By John Arthur
In an exceptional defensive battle, the Glendale Raptors suffered their first loss of the inaugural season of professional American rugby. Kicking off under cloudy skies and mild temperatures, the Raptors struggled to maintain composure against the California side. Though the outcome doesn’t impact the Glendale side’s first place playoff berth, it was an important contest for the third and fourth placed teams. Raptors team captain Zach Fenoglio made it clear pre-match that Glendale was only focused at the task at hand. Asked about the Raptors record, Fenoglio was clear that the team was focused only on the week 10 match: “Our record is quite an accomplishment, but that was never our goal. We take every week one game at a time. We want to win tonight.”
The match opened with a Glendale penalty in the second minute, and San Diego capitalized with a converted kick: putting the home team up 3-0. Glendale responded by cycling the ball well through their phases, but the Legion defense prevented any offensive opportunities. Line speed from San Diego and Glendale was impressive early, though defense dominated the first half of the contest. A big hit 17 minutes in saw a Legion player carted off. An encouraging thumbs up leaving the pitch, he was transported to hospital for further evaluation.
Kicks and possession changes characterized the remainder of the first half, though San Diego capitalized on another Raptors penalty: a 20th minute conversion putting the California team up 6-0. The Raptors would struggle throughout the match with discipline – giving up not just penalties and possession, but also limiting offensive progress. Messy, frantic play characterized the final moments of the opening half, the Glendale lineout strong, but the rest of the play clearly imperfect.
Coming off the break at a 6-0 deficit, the Raptors had their work cut out for them. Reserves for both teams brought fresh legs to the pitch, but for Glendale they wouldn’t be enough. An exceptional piece of running from San Diego saw the California squad dot down, the successful conversion putting Legion ahead 13-0. Uncharacteristic ball handling errors plagued the Raptors as the team strived to recover. At 59 minutes San Diego converted another try, increasing their lead to 20-0. Another converted penalty kick at 73 minutes would edge San Diego ahead 23-0.
Glendale finally found the try zone as the match drew to a close, Grigor Kerdikoshvili dotting down to put the Raptors on the board 79 minutes in. Too little, too late, the Raptors suffered their first loss of the season. Glendale will host the MLR playoffs this weekend, Seattle and San Diego facing off and the Raptors taking on the Utah Warriors. The winners of each match will vie for the inaugural Major League Rugby Championship on July 7.