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Part 1 - So You Want to Play MLR: Here's the Pathway

Photo Credit: David Frerker via Seattle Seawolves

When you look at what has been codified and what hasn't, there isn't an explicit pathway, but this is an attempt to give a prospect a relatively linear idea. Let's first start out with senior players that haven't been scouted or feel they've been overlooked. The first question I always have is: do you have film? If the answer is no, then it's really kind of over on saying you've been overlooked. However, this is about giving the overlooked player a path to being seen.

Many Major League Rugby teams have relationships with various club programs or Geographic Union Select sides. These relationships can be wholly formal or even informal. If there is a D1 club in the vicinity, it will be scouted by the MLR team. It just will. So let's take a look at various partnerships and Division 1 clubs in vicinity of MLR teams. Getting signed to a professional team with limited scouting resources is just as much on the player as it is on the  GM. If you believe you can play, it's time to move and get seen.

This is not all inclusive. Yet, this is the starting point for an American or even foreign player looking to achieve a contract. For the foreign players, competition for a contract is immensely stiff. The qualifications for a P1A Visa are also quite strict and you have to prove you're a world class player through having played in a professional competition. But there remains a domestic pathway for you to be scouted.  

For the American and Canadian Senior Rugby players, this is where you start. If your Geographic/Provincial union is running a high performance select program for XVs or 7s, best make sure you achieve selection and develop as an athlete.  

There are several teams with official partnerships with their local Division 1 clubs and the Select sides. The Utah Warriors Pathway starts with the Men's Premier Division clubs as they feed into the Warriors Selects through try outs.  Those that succeed through the pathway are signed or invited to join a longer Academy-like practice squad that will buttress the Warriors through the season. Utah also appointed Brandon Sparks as Director of Rugby Operations, one of his key roles over the next year will be to further develop the Warriors Pathway.

The Colorado Raptors Pathway starts with the Glendale Merlins Division 1 side, want to play for the Raptors?  Become a starter with the the Merlins Division 1 team. For the Houston SaberCats, they have an official partnership with the West Houston Lions. Senior Academy players with New Orleans Gold attend practice with the Gold, but play with NORFC. Ross Depperschmidt earned a professional contract at the end of the 2019 season and was re-signed for the 2020 season.  

Rugby ATL has an internal pathway select side, 404 Rugby Club that competes as an associate member in the American Rugby Premiership. They also have a partnership with USA South which competes as a member of Rugby Americas North. Eight players who've previously competed for USA South are currently with various Major League Rugby Teams.

The importance of playing for local clubs cannot be stressed. When I surveyed the rosters of NY area clubs, of the 45 players signed to Rugby United New York, 37 played for New York Area Clubs this previous fall. That was spread beyond just the Division 1 Clubs in NYAC and Old Blue.

In Canada, the path to the Arrows is relatively simple. Playing the highest level of domestic rugby possible in your province is the start, although playing for the Ontario Blues gets you under the microscope. Playing in the Canadian Rugby Championship for your province will also get your noticed.

There are other clubs that have developed players that have achieved Major League Rugby contracts: Chicago Lions, San Francisco Golden Gate, Life West, and Belmont Shore.  

If a player wants to play for an MLR club, they need to seek the greatest development opportunities. Those opportunities in North America are Division 1 Competitions and the BC Premier League. The easiest way to be seen by a specific team is to play for a Division 1 club in the same city, when the MLR team has an open tryout or combine, better be in attendance and ready to compete.

In Part 2 will focus on collegiate players, and Part 3 will focus on players currently in High School.

~Aaron Castro