The Good, the Bad, and the Questions - Season Opener Edition
By Alistair Kirsch-Poole
Feb 22, 2023 - 5:30pm
Old Glory was dominant in Saturday's win over the league's newest team, the Chicago Hounds. It was OGDC's first ever win in a season opener, and after a disappointing 2022 campaign it was just what the fanbase needed.
Collin Grosse's professional debut
Old Glory scored literally seconds into the match. Chicago failed to catch the kickoff, with Old Glory recovering the ball deep in Hound's territory. A couple phases later, Collin Grosse was showing off his athleticism, diving over the line for score in the corner. The whole process took less than a minute.
Grosse did more than just score in his debut match as a pro, though. He also put in a ton of work defensively with 19 tackles, fourth most in the league this week. That's a lot of tackles. If he keeps that up all season, he will surpass Cory Daniel's league-leading tackle count from last year.
Perhaps most impressive, though, were Grosse's athleticism and fitness. MLR is a big step up from college rugby, especially physically, and it often takes players a year or two to adjust to the level. For Grosse to step on the field and show off the athleticism scoring a try, and then work hard on defense for the next 74 minutes is truly a feat.
93% of tackles made
While we're on the defense, how about this stat: not only did Old Glory make by far the most tackles, they also did so at a 93% success rate. That was the best in the league this week, and if Old Glory can keep it up, it will make them one of the best tackling teams in MLR history, on par with LA in 2021.
And there's another little positive wrinkle hidden in the high numbers. The fact that OGDC is having to make so many tackles is actually a positive. While they aren't disruptive as a defense, they are so consistent that Chicago was unable to make much forward progress. They had to go phase after phase after phase, which meant eventually they made mistakes or tried to force things, resulting in a turnover. A high number of tackles attempted means that OGDC was forcing Chicago to work hard on attack and forcing them to be inefficient.
Scoring in buckets
Old Glory didn't have trouble taking home the tries in this one. Much like we saw in preseason, OGDC is more than capable so scoring from anywhere, with anyone. Each of the six tries was scored in a different way by a different player, which is great news. It's much harder to come up with a defensive plan when the threat is anyone, anywhere, at any time.
A team effort
It was surprisingly hard to think of standout individual performances. It was a truly a team effort, with everyone working hard and everyone contributing. The six tries? All scored by different players. The tackling? Made by a wide range of players. The meters gained? Spread evenly between the backs, with the forwards contributing a fair amount as well.
More than anything this year, the team has become a team, in the truest sense, a collective effort that exceeds the sum of its parts.
Yes, there was still some bad. As good as things were, there is room for improvement.
Kicking was a mixed bag
Kurt Baker had a great game, controlling the game from his boot and at one point getting a 50-22. However, he also put several kicks out on the full. Meanwhile, Tito Diaz Bonilla made just four of his seven kicks off the tee for a 63% success rate, leaving six points on the field.
I'll be generous and blame it on the wind, which can definitely be weird at Segra. The surrounding landscape means that the wind changes the higher a kick goes, and with the gusty wind of Saturday added to the mix it made a difficult place to kick. Still, I would hope that our players would be able to handle the vagaries of their home turf better than their opponents, and that was not the case this weekend.
Chicken in retrograde
Mike Dabulas had a bit of an off night. He wasn't terrible, not at all, but given the high standards that he himself set in the last couple seasons, Saturday's performance wasn't great. He was too cautious at times, and I think he was aware of that, because at other times he seemed to overcompensate and push the line. There were multiple times under high balls where he seemed to hesitate on whether he should contest or not.
I used the word "retrograde" for a reason, though. Apparent retrogression is the phenomenon where planets appear to travel backwards through the sky for a short period of time. However, it's only temporary, and the soon start traveling in the right direction again. Similarly, I think Chicken appears to be going backwards at the moment. My guess, though, is that it's related to his injury. The guy has been out of the game for a long time now, so it's understandable that he is still finding his sea legs. Hopefully this was just a blip, the knocking loose of some rust.
The backs still lack structure
It's something I've mentioned a few times in a few places, but the backs don't seem to do a lot tactically. They mostly seem to rely on hard running and swinging the ball wide. While both of those are valid strategies, I would love to see the team incorporate a more options-oriented attack, one that gives our flyhalf multiple places to send the ball depending on where he thinks the best opportunity is. We finally have experienced flyhalves who have shown that they can handle that decision making, so I'd like to see us leverage that.
So far, it hasn't been a problem. Chicago didn't have the coherence on defense to stop us, and frankly I don't think anyone will be able to stop us completely even as we are. But if we do get slowed at some point, if a team can hold back the chaos and force us to beat them honestly, will our backs be able to step up? It remains to be seen.
Will Old Glory get tired?
As covered above, Old Glory's defense operates on a high-effort strategy of just making the tackles and forcing the opponent to play inefficiently. The downside of that strategy is that it's clearly exhausting. The team made well over 200 tackles, more than any other team this week, and it was clear that players were tired by the end of the match.
Against Chicago, it didn't cost us, but what about in a closer match? Will the team be able to keep up the pace for the whole 80 minutes if things get tight? Over the course of the season, will the toll on players' bodies be too much to handle?
When will Old Glory play at Audi Field?
San Diego proved something last weekend, attracting a mind-bending, record-breaking 11,423 fans to their season opener. Last year, the team averaged less than 2,000 fans. It has rewritten what is possible for an MLR team attendance-wise, and other teams ought to take note.
For Old Glory, that means playing at Audi, even if it's just one match a year for now. Because at Segra, there's hard cap on the number of people who will be willing to make the trek, and we now know it doesn't have to be that way.
There's more to it, of course, and I will have an article out later this week that explores this topic in a lot more depth.