They made a name for themselves in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when they defeated the Portland Timbers of MLS 1-0 in the third round, and now Cal FC of Thousand Oaks, Calif. are back in the tournament after a year away.
Representing Region IV of the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) in the competition, Cal overcame local rivals Doxa Italia of Manhattan Beach, Calif. 3-2 in a one-game playoff that went to double overtime to determine which side would represent the region in this year’s Open Cup.
While their berth in this year’s tournament is still unofficial as the United States Soccer Federation has not released the exact format for the 2014 tournament, Cal FC were delighted to overcome Doxa Italia in the play-in game having been denied a cup berth last year by a 2-1 defeat to the same opponents.
“Doxa Italia is a very accomplished team,” Cal FC owner Michael Friedman told SoccerWire.com in an email. “They train and participate in the very competitive Coast Soccer League. So we were challenged by Doxa because they have a deep, organized roster, and a developed style of play.
“We challenged ourselves by not having any training before the match. Cal FC tends to be an all-star team of the over looked players or ones who have fallen in the cracks. So our players come from a wide area and it is tough to hold a training session.
“We were all relieved when German Alfaro scored the second goal to tie up the game. It was incredible when Jamie Chavez scored his second goal of the game to go ahead 3-2. It was a crazy game. One I’ll never forget.”
The team still have proud memories of that game against the Timbers in 2012, as their 1-0 win in double overtime thanks to Artur Aghasyan’s goal gained them international stardom. For a time, Cal FC trended worldwide on Twitter and were the subject of articles in publications like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and the New York Times.
Also victorious over Kitsap Pumas of the USL Premier Development League and the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL PRO, they went on to lose 5-0 to Seattle Sounders FC in the fourth round of that tournament. After such a magical campaign, Friedman and his colleagues still have very proud memories of that cup run, having become just the second amateur club to defeat an MLS side without the need for a penalty shootout.
“There are so many great memories [from 2012],” Friedman said. “The top memories are off the field, particularly Danny Barrera’s practical jokes on everyone.
“It was four weeks of travelling 12,000 miles with the team. Working with US Soccer was memorable too. On the field, of course the biggest highlight was watching Artur Aghasyan score against Portland.”
Cal FC has a proud tradition of producing players that go on to play professional soccer in the United States and around the world, with over 30 former players currently plying their trade in the professional game. Just last month, former Cal FC defender Edgar Espinoza was signed by the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League, whose technical director Eric Wynalda was a co-founder of Cal FC in 2007.
Despite the loss of players to the professional game meaning it is difficult to maintain a settled squad, Friedman is hopeful that this year’s crop of individuals will be capable of challenging any opponent they face and that his club will be able to put a strong side on the field.
“Cal FC players include those who played at the college level and those looking to make it on a professional side,” he said. “Many are playing in hard to find leagues in Southern California. There is a ton of talent out there.
“Each year we do an extensive search for each one of the members of the team. We hope to be as fortunate as that 2012 squad. If we do get the opportunity to play a pro team, I know that our coach Nick Webster will have the Cal FC players ready for the challenge.
“Our league is over. Our challenge is from losing players to pro clubs. Keeping a consistent roster is tough during a cup run. We are always recruiting. “The players are vetted for their responsibilities during the Open Cup run. We know what to do to get the best team on the field. We try to accommodate where we can.”
Looking ahead to the 2014 tournament, Friedman believes the competition will be an ideal place for Cal FC to showcase some of the best players from the local area as they bid to land a professional contract. They are also hopeful of repeating their success from 2012, especially if they come against a team that contains some former Cal FC players.
“We want to showcase some of the greatest soccer talents coming out of California,” he added. “We are looking forward in competing against the best teams in the USA. Hopefully we get some more of these players advanced.
“I personally would like to play against our Cal FC co-founder Eric Wynalda’s Atlanta Silverbacks. “They have a ton of Cal FC alumni on the team. It would be like old Cal FC playing new Cal FC.”