3 Things: MLR Round 1

Each week brings too many story lines to cover in depth. 3 Things is our weekly feature to rectify that, taking a shallow dive into three story lines that deserve more coverage.

Let the Overreactions Fly

‘SaberCats are going to win it all!’

‘The Jackals/Old Glory couldn’t beat a college team!’

‘Ma’a Nonu is going to win player of the year!’

Week One of the season is peak silly season. In reality, it’s only 1 of 18.

After one round last year, DC was 4th in the East. The SaberCats were 3rd in the West. They’d both finish bottom of their respective conferences.

How will this weekend’s results impact the final standings? Its unlikely they’ll mean much more than last year.

Most rugby coaches will mentally divide the season into quarters. In the MLR, that’s 4 mini seasons with 4 games each. Focus on the first quarter, then move to the next. The first quarter isn’t about winning anything. Its about not losing everything.

Think about Seattle last year. After the addition of Coach Allen Clarke mid-year, the Seawolves turned into a week in, week out competitor, but the season had already passed them by that point.

The first 4-6 games are about staying within five points of a playoff spot and figuring out who you are as a team.

‘Cats Fans Should Feel Good

Let’s not overstate a round one win, but that doesn’t mean it should be discarded out of hand.

While Houston was an inaugural member of the MLR, its spent its existence playing like a perpetual expansion side. Its win over LA was a signature win.

We have to start with LA. Matt Giteau wasn’t back, and Luke Carty is out with a long term injury. But Luke Burton is a Super Rugby veteran at 10. This team is the best from 1 – 15 in the MLR.

Yet, the title defense had a shaky start.

We can breakdown this game until the cows come home, but the biggest issue for the Giltinis wasn’t a lack of star power but a lack of discipline. LA conceded a whopping 11 penalties before halftime. They fought through three yellow cards, including a pair that overlapped for about seven minutes.

None of that should take away from Houston’s win. This a new roster, but it has the power to push teams. If there’s a criticism of the Cats its the fact they didn’t win by more. They couldn’t scratch out any points with LA down to 13, opting to go to the corner time after time with little to show. The assumption that they’d need 35+ to run with LA was clear, but there comes a point where you have to just stretch the lead a little more instead of trying to land every punch on the body.

LA fans can rest easy. This team will be better. The downside? There’s no reason to believe the SaberCats have peaked either.

Dallas Received a Rude Welcome

Dallas pushed their MLR beginnings to 2022. A lesser man might say that they’ve pushed it back by at least one more week.

The Giltinis completely shattered our expectations from an expansion team last year. Dallas fans should expect a much slower climb.

This roster has several players that are best described as ‘very good’. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact we should celebrate it.

Consider the opposition in Austin. The orange boys are true title contenders after a few rough years to start their MLR membership. Now, this team has developed some good players, brought in some high level players, and is building the depth to compete over the course of 16 games. Its a much more developed and professional side.

Dallas will need to do the same. They’ll need to build a culture to start. After that, it’ll be about figuring out who the core of this franchise is, who they can develop over time, and who is expendable. They’ll develop as a squad over the course of the year, but they’ll need to develop as a franchise over 2-3 years before they can truly step into the league’s top tier.

My tip: start working on a permanent head coach.

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