WRITTEN BY WILL HOOLEY
It’s a familiar setting, but the day-to-day is very different. Former USA Eagle and San Diego Legion star Ryan Matyas joins me in the comfort of the Legion locker room. Not wearing shorts or a gym top, not carrying cleats or a protein shake, but instead, he dresses in slacks and has a laptop in hand. Looking at his Google Calendar, he leans over, “Man, I’ve got 30 minutes, then got to run to a meeting upstairs!”
The expression ‘OG’ often gets thrown around, but Matyas really is part of the furniture regarding rugby in Southern California and even in America itself. Having played for the Eagles, in both 7s and 15s over a period of ten years, and having been part of Major League Rugby’s birth with San Diego Legion back in 2017, the former outside back has over 50 appearances in the black and red. Reflecting on his last year, in which he called time on his professional career, the former Arizona University player is at peace with his decision.
“I gave it everything. I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say I did my best,” says Matyas, who won 14 full caps for the USA Eagles in 15s. “I’m also probably a guy who believes in fate. I was 23 when I started my professional rugby journey, trying to make it on the 7s circuit. I clocked that in 2023, as an outside back, my pace and time was probably going to wear thin. I also always had the goal to try and finish at the 2023 Rugby World Cup. 2023 was going to be the last page of my chapter.”
That final ending, unfortunately, wasn’t to be a Rugby World Cup as the USA Eagles didn’t qualify for rugby’s showpiece event in France a few months ago. Neither would Matyas and San Diego Legion be able to finish off a masterful year, losing out in the last few minutes 25-24 to the impressive New England Free Jacks in MLR’s Championship Final. However, realizing that sport isn’t always romantic, Matyas recognizes the growth he’s been part of with rugby in America during his career as a whole.
“Major League Rugby has come a long way,” states the former All-American star. “When I was starting out trying to be a pro, I didn’t have a world-class standard professional league to look up to. What MLR has created, and the projections I believe for the future, it’s phenomenal for rugby in this country. Yes, it has some way to go and plenty of improvement to make, but the standard, facilities, crowds, kit, competition, and talent has all increased every year, in my opinion. I’ve always tried to go with the motto of ‘leave it in a better place than when you started’ – I have a genuine sense of pride being able to leave the Legion and the league in a better place.”
Matyas is quick to state his joy in finishing with his body relatively in one piece and at a team he cared for, and still cares for deeply. “I finished playing with some of my best mates in the game, the likes of Nate Augspurger, Mikey Te’o, Marcel Brache, and yourself! I’m sure when the new season hits, I’ll get that itch of wanting to be back on the field, but for now, I’m at peace. In all honesty, since hanging up my boots last July, so much has happened in the last few months, and I haven’t had time to kick back and properly reminisce,” chuckles Matyas.
The former speedster wishes he could have a world tour of seeing all those who had been part of his career, from his days in New Zealand playing at East Coast Bays and North Harbour 7s, to his experience in Wales with Tondu RFC. But Ryan, and his wife Jordan who has carved her own stardom for the Eagles in both 15s and 7s, have their hands full after welcoming into the world their baby girl. All at the same time when making a career transition into his new role as San Diego Legion Youth and Community Lead, building Major League Rugby’s growth initiative program, Imagine Rugby.
“It’s beautiful and challenging all at the same time,” explains Matyas. “My wife, Jordan, has been hugely supportive. We feel so blessed to have our daughter in our lives, and personally I’m grateful to take up this opportunity with Imagine Rugby that has made some aspects of my career transition be pretty smooth.
“I have always wanted to give back to rugby in this country. I aimed to help grow rugby in America as a player, now I want to do the same in my next chapter.
“It really is as simple as getting a rugby ball into young people’s lives through School and Physical Education classes. Sure, we want to find the hidden gem of talent, but we are really interested in creating fans and getting people aware of this fantastic sport.”
2031 and 2033 now sits at the top of Matyas’ rugby thinking. There’s 8 – 10 years to build and continue to develop this great game here in America. “While that may seem far away the reality is that time will come and go,” expresses Matyas. “This is my new challenge, one that I’m passionate about!”
Matyas’ new drive resembles the same goal that drove him on as a player – unselfish work in giving everything he had to developing himself and the people around him. That development now is about the new generation of rugby players and fans in America, something the former Eagle has always aimed to do even before hanging up his boots.
“I feel fortunate because I have always loved and wanted to continue to be part of the rugby community,” expresses Matyas as he gathers his stuff from the table as we come to the end of our catch-up. “Love the game while you’re in it. Do what you think is best, but I would always suggest making sure you have an exit strategy. We are not flushed with cash in this sport, and the feeling of knowing what you want to do and preparing yourself for that next chapter in life is so important for players. I’m doing something I love, providing for my family and embracing the challenge of growing rugby in this country.”
It’s sound advice for all players to hear. It’s a beautiful and brilliant career to have, enjoy it whilst it lasts, but realize it doesn’t last forever. The perfect round-up, as just like that, as quick as the former Eagle was flying down the wing, or even transitioning from one career to the other, Ryan Matyas runs off upstairs to his meeting. A fitting ending, away from the players locker room, in his slacks with laptop in hand, heading straight into his new chapter of life off the pitch.
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