Petri gave the Eagles their first lead of the match with a try in the 61st minute and the Eagles qualified for England with a 32-13 win and 59-40 aggregate scoreline.
BBVA Compass Stadium and StubHub Center each hosted a Summer Series match in 2014, with Scotland ditching the raincoats for sunny Houston and Japan flying across the Pacific Ocean for an IRB Pacific Nations Cup match in Carson. Both teams are in the Eagles’ World Cup pool.
The Eagles will help christen Bonney Field in Sacramento against Canada. The stadium, being constructed on the Cal Expo grounds in the California capital, opens the night before the Pacific Nations Cup match with its future host, Sacramento Republic FC of USL Pro, playing Colorado Rapids Reserves.
With the announcement of the New Zealand All Blacks heading to Chicago for a match at Soldier Field this November, the Eagles will return to Illinois for the first time since 2009. Home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, Soldier Field seats more than 61,000 fans and could set a new record for highest-attended international rugby match in the United States.