The MLR Nurtures Future Eagle Ben Cima
Written By: Mark Janzen
With less than two minutes to play in USA’s 2016 World Rugby U20 Trophy qualifying match against Canada, Ben Cima missed a penalty that likely would have sent the Americans to the second-tier world championship. Hooking his offering wide left, USA trailed 18-16 with just seconds left in the contest.
Had that been his last kick of the campaign, his career may have looked vastly different.
However, two minutes later and as the clock rolled beyond 80 minutes, Cima got a second chance.
With USA earning a penalty off the restart, the Buenos Aires-born leg, who hails from Washington, D.C., got a walk-off opportunity from inside his own half.
Cima, 22, who now plies his trade with the San Diego Legion of the MLR, thumped a 55-yarder between the posts at the death, sending the USA to the U20 Trophy as the Rugby Americas North representative, while etching his name into rugby lore.
“It was a defining moment in my career and really catapulted me into the USA squad,” Cima says.
Two years later, Cima has become a regular with the senior Eagles, has earned a contract with the Legion and is now set to once again represent his country, as he was named to the 30-man roster for the June test series.
“There are a lot of players who see those opportunities pass them by and the trajectory of their career changes,” Cima says. “I really don’t know if I’d be with the USA squad if it wasn’t for that kick.”
There is no doubt Cima, who now has 10 caps with the Eagles, including four in a starting capacity, seized his moment.
“I was just really happy to get another opportunity and was able to convert it.”
A month before the inaugural MLR season was set to begin, and two years removed from his rugby-famous kick, Cima took his increasingly renowned boot to Instagram.
Joining a rugby-style trick shot challenge started by Zach Pangelinan of the Houston SaberCats, Cima showed his footwork, flicking the ball from the ground to get it spinning like a top and then, from the goal line, curling it in into the uprights from a near impossible angle.
Look it up (@bencima10). Perhaps as cool as the kick itself was the fact the post elicited a comment from Ben Ryan – the legendary coach who guided Fiji to a gold medal in rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympics – suggesting the video needed more views.
Ryan was right.
Alas, the 3,500 views and the 52 comments put yet another well-deserved spotlight on the up-and-coming fly half.
The 10-second clip was also a window into the derivation of Cima’s success. Admittedly, he’s at his finest when he’s having fun.
“My best games are when I’m expressing myself on the field,” says Cima, who is known for his on-field creativity. “(The key for me) is being happy when I play.”
A soft-spoken individual, who is also plenty happy with just a taco in hand a La Jolla beach under his feet, is the type of person who lets his play do the talking.
Finding success at a young age, Cima, whose family made D.C. his permanent home when he was six years old, was a three-time USA High School all-American, capping his time at Gonzaga College High School by winning the national rugby championship in 2014. In the summer following his team’s title run, he was named to the USA’s entry into the Junior World Rugby Trophy 2014. That begat a second selection to the U20 roster two years later, which, of course, begat his kick.
Since then, Cima has played senior level rugby with the Rocky Gorge Rugby Football Club, while moving up the ranks within USA Rugby. After a 2017 year that saw him earn his senior cap on February 4 before collecting six more by year’s end, Cima found his way to San Diego to play for the Legion.
It was the next phase along a career trajectory that has him continually pushing to climb the rugby ranks, both professionally and nationally.
While a brief trial with CA Brive (then part of France’s Top 14) in the fall of 2017 was as close as he has come to crossing the pond, it would appear his next step could well see him garnering the attention of international clubs.
“Yea, that’s the goal,” Cima says. “I think the MLR is going to be a great place for American players to display their talents. Obviously the league is drawing attention internationally and coaches are watching games – hopefully that leads to Americans and Canadians getting picked up overseas.”
However, for now, his focus is on the Legion, where he has started two of four games at fly half, and the Eagles, with which he will spend the better part of June working to earn a starting role. In previous stints with USA, he has spent time at fullback, centre, wing and fly half, so for Cima, the possibilities are vast.
Yet, no matter where he fits in, if there’s a tidy boot on request, Cima’s will be among those near the top of the list – for both the long distance variety and, with video proof as justification, the acutest of angles.
“He’s got a hell of a boot on him,” says Legion and Eagles teammate Cam Dolan. “But more than that, he’s very skillful (and) he conducts the game well from Number 10. He’s still young, so I think he’s still finding his game, but he definitely has the skill level and the talent to excel.”
With an already impressive rugby resume in hand, and an upcoming six-week window that is set to include both international fixtures and the Legion’s push for an MLR title, the table is set for Cima to once again make a mark.