The Eagles have seen tremendous improvement at the IRB Sevens World Series, a tournament with 9 events across the world, including the USA Sevens tournament held every February in Las Vegas. The Eagles have been a "core team" in the World Series and finished in the top 12 each season since 2008-09. The Eagles best season to date in the World Series was 2009-10 when they finished 10th, ahead of traditional powers France and Scotland, and reached the cup finals of the 2010 Adelaide Sevens, their first ever cup finals for a World Series tournament. The Eagles best result at the USA Sevens tournament was 2009, when they reached the semifinals.
The United States traditionally used the 7s team to prepare players for the XV-side. The national sevens team had also drawn a number of crossover athletes from other sports, such as football and track. Since January 2012, however, due to increased attention generated by rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016, the national sevens team has turned professional, with the team extending paid full-time contracts to its core players.
USA Rugby and the U.S. Olympic Committee made funds available beginning in January 2012 to provide full-time contracts to 23 players -- 15 men and 8 women. USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville stated that a full-time sevens team would be a crucial step as USA Rugby prepares for rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016. Players train year round as a team at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego.
The IRB Sevens World Series, which is played every year from October through May, is the principal event in which the US national sevens team plays. The US has competed in the IRB series every year since the event's inaugural 1999-2000 season. The US team had some initial success during the early years of the tournament led by the try-scoring Jovesa Naivalu. However, the US team struggled in the 5 seasons from 2002-03 through 2006-07.
The 2007-08 season was a turning point for the US team, qualifying for 6 of the 8 series tournaments, and notching a notable win against Samoa en route to placing sixth at the 2007 South Africa Sevens. The team was led by Chris Wyles who scored 26 tries on the season, and was the top try scorer at the 2008 USA Sevens with 8 tries. The IRB rewarded the Eagles' success by promoting the US to "core" team status for the 2008-09 season, meaning that the US automatically plays in all 8 tournaments without having to go through qualifying rounds.
The 2008-09 season was the breakout season for the US, finishing 11th on the season. The high point of the team's season was the home tournament, the 2009 USA Sevens. Nese Malifa's 30 points in that tournament helped the US notch wins against Australia and Kenya to reach the semi-finals, their best result ever on home soil.
The 2009-10 season saw continued improvement, with the team finishing the season in 10th place. Led by Matt Hawkins and Nese Malifa, the team finished 9th to win the Bowl in the 2010 USA Sevens. The US then advanced to their first ever Cup final at the 2009 Adelaide Sevens, scoring upset wins against England, Wales and Argentina.
The team took a small step back during the 2010-11 season with a 12th place finish. A number of key players were unavailable for most or all of the season, including the previous season's leading try scorer Nick Edwards and leading point scorer Nese Malifa. Additionally, a number of competing teams had moved to professional status, leaving the mostly amateur US team struggling to keep pace.
The 2011-12 season saw significant changes for the US. The team turned professional in January 2012, with contracts for up to 15 players. The change to professional status did not bring immediate improvement. Head coach Al Caravelli resigned, and Alex Magleby was selected as the new head coach. The US finished the 2011-12 season in 11th, a slight improvement over the previous season, even though the team did not reach the quarterfinals of any of the 9 tournaments. Bright spots for the season included the emerging leadership of Shalom Suniula (captain), Zack Test (team leading 21 tries) and Colin Hawley.
The 2012-13 IRB Series saw a slightly different format, with 15 core teams instead of 12, but with the possibility of relegation for the teams that finished in the bottom three. The U.S. got off to a slow start, ranked last among the 15 core teams after the first two legs. The U.S. saw improvement, however, reaching the quarterfinals in five of the last seven tournaments, and finishing in the top 6 during the last three tournaments. The U.S. finished fifth to win the Plate final at the 2013 Japan Sevens, the first time the U.S. had won a plate since 2001, and followed that feat by again finishing fifth to win the Plate final at the 2013 Scotland Sevens, with Nick Edwards the leading try-scorer in the tournament with 8 tries. The U.S. finished the season in 11th place, and had two players among the seasons top try-scorers: Nick Edwards (20) and Zack Test (18).
The United States has participated in two of the four rugby tournaments at the Summer Olympics from 1900 to 1924. The United States has won two gold medals, making it the most successful country in the history of Olympic rugby. Furthermore, as rugby has not been played at the Olympics since 1924, the United States is the defending Olympic rugby champion, with its back-to-back golds in 1920 and 1924.
Rugby will return to the Summer Olympics at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where the United States will attempt to defend its title.
The country's then national team coach, Al Caravelli, explained the U.S. team's potential in a 2008 interview:
When we train at the Olympic training center they have a big database where an athlete can type in 'I run the 100 meters in 10.2 seconds but I didn't qualify for the Olympics, I weigh this much. What other sports can I play?' I've found over a thousand athletes that can run 10.2 seconds at one hundred meters and weigh over 200 pounds [91 kg]. I don't know if they can catch and pass yet but if they can see the atmosphere at a Wellington, a Dubai or a Hong Kong Sevens, and we can attract those types of athletes then we can continue to promote the sport in the United States.
An article in The Guardian in 2014 noted that the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics had greatly expanded funding available to the sport, and that the large pool of American football and basketball players who may be unable to earn professional contracts in the NFL and NBA meant there were many sportsmen who had skills and strengths they could transfer to rugby union.