U.S. Men’s Sevens Team Eying Medals in Los Angeles – and Beyond

by Drew Silverman

Marcus Tupuola runs with the ball to score a try against Fiji during the HSBC SVNS rugby tournament on Dec. 02, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Getty Images)

Marcus Tupuola isn’t going to be picky.

Gold. Silver. Bronze. They all sound amazing to Tupuola, who is in pure “medal mode” these days.

As the U.S. men’s sevens rugby team prepares for a home tournament this weekend in Los Angeles, Tupuola is salivating at the opportunity to bring home a medal after the Americans fell just short of the podium at the HSBC SVNS event in Vancouver last weekend.

Plus, Tupuola has his eyes on a medal at the Olympic Games this summer, as Team USA has already qualified for Paris.

“That means everything. That’s our goal,” Tupuola said. “We want to medal in the Olympics. Gold, silver, bronze, whatever it is, we’ll take it.”

Since rugby sevens became an Olympic sport in 2016, the U.S. has finished ninth and sixth, respectively, in the last two Games. Tupuola has been a member of the team since 2019 but did not participate in Tokyo three years ago.

If anything, that has given him a greater sense of hunger to help the Dawgs be successful this season and, particularly, on the sport’s biggest stage in Paris.

“It would just validate all the hard work this program has put in,” said Tupuola, a 28-year-old native of Carson, California. “We’re getting close. It’d mean a lot, and it would help put rugby on the radar. The kids would see there’s something to yearn for in that sport. I think it would do wonders to help grow the sport.”

In the meantime, Tupuola and his teammates are focused on this weekend’s event in Los Angeles, where they are hoping to build off an up-and-down showing in Vancouver. The Dawgs finished fourth in Western Canada as they advanced to the semifinals of the event before losing to Argentina and France in their final two contests.

“Overall, it felt like a bad fourth, but it was our highest finish this season,” Tupuola said. “We need all the points we can get. We’ve just got to apply our game plan and keep doing it and not drift away from the game plan. And I think we’ll be good. Really good.”

The Dawgs open pool play Friday night against Samoa, one of the opponents they defeated in Vancouver. They then conclude pool play by taking on Australia and New Zealand.

Marcus Tupuola scores a try against Fiji during the HSBC SVNS rugby tournament on Dec 02, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Getty Images)

Their pool will provide a tough test, but the team is pumped to get the chance to play on home soil.

"We are very excited to be playing at home this weekend and the opportunity to play in front of our friends and family,” said U.S. coach Mike Friday. “We are in a very physical pool that is recognized as the spiciest of the pools, but there is no easy pool or game in the men’s world series.”

As for Tupuola, he is focused on doing everything he can to help the team despite not playing significant minutes in last week’s tournament.

Part of being a professional is being ready at all times. The coaching staff has told him to stay game-ready by diving into film, knowing the opponent from every angle and understanding how to fully execute the game plan on both ends of the field.

“You just want to be out there playing,” said Tupuola, “but it keeps you patient, it keeps you on your toes. It makes you savior that moment when you’re on the field. You can’t take it for granted. When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to take it at full force. It just makes me hungrier and keeps me humble. Sports is a tough gig. You can’t just walk up and say, ‘I want to play.’ It’s hard mentally, but you’ve got to jump through the hurdles.”

Regardless of how much playing time he gets in tournaments going forward, Tupuola doesn’t take his time on the U.S. roster for granted.

“This means everything,” Tupuola said. “I played rugby as a kid, so this has always been a dream of mine. This was always my primary goal — never secondary. I always wanted to represent my country. I always think about my family and my trials and tribulations in getting here. I always think of this as being bigger than myself. … You represent everybody who has been here before and everybody who will come after you. It’s an honor.”

The ultimate honor, however, sits about five months away.

“Obviously the end goal for us, as a squad, is Paris,” Tupuola said. “We’re building towards that and the sky’s the limit. The only thing that’s stopping us is us. Every team knows what we’re capable of. They know that when they play us, anything can happen. But it’s on us to reel it in. We’ve got so much pace and power on this team that we can do anything.”