(Los Angeles, California) 17 July 1998 -- Injuries and late declarations of unavailability have forced several changes to the US National Team's tour party to Fiji, which assembled Wednesday in Los Angeles before departing yesterday night for the Pacific island nation.
Centers Alatini Saulala, out with a lingering abdominal tear, and Tomasi Takau, who injured his groin in training last weekend, will both miss the 12-day, 2-match trip. Earlier, prop Bart Furrow cited unexpectedly heavy work commitments in bowing out.
Previously on notice as reserves, centers Geoff Alley and Jeff Preston, fullback Chris Morrow, and prop Ray Lehner joined the team in southern California. Preston (Philadelphia-Whitemarsh) undertakes his initial tour with the US, while Alley (Palmer College) joined the team for the first time during the Pacific Rim. Lehner and Morrow are both seasoned internationals, the latter coming off a series of injuries that caused him to miss June's Pacific Rim games.
The changes mean an entirely revamped midfield for the US, as Ray Green is returning from a spring ACL injury while Juan Grobler is just recovered from a broken arm suffered against Japan in May. Green and Grobler have each been capped several times in previous years.
The 28-man trained the past two days before undertaking a long, cross-Pacific plane flight to meet the in-form islanders. Last month, Fiji downed Scotland 51-26 before bowing 34-9 to France. The USA's other opponent, the Fiji Warriors, narrowly missed upending France, dropping a 36-32 match.
Coming off a disappointing Pacific Rim campaign, the US aims to recover its early-season momentum before next month's World Cup qualifiers in Argentina.
United States: Forwards: Tom Billups (captain), James Cassidy, Luke Gross, Dave Hodges, Kirk Khasigian, Ray Lehner, Chris Lippert, Rob Lumkong, John McBride, Fifita Mounga, Alec Parker, George Sucher, Richard Tardits, Cliff Vogl, Jason Walker. Backs: Geoff Alley, Vaea Anitoni, Andre Blom, Kevin Dalzell, Malakai Delai, Ray Green, Juan Grobler, Brian Hightower, Britt Howard, Dan Kennedy, Chris Morrow, Jeff Preston, Kurt Shuman, Mark Williams.