2023 MLR Season: Chicago Hounds and Kurt Baker joins MLR franchise

New Zealand's Kurt Baker runs with the ball at Queensland Country Bank as he will play in the 2023 MLR season with Old Glory DC

The 2023 MLR season will see the addition of one new team. This will be the Chicago Hounds, based out of Bridgeview, Illinois.

However, this season also marks the time that MLR loses two teams, the LA Giltinis and the Austin Gilgronis. Austin was one of the original seven teams in the league while Los Angeles won the MLR Championship Shield back in 2021.

In more news, a new name will join the International roster of the 2023 MLR season, with Kurt Baker set to join the new season, that is scheduled to begin in mid February.

2023 MLR Season: Chicago Hounds comes to MLR

The 2023 MLR season will be the sixth season of the league. The league started with seven teams and now has 12 teams in the league.

Chicago represents one of the voids in the Midwest for MLR. Now that void will be filled with one of the biggest cities in America.

The Chicago Metropolitan Area has a population of 8,937,000 people (Source: Macrotrends). This puts the city third in terms of population in the U.S. They will be playing in the Western Division, a division in which LA and Austin used to play.

Sam Harris will be the head coach of the team. The 42-year-old spent the two previous seasons with the Austin Gilgronis. The Gilgronis had a very successful regular season, finishing with 12 wins and four losses last year. He also led Austin to nine wins and seven losses in the 2021 MLR season. This is what Harris said about coaching in Chicago:

“As a kid, Chicago was always on my radar and I’ve always loved it as a city,” said Harris during the introductory press conference (Source: Chicago Hounds).

The Hounds will kick off their season on February 18 at 2:00 p.m. ET (1:00 p.m. local time) against Old Glory DC on February 18. They then have five straight home games. This includes hosting the Utah Warriors at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois. That game will be on at the same time as the game against D.C. and it will be on March 5, 2023.

Also, Canadian, Alana Gattinger, was named the Director of Rugby Operations. Gattinger started off as an intern with Rugby Canada and was last under the employment of the LA Giltinis (Source: Chicago Hounds). James English will be the general manager of the Hounds after being the general manager of Rugby New York in 2019.

LA Giltinis and Austin Gilgronis – Contraction

Both the LA Giltinis and the Austin Gilgronis had the second and third-best records in MLR last year and were the top two seeds in the Western Division. The problem though was how both MLR teams got those records. Both teams were owned by Adam Gilchrist and were both disqualified from being a part of the MLR playoffs in 2023 because of breaching salary cap rules (Source: Martin Pengelly of The Guardian).

Both teams unfortunately were unable to recover, and as a result, each franchise will not participate in the 2023 MLR season. It is a big loss, as getting an MLR team is getting harder every year.

This is also a big loss for Major League Rugby stakeholders, as Los Angeles is the second-biggest city -in terms of population in the United States, And Austin was one of the original seven MLR teams back in 2018, when they were known as the Austin Elite. There was an ‘MLR dispersal draft’ done for the two lost MLR teams’ rosters.

Recipients included the expansion side, the Hounds, who were assigned former Giltinis players, Charlie Abel and Sam Peri, from the draft.

2023 MLR Season scheduled from February 17

There will be two games that will start off the season on February 17. The Fire and Ice Cup will be the very first game of the year at 7:00 p.m ET at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, Georgia. An hour later, the NOLA Gold (based in New Orleans) will host the New England Free Jacks at 8:00 p.m. ET. That game will take place at The Gold Mine in New Orleans, Louisiana.

There will be one game broadcasted in the U.S. nationally on FS1 and five games on FS2. The only FS1 game is the one between the Seattle Seawolves and Rugby New York, a rematch of the 2022 MLR Final. That game will kick off on Sunday, February 18 at 9:30 p.m. ET. Additionally, the Houston SaberCats will host the NOLA Gold at 9:00 p.m. ET on FS2. The only two MLR teams to have more than one nationally televised game are the Toronto Arrows and the Utah Warriors.

The Warriors’ game on the road against the San Diego Legion will be at 7:00 p.m. ET on FS2 on February 18. They then host the New England Free Jacks at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS2 on March 31.  This is while the Arrows games; both on the road, will take place in March. First, the game on March 11 will be against the expansion side, the Chicago Hounds. This will be the only time American fans can watch a Chicago Hounds game nationally. There is also the Arrows game against Old Glory DC, which will take place at 7:00 p.m. ET on March 18 (Source: Major League Rugby).

Latest Old Glory signing: Kurt Baker joins MLR

Kurt Baker, an All-Black seven’s player, had a decorated sevens career in New Zealand. He will now take his talents to the 15’s game with Old Glory DC in MLR.


This is what Baker said about playing in MLR and living in U.S.’s capital city (Source: World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series): “It was a good chance to get away, get out of my comfort zone, try something new and, you know, I suppose if you look at the States as a rugby country, they’re still pretty young,” Baker said.

“So, it’s an exciting opportunity for me and my family to go there and make a real fist of things. So, you know, it probably worked out great with the timing really.”

MLR future planning – Potential expansion

There might be another team joining MLR in the 2024 season. That team is most likely Miami as Paul Tait of Americas Rugby.

If this happens, it would be Florida’s first-ever professional rugby union team. This is also not a surprise though as the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area has a population of 6,091,747 people (Source: Statista). It would also mean another big market coming from the U.S. after Chicago if it happens.

This is done with a lot of speculation but Last Word on Rugby advise to ‘watch for Vancouver’. This is a market to watch out for. They, along with Toronto, have plans to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup as co-hosts with the U.S. and Mexico. Vancouver is getting a Canadian Premier League (first-tier Canadian professional soccer league team) team with Vancouver FC (not to be confused with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC of MLS). VFC will play at Willoughby Community Park in the Township of Langley this year and a second tenant may want to play there. This model can be seen with York United FC and the Toronto Arrows, who both play at York Lions Stadium.

Other potential cities listed by Killebrew include Las Vegas, Honolulu (Hawaii), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Sacramento, St. Louis, and Kansas City (Source:  KRLD News Radio 1080). There might be other cities in contention, but so far, it looks like these cities listed are the frontrunners. In fact, St. Louis was also considered for an expansion team in 2024 (Source: Martin Pengully of The Guardian).

READ MORE: 2023 Toronto Arrows MLR Season: Starting with playoff ambitions

Overall view of the League and 2023 MLR Season

In terms of players, Old Glory DC probably brought the biggest name of all the 12 MLR teams in the off-season with Baker. The league also expanded to Chicago, and finally got a team in the Midwest. However, it also feels like MLR took a step backward, as the Giltinis, a team that won the 2021 MLR Championship Shield, and the second second-largest U.S. market were lost. This is also true for the loss of Austin Gilgronis, who started off in the original seven of MLR back in 2018.

Still, the league has also made a good image of itself by paying the full wages of MLR players in the cancelled 2020 MLR season because of COVID-19 as said by both MLR commissioner George Killebrew and Toronto Arrows co-founder, Bill Webb. The hope is that this continues and that their dream of having 10,000 stadiums comes true.


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