USOC: A look at the Timbers' Open Cup third-round opponent Cal FC
A little over two months ago U.S. Soccer Hall-of-Famer Eric Wynalda assembled Cal FC, a team whose expressed goal was to make a run in the 99th edition of the nation’s oldest soccer tournament, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Cal FC, which is made up of a band of players that didn’t quite stick on the professional rosters of teams throughout U.S. Soccer’s top two divisions as well as lower level clubs in a handful of countries ranging from Mexico to Serbia, has made a run through the first two rounds. Its reward is a third-round date with the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field this Wednesday (7:30pm PT, Webstream at www.portlandtimbers.com, 750 AM The Game).
The Path to Portland
To reach this stage of the tournament, Cal FC (above, in red) began its journey by qualifying for the Open Cup through the U.S. Adult Soccer Association Region IV finals alongside fellow Southern Calinfonia side PSA Elite. Wearing Chicago Fire kits from two seasons ago, Cal FC lost 2-0 to PSA in the USASA Region IV final and were thus sent to Bremerton, Washington to face the Kitsap Pumas of the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup.
A 3-1 victory victory over the PDL’s defending champions booked Cal FC a second-round tie at Legion Stadium in Wilmington, N.C. against the Wilmington Hammerheads, who finished runners up in the USL Pro division--the third tier of American professional soccer--last season.
Faced with their first test against a fully professional side, a nascent Cal FC romped to a 4-0 victory, stunning the Hammerheads as well as Wynalda.
"Tonight was a good demonstration of what the guys are capable of at times, good and bad," Wynalda told the Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews after the upset. "All in all, I'm very happy with them. I think they've come together remarkably, in a very short span of time.”
Wynalda, a commentator for Fox Soccer Channel, coaches Cal FC with fellow FoxSoccer.com contributer Nick Webster. With the help of L.A. banker and longtime friend Michael Friedman, who acts as the team’s manager, Wynalda filled out Cal FC’s roster with Southern California-based players that had starred at local high schools and colleges, but hadn’t permanently latched on with professional teams.
“This team is mainly formed from this local area – Thousand Oaks – that went to college and came back,” Friedman told TheCup.us in an earlier interview. “Then we held a tryout and the players that came out surprised us. The talent is really high.”
The team played all of five games together in La Gran Liga De Oxnard, winning two and losing three, before entering the seven-team USASA Region IV tournament that qualified it for the Open Cup.
Despite playing so little together, the Cal FC players have developed a team bond and chemistry derived from a familiarity from often having played against one another in the numerous Los Angeles area soccer circles.
Players of Note
The team features two pair of brothers, Paulo and Pedro Ferreira-Mendez and the potent Colombian-born, midfield duo of Diego and Danny Barrera. Both the Barreras have played in the PDL, gone on trials in Europe (with Danny spending last season in Serbia with first division side FK Spartak Zlatibor Voda) and have seen time in the U.S. youth national team setup with the U-18 team.
Danny is currently tied as the Open Cup’s leading scorer with four goals to his name; he scored two each against Kitsap and Wilmington.
Not far behind Danny in Cal FC’s scoring ranks is Artur Aghasyan with two goals. Most recently Aghasyan had trials with MLS sides Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, and the Armenian import has also seen time with the Armenian National Team at the U-19, U-20 and U-23 age levels.
Other players who have spent time on the fringes of MLS squads include former UCLA standout Eder Arreola who was a first-round pick of the Houston Dynamo in January's 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft as well as Mike Randolph, the oldest player on Cal FC’s roster at 26.
Randolph’s first professional team was none other than the USL version of the Portland Timbers. He made 25 appearances for the club in 2006 and was one of three finalists for the USL First Division Rookie of the Year award. His early displays earned him a shot with the LA Galaxy, for whom he eventually made 39 appearances over two seasons.
Richard Menjivar, a midfielder, played at Cal State Bakersfield as a transfer from Evansville. He recently was part of the the El Salvador Men's National Team U-23 squad that drew 3-3 against the U.S. U-23 team earlier this spring--a result that knocked the U.S. out of the 2012 Olympic group qualifying stage.
With a one-and-done tournament set-up, both teams will be vying to move on to the fourth round where the winner will take on the victor of the Seattle Sounders FC vs. Atlanta Silverbacks match which is also happening Wednesday night in Tukwila, WA.
Starting at $10, tickets for the Timbers’ U.S. Open Cup match are available for purchase at the JELD-WEN Field box office, area Ticketmaster locations, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.