In a city still basking in the glory of the Cubs providing a story that showed why baseball has for so long been considered America’s pastime, a sport still very much trying to get a foothold in the United States will vie for attention this weekend. Two days after the Cubs’ emotional World Series triumph, the United States rugby team will return to Chicago on Friday for its latest high-profile fixture.

After taking on New Zealand and Australia at Soldier Field in the past two years, this time the Eagles will face New Zealand’s Maori All Blacks. While not the full New Zealand side that has won the last two Rugby World Cups, the Maori side still presents a huge challenge.

Drawn from the country’s indigenous Polynesian population, the Maori All Blacks have existed as a team since 1888. While rules on eligibility were once relaxed, players now must prove they have Maori genealogy, known as "whakapapa," in order to be selected.

Despite only playing occasionally, the team has amassed plenty of impressive results in recent years, beating England and Ireland among other full test-playing nations. And a decade ago the Maori All Blacks decimated the U.S., 74-6.

But the U.S., which did much better in narrowly losing 29-19 the last time the sides met in Philadelphia three years ago, will be hoping to make the game a whole lot more competitive on Friday. It is a sport on the rise, with studies showing rugby to be the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and this year a professional league was also launched.

Now under the charge of former New Zealand coach John Mitchell, the game against the Maori All Blacks represents the start of the Eagles’ fall schedule. After the game in Chicago, the U.S. will head to Europe to take on Romania and then face Tonga in Spain.

Mitchell’s squad promises to be stronger when it heads to Europe due to Friday’s game falling outside of the official window in which clubs have to release their players for international matches. Only Titi Lamositele, of Saracens, and Newcastle’s Nick Civetta, both based in England, have been secured from their professional teams for the match.

And Mitchell knows his players will face a stiff challenge at Soldier Field.

“Culturally the Maori All Blacks bond extremely well and have their own spirit and ethos as a result of their wonderful Maori culture," Mitchell said. "They've also got the British & Irish Lions tour next year to look forward to, so a lot of these players will be looking to impress.

"The boys have a tough job ahead of them but they've trained smarter and we have challenged them in the decision-making space, and they are motivated for this match against arguably the best non-test team in the world."

The Maori All Blacks are in Chicago at the same time as the world champion New Zealand side, which will take on Ireland at the same venue on Saturday. And four players from the full test side – Elliot Dixon, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie – have been made available to play for the Maori side on Friday.

“These guys are all familiar with our environment so we know that they are able to move between the All Blacks and our squad with great ease,” coach Colin Copper said ahead of the game. “The Maori All Blacks is another home for those guys.

“This is the most experienced squad we’ve had for a while, and many of the players who played for us last year have stepped up a level from there. It means that we have a really experienced playing 23, with only three new caps.”

Those wishing to get a taste of rugby in Chicago can still purchase tickets at Soldier Field, with prices ranging from $22 up to $105.

Teams

USA

1. Titi Lamositele 

2. James Hilterbrand 

3. Chris Baumann

4. Nate Brakeley 

5. Nick Civetta 

6. Todd Cleve6r (Captain) 

7. Tony Lamborn 

8. Danny Barrett 

9. Nate Augspurger 

10. Will Holder 

11. Matai Leuta 

12. Folau Niua 

13. Bryce Campbell 

14. Martin Iosefo 

15. Mike Te'o

Maori All Blacks

1. Kane Hames

2. Ash Dixon (Captain)

3. Ben May

4. Jacob Skeen

5. Tom Franklin

6. Elliot Dixon

7. Kara Pryor

8. Akira Ioane

9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow

10. Ihaia West

11. James Lowe

12. Tim Bateman

13. Matt Proctor

14. Rieko Ioane

15. Damian McKenzie

Match Info

Time:
8 p.m. EDT

TV Channel: NBCSN will show the match in delayed form on Saturday at 10 p.m. EDT

Live Stream: The Rugby Channel