Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cal FC - The Second Chance Saloon

Article by Pedro Gomes

Last week I wrote a quick article giving some background information on a new and tiny USASA team out of Southern California called, Thousand Oaks California FC (Cal FC). Their story was interesting not only for their success on the field within the U.S. Open Cup’s 99th edition, but also because of the famous face that graces their sideline.

That face is none other than U.S. Soccer legend, Eric Wynalda. But the story offers more interesting storylines than just the famous face that is guiding them on and off the field, the players themselves and the underlying goals of the team adds serious depth and intrigue to this team.

I finished last week’s article speculating on whether or not Cal FC could overcome the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads and guessing at which MLS side they would battle against in the proceeding round. Well, the speculation is over because last night Cal FC dispatched the Hammerheads in convincing fashion with a final score line of 4-0. Cal FC got 2 goals from Danny Barrera with both assists coming from his older brother, Diego. Artur Aghasyan and Pedro Ferreira-Mendes added a goal apiece to cap the scoring off. It was a disappointing loss for the Hammerheads and another confident showing by Cal FC.

And now the tournament gets interesting. Cal FC will travel to Portland to face-off against the Timbers in the third round of the competition, which marks the round when MLS teams first enter. The match-up on May 29th will have a few storylines to keep an eye on.

First, it will offer Wynalda and Cal FC’s first true test against a top-tier US professional organization. As if Cal FC wasn’t already playing the role of underdog and Cinderella in this tournament, the substantially greater amount of resources the Portland Timbers have at their disposal will surely lower the chances of Cal FC to etch out a victory. Couple that with the rabid atmosphere JELD-WEN Field consistently provides for any match and the situation has gotten even more difficult for Cal FC.

But the Cal FC players are not a bunch of slouches either. They have a handful of players with experience ranging from Brandenton US Soccer Academy and top tier Universities like UCLA (Eder Arreola) as well as MLS experienced players like Mike Randolph and Artur Aghasyan. And they will surely be motivated to put on a show against an MLS opponent. They will look to not only showcase their talent on a bigger stage but also show the league that passed them up in the past that they may have made a mistake. In fact, Mike Randolph’s first professional team was none other than the USL version of the Portland Timbers back in 2006. This homecoming may hold a special place in his heart.

Second, let us not forget the man on the sideline. Eric Wynalda was not shy about voicing his interest in coaching an MLS team a few months back and the opportunity to square-off against one in the Open Cup must be an exciting prospect. The word he received was that he did not have enough experience coaching a team in order to earn a head managerial position with an MLS team. Well, what better way to show MLS that he is more than capable of training, developing, and managing MLS level talent then pitting his own constructed and coached team against one of their teams and putting up a good showing?

Another interesting aspect of the match-up is the disappointing season the Portland Timbers are currently experiencing. This is a team with high expectations and lofty goals. The fans and the front office were content with a mediocre expansion season last year, but their ownership made some big acquisitions in the off-season and they are looking to make serious progress.

However, they currently sit just second from the bottom in the Western Conference and have had some uninspired performances on the field. It is not far off to assume that if the Timbers get upset in the US Open Cup by a USASA level team that John Spencer’s job could be on the line. Especially, when you consider how serious their hated rivals to the north take this competition and their track-record of success in it as well. If Eric Wynalda and his team can pull one of, I wouldn’t be surprised if a vacancy opens in Portland and his cell phone rings with a potential job offer somewhere in MLS and possibly in Portland.

The match-ups leading up to the third round were a good test and were good preparation for Cal FC, but next Tuesday’s match will be their main event so far. They will be under the big lights, with a large crowd, and with a lot of respect on the line. If Cal FC manages to pull off the upset at JELD-WEN Field, it will be a victory that encompasses everything special and magical about this competition. They will all have made an emphatic statement that they deserve another look. That maybe they have earned another glass at the Second Chance Saloon.