Major League Rugby 2020 season preview

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Major League Rugby (MLR) will be in its third season next year. For the first two years of its existence, MLR’s format had all teams in a single table format. However there will now be two divisions, the Eastern Division and the Western Division.

Major League Rugby’s YouTube account revealed their new format this year. Each division will have six teams each, totalling the number to 12 teams in total.

There are also some high-profile names taking to the field that will attract the attention of a global audience, including World Cup-winning All Black Ma’a Nonu (see main picture).

MLR – Eastern Division

The two semi-finalists from last year, the Toronto Arrows and Rugby United New York and original MLR team NOLA Gold will be joined by three new expansion teams.

These teams are Rugby ATL, Old Glory DC, and New England Free Jacks.

Rugby ATL and Old Glory DC are brand new teams entering MLR. However, the New England Free Jacks are like the Toronto Arrows. They played competitively against MLR and aspiring MLR sides since 2018. They have been granted permission to play top tier rugby union in North America.

MLR – Western Division

All six western division teams have been in MLR since its inception.

The two-time defending champions the Seattle Seawolves and last year finalist San Diego Legion are the teams to watch in the division.

On the flip side, the other four western teams finished at the bottom of the MLR Standings last year. In particular, the Austin Herd (changed name from Austin Elite), finished their MLR Season with 2 points and lost all 16 games in the regular season last year.

The Utah Warriors and Houston Sabercats did not do much better, however, both will look to turn their fortunes this season.

The Colorado Raptors – who changed their name from the Glendale Raptors – have hope to qualify for the playoffs next year. They were not close to making the playoffs this year, but their record was decent with seven wins, seven losses, and two draws.

Another change to Major League Rugby is the playoffs as the number of teams have increased from 4 to 6.

Major League Rugby playoff format change

The MLR playoffs had the top four teams make it to the playoffs this year. Next year, this will increase to six teams.

According to Derek Bressette of Layman’s Sports, the top seed of each conference gets a bye to the conference finals. The second and third-placed teams of each conference, will then face each other. The winner of that playoff match will face the top seed of their conference.

The Conference champions [semifinals winners] will then face each other for the major prize. The Americas Rugby Shield.

All MLR teams will have a 16 game schedule to determine who will make the playoffs.

Major League Rugby Schedule

The schedule for the regular season will start on Saturday, February 8 where NOLA Gold will host Old Glory DC. Also, on the same day, the Houston Sabercats will host the Colorado Raptors.

Because of the weather, the Toronto Arrows will be last of the nine teams to host their home opener. Their first home game will be against the Utah Warriors on Saturday April. 4.

The Arrows will also play their last four home games at Lamport Stadium. The first home match at Lamport Stadium will be on Sunday, May. 3rd.

Another possible big change to MLR is an academy league for the pro rugby union league.

Major League Rugby Academy League

The Toronto Arrows have publicly acknowledged a need for an MLR academy team. According to the Toronto Arrows website, the Arrows will be playing against other MLR academy sides and/or Canadian U23 sides.

Other teams with academy teams include the Austin Herd and the Houston Sabercats. However, it is unclear whether these MLR academy sides will face each other next year.

There also has been some big news for players coming into Major League Rugby. The 2020 Major League Rugby Season had a big player signing thanks to the San Diego Legions.

San Diego Legions’ Ma’a Nonu

Ma’a Nonu is a New Zealand All Blacks superstar signing with the San Diego Legions of MLR.

He has won 2 World Cups, 5 Tri-Nations/Rugby Championships and 8 Bledisloe Cups. Coach Rob Hoadley spoke about the importance of Ma’a Nonu in San Diego and MLR. “Ma’a is a huge addition for us,” Legion head coach Rob Hoadley said.

“It is undeniable that he will have a major impact on the MLR this season. He is a world-class player who has proven himself to be one of the greats of the game.”

He also looking forward to playing with the Legions according to City News Service:

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of the new season ahead with the team.” he said. “My family and I are excited about the move to San Diego.”

Other big signings include former Toronto Wolfpack Ryan Burroughs. According to David Barnes of The Offside Lane he has signed with Old Glory DC.

Furthermore, MLR are also looking beyond 2020 with expansion. This includes Las Vegas which will host five regular season games next year.

MLR Las Vegas weekend festival

Las Vegas Ballpark will have four MLR games played in Las Vegas. The first one will be the New England Free Jacks vs. Rugby United New York.

On Saturday, February 15th, the Utah Warriors will face the New England Free Jacks. Later that day the Rugby United New York with face the Austin Herd.

Lastly, on Sunday February 16th, the Houston Sabercats will face the Toronto Arrows, later that day the San Diego Legions will face the Colorado Raptors.

Of course, there are other cities in North America trying to get an MLR team for the 2021 season.

Major League Rugby Expansion 2021

There will be a Dallas team joining MLR in 2021. This would be the third Texan team joining the MLR side, with Austin and Houston already having teams.

According to Darren Krause, they are five cities trying to get MLR teams. The Canadian cities identified are Halifax and Vancouver. There are also three American cities aiming for MLR teams. These teams; in addition to Las Vegas, may include Los Angeles or Ohio.

The Ohio Aviators were a pro rugby union team in the now-defunct PRO Rugby union league. The team and the league lasted only one season.

According to Bob Williams, US Office MLR will slow down expansion after reaching 16 teams. This is to ensure pro rugby union survives and thrives in North America for years to come. It is to ensure that Major League Rugby is here to stay.

Major League Rugby is ‘Here to Stay’

“If we really want to be financially viable for the long term, we have to fill our stadiums,” Howes says.

“But everything has to match up with rugby right now. We can’t compare ourselves to soccer or [American] football or basketball.” Dean Howes, Commissioner of Major League Rugby goes on to say:

“We have to compare ourselves to rugby. We have to stay organized and disciplined.”

Major League Rugby is still in its infancy, but there is hope that MLR can survive. Filling up stadiums will be very important for MLR to make it financially viable.

However, for now Major League Rugby is here to stay. On a path to grow into the next Major League Soccer (MLS) in North America, and take Rugby to new audiences and entertain the sports-mad nation.


Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images