With a year to prepare, PSA Elite hope for successful U.S. Open Cup campaign
In previous years, PSA Elite of Irvine, Calif. have suffered in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup from having too little time to prepare for their matches after qualifying from the USASA Region IV tournament.
All too often, they would have just a week after their regional qualifier to get ready before plunging into the first round of the Open Cup competition.
However, things are different this year for the team from Southern California, as they earned an automatic berth in this year’s Open Cup based on their qualifying performance in 2013, when they reached the main tournament for the second year in a row.
The team’s head coach Gary Berry believes this berth based on previous performances is enormously beneficial for PSA Elite, especially as it has given them far more time to prepare for what will be a very important match in the first round.
“They changed the rules, so last year because we qualified at the regional level, they changed it and gave us a berth this year automatically,” Berry told SoccerWire.com. “The other three regions under USASA, they qualify a year ahead of time, and we didn’t because there wasn’t a lot of structure or a lot of attention on this tournament.
“We would put together a tournament, a handful of teams would want to play like Cal FC, Doxa Italia and others, and so we’d play them. After that tournament, we’d only have a week before we’d know we were going to the Open Cup, so we had a week to prepare and get our team ready.
“It hurt an amateur team’s chances to go terribly far unless you’re really funded. So they gave us a year now, and the nice thing is that we get to start preparing our team, we start knowing what players are available, obviously a lot of players signed to professional teams. So we have a few months to prepare for an Open Cup run.”
In their last two Open Cup campaigns, PSA Elite have travelled across the country to play amateur and professional teams. In 2012, they travelled to Portland to play the Timbers U-23 side at JELD-WEN Stadium and won that game 3-1. Then, they welcomed the Carolina Railhawks of the North American Soccer League and were defeated 6-0 by the professional side.
Reflecting on that game against the Railhawks, Berry believes his team learned a lot from the chastening experience despite the one-sided scoreline.
“The biggest lesson was team preparation,” Berry said. “We stepped in to play a professional team at home from across the country, the new coach had just come in, and they were really gunned-up and ready for that game.
“We weren’t prepared. We weren’t prepared as a team, we weren’t prepared as an organization, mentally we weren’t prepared, it was just exciting. I think this year, being able to be more prepared ahead of time, the team having a chance to play together a little bit before going on is perhaps the biggest lesson we learned.”
Last year, PSA were disappointed to be knocked out in the first round of the Open Cup by the Laredo Heat of the USL Premier Development League, but they have big ambitions every time they enter the oldest cup competition in the United States despite their amateur status.
“The aim has been the same every year, we have the same goal in participating every year,” Berry said. “We want to go as far as we possibly can, to show that soccer even at an amateur level is strong, that players who may not have the avenues to be seen by professional teams get a chance. In order to do that the best we can, it’s really to go as far as we can in the tournament.”
Known as one of California’s most traveled amateur sides, it is a difficult task for PSA Elite to balance their schedule and the financial commitments that come with excursions across the country while selecting as strong a squad as possible.
However, after a hectic two-year period that has seen them make several long journeys for games, Berry is hopeful that they can have a kind draw this year and stay in-state.
“It’s pretty busy,” he added. “We have a large player pool, and we try to provide exposure to players. There are players coming and going, not knowing who’s available because they might get signed somewhere, it does change things quite a bit.
“I have an excellent partner in our technical director Alex Lujan, who spends a lot more time just managing players. It’s a tremendous help with the two of us and being able to focus on that.
“The schedule has been pretty nice, we did struggle a little bit with having to travel the last two years. We’ve actually been seen as one of the most traveled amateur teams in the country. We went in two years to Oregon, Chicago, Texas twice, North Carolina and Kentucky. I’m hoping this year we get a round in California. It’s a pretty tight schedule.”
With the U.S. Soccer Federation yet to announce the format for this year’s Open Cup, PSA Elite are in a fortunate position to have already qualified for the tournament and will be hoping for another successful campaign.