Chicago Hounds CEO James English (left) and head coach Sam Harris. (Supplied photo)
Major League Rugby coming to SeatGeek Stadium
Chicago Hounds expansion team to play games at Bridgeview facility
By Bob Bong
A new professional sports team will be playing its matches at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview next month.
The Chicago Hounds, an expansion team for Major League Rugby, will be calling Bridgeview home when they begin their inaugural season in February.
“We’re honored that the Hounds have chosen to call SeatGeek Stadium their home,” said Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek. “They will be practicing in our dome and playing on our award-winning field, all of which fits into our long-range goal of making Bridgeview a good place to live, a destination for non-residents to enjoy, and a place that is home to successful businesses.”
The Hounds will be the 12th team in the league and will compete in MLR’s Western Conference, donning team colors of green and sky blue. Chicago will play its inaugural match on the road at Old Glory DC on Saturday, February 18. The team’s home opener at SeatGeek Stadium will be on Sunday, March 4, vs the Utah Warriors.
“We are thrilled to add the Chicago Hounds to Major League Rugby for the 2023 season,” said MLR Commissioner George Killebrew. “Chicago is one of the best sports towns in North America and we couldn’t be happier to be part of the competitive landscape. Rugby has a long-time tradition in the city and throughout Northern Illinois and we look forward to growing the game even further.”
Led by longtime Chicago rugby players and fans Matt Satchwell and Phil Groves, the Chicago MLR Founders Group is deeply committed to rallying Chicago’s community spirit to establish rugby as America’s next great sporting pastime.
Satchwell, an attorney who also serves as Board Chair, has been playing rugby his entire life and for the past 20 years in Chicago.
Groves is president of DAC Management and a part team owner who has been playing with and sponsoring rugby teams in Chicago and around the world for years.
Hounds CEO James English led Rugby United New York to the semi-final in 2019 as their first GM, and Irish rugby legends Rob and Dave Kearney round out the Founders with their collective decades of world-class rugby on the pitch and civic leadership off the pitch.
It was not long after departing New York at the end of 2019 that English was first approached by investors interested in establishing an MLR team in Chicago. Those approaches never came to much but having done plenty of research and seeing the value of placing a side in such a sports-crazed city, two-and-a-half years later and now the Hounds are a reality.
“There have been a lot of groups that looked at Chicago, we are not the only ones,” English said. “They weren’t quite able to get it over the line.”
“This is a special day for all of us,” said English. “We are very excited to formally introduce the Chicago Hounds name, as well as our logo and team colors. This organization plans to continue growing the game of rugby at the grassroots level here in Chicago and build a fanbase that can be proud of the way our team operates and competes.”
Sam Harris, 42, has been hired as the first head coach in the franchise’s history. He spent the previous two seasons as the Austin Gilgronis’ (AGs) head coach.
In 2021, Harris’ first year with Austin, he led the team to a 9-7 record, finishing third in the western conference. During the franchise’s previous three years competing in Major League Rugby, they amassed four wins total.
Harris’ team excelled in 2022 and Austin finished with a 12-4 record, ending the regular season as the best team in the western conference. The Gilgronis led all teams in Major League Rugby with a +246 point differential.
“As a kid, Chicago was always on my radar and I’ve always loved it as a city,” Harris said. “It’s not lost on me, the honor of being able to be the head coach that leads this great team into the MLR. We will have some good foreign talent that will add to this group. But this team will be about American talent, and growing American talent. We’ll find them. We’ll develop them. And we’ll expose them to high-level rugby.”
“Sam has a lot of qualities that you look for in a coach at this level,” said English. “His experience and what he accomplished during his time in Austin speak for themselves. We’re excited to be working with one of the top Head Coaches in Major League Rugby.”
Major League Rugby is entering its sixth season and represents the highest level of rugby competition in North America. The league started with seven teams in 2018 and now features 11 from the United States and one from Canada.
Matches are televised on Fox Sports, among other national and local market platforms. Select matches are available to stream live in North America on The Rugby Network, and all matches are available on The Rugby Network for international fans.
The Hounds will join the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League as full-time tenants at SeatGeek Stadium. The Chicago Fire men’s professional soccer team left Bridgeview a few years ago for Solder Field, but still play the occasional match at SeatGeek Stadium.
For more information about MLR, visit www.MajorLeague.Rugby
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