Since missing the 2014 Canada Cup (also held at the Richmond Olympic Oval and presented by BC Wheelchair Sports and the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association), the USA national team has fallen off the podium. Fans were stunned, when at the 2012 Canada Cup, USQRA (United States Quad Rugby Association) were handed their first sanctioned defeat in nearly a decade. (You can watch that game here, btw. It’s one of my favourites.) Japan became the second nation, ever, to beat a then-impenetrable USA squad. Times have changed. The USA briefly slipped all the way to 3rd place internationally after a disappointing 2014 Worlds, and has been held to 2nd place since April 2015. With Rio right around the corner, we’ve got 3 American clubs topped to the brim with experienced Paralympians. Let’s meet some clubs.
The Seattle Slam have been staples at the Vancouver Invitational, and they have a cheering squad willing to cross the border to fire the club up. New additions to the squad Michael Lykins (2.0) and Brian Moore (2.0) will be ones to watch out for. Daisuke Ikezaki, of the Japanese national team, will be playing for Team Seattle for the duration of the tournament. He’s one of the fastest and most complete players in the game, and was instrumental in helping Team Japan defeat Great Britain at the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge last fall for a 4th place tournament finish. Ike trains with the Slam, and you can expect him to get a good ribbing when Japan and Seattle compete. The Slam will also be looking forward to an early match against the Portland Pounders; they’ll be playing them in the USQRA Pacific Sectionals from March 18th – 20th on home soil.
And then there’s the Portland Pounders. Led by longterm national team member (and two-time Paralympic medalist) Seth McBride, these guys are also regulars at the Vancouver Invitational. They narrowly lost to the Slam during the inaugural Cascadia Cup over the weekend, a tournament in which Will Groulx slid back into action with the Pounders for the first time in (at least) a year. Max Woodbury will be another familiar face; he’s been playing with the Pounders for 19 years.
The Stripes round out the American clubs coming to the tournament, and ho-boy. I think every other club in the tournament is going to have their hands full playing against this stacked lineup. All seven members are part of the USA national wheelchair rugby team, and they’re reasonably well rounded too, with enough low & midpoint players to get substitutions throughout the game. This hodgepodge of veterans has everything to lose here.
Edit – The story has been updated on two points;
(1) The USA Eagles has renamed themselves USA Stripes to avoid a conflict with the able-bodied club with the same name, and
(2) to properly reflect USQRA’s IWRF ranking, because I goofed.