New England Free Jack players are jacked up after winning the MLR Championship on July 8 at SeatGeek stadium in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

New England Free Jack players are jacked up after winning the MLR Championship on July 8 at SeatGeek stadium in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pro Sports Report | Free Jacks top Legion for Major League Rugby title

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By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

After a good afternoon of running, kicking and celebrating, Jayson Potroz needed a little rest.

So, the New England Free Jacks flyhalf found a spot in the SeatGeek Stadium grass in Bridgeview and threw a shirt over his head.

“I’m actually exhausted,” he said.

In Major League Rugby’s first neutral-site championship match, New England pulled off a 25-24 thriller of San Diego on July 8 in front of 10,103 — an MLR championship-game attendance record.

The battle featured four lead changes before inside center Le Roux Malan scored in the 76th minute for what turned out to be the winning score and New England’s first MLR title.

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Mitch Jacobson of New England gets ready to dive for his team’s first try in the MLR Championship in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Potroz accounted for 10 points on two conversion kicks and two penalty kicks. Not in the box score was his celebratory kick as he booted a ball into the stadium stands.

“The culture here is to play together,” he said. “We had a battle today and I’m so thankful that we won. We have awesome supporters behind us. From the coaches to management to the owners. I’m very grateful.”

Mitch Jacobson and Paula Balekana also scored tries for the champions.

San Diego came into the game with a 14-game winning streak. The Legion manhandled New England, 29-12, in a regular-season match at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on Feb. 26.

San Diego’s Marcel Brache said the loss was “very raw at the moment” after the title game.

“You do your best to try to put on a face … but it’s just tough,” he added. “It’s pretty much the opposite of joy. I don’t know what that is. I’d love to say we’ll get up and go again but I think it will take a little bit of time for us. We’ll lick our wounds. There’s still a lot left with this team.”

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Emotional New England player Semisi Paea hugs teammate Sam Fischli after the Free Jacks won the MLR title July 8 in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Hocking’s fast goal
Chicago Red Stars rookie Penelope Hocking, who had been inactive for six weeks with an injury, returned to the pitch on July 7. Hocking entered an NWSL game against Houston in the 68th minute, and 23 seconds later scored what turned out to be the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over the Dash.

The goal was the second fastest by a substitute in NWSL history, according to the league.

“I’ve been dying on the sideline,” Hocking said of being out with the injury. “For my first touch of the game to be a goal felt sweet. I’m so happy to be back and I felt my hard work has paid off.”

The Red Stars (5-9-1) lead the league in goals allowed with 33, but reserve goalie Emily Boyd has recorded back-to-back clean sheets since starter Alyssa Naehar left to play for the U.S. in the World Cup.

Red Stars defender Tatumn Milazzo, an Orland Park native, missed the game as a last-minute scratch with a knee injury. She was replaced by Taylor Malham. Coach Chris Petrucelli said Milazzo injured the knee in practice, and during warmups against Houston told the trainers she couldn’t play.

Houston (4-5-6) in winless in its past six games and hasn’t scored a goal since playing to a 1-1 draw against Gotham on June 11.

The Red Stars have some time off before returning to Challenge Cup play at 7 p.m. July 21 at Louisville.

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New England’s Jayson Potroz collapses and covers his face after his team won a dramatic 25-24 game over San Diego in the MLR Cup. He accounted for 10 points in the game. Photo by Jeff Vorva

 

Fire II draws with Cincy
The Chicago Fire II battled to a 0-0 draw with Cincinnati 2 on July 9 in an MLS NEXT Pro game at SeatGeek Stadium.

The Fire (7-6-5) visits New York at 6 p.m. July 16.

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