The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is an annual competition open to all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer. It is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States. This year marks the 101st edition of the tournament and features a record 80 teams – 42 amateur teams and 38 professional clubs.
One of those amateur participants is Cal FC, an amateur soccer team based out of Thousand Oaks, CA that competes in the La Gran Liga de Oxnard of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association Region IV. The players have full time jobs elsewhere, and don’t train regularly. Cal FC made their mark in the U.S. Open Cup two years ago when they became the Cinderella story of the tournament.
Coached by former US soccer star Eric Wynalda and Nick Webster, the team went on an amazing run. In the first round, they upset the Kitsap Pumas (USL-PDL) 3-1 and then upset the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-Pro) 4-0 in the second round to set up a clash with the Portland Timbers in Round 3.
The team flew up to Portland the day before the match with only one practice under their belt. The Timbers fielded their best possible lineup and battered the amateur side – Portland would finish with 37 shots, 15 on goal. Despite their dominance, they could not find the net – even missing a penalty by Kris Boyd in the 80th minute, as goalkeeper Derby Carrillo and the Cal FC defense held firm. The Timbers were left to rue their profligacy when in the 95th minute Cal FC’s Artur Aghasyan collected a through-pass in the middle, broke away, and neatly finished past the keeper for 1-0. It was the first goal ever scored by a USASA team against an MLS opponent.
Portland pushed forward, but could not find an equalizer as the tired amateur side hung on for dear life. By the end of the 120 minutes, Cal FC had secured one of the most shocking upsets in U.S. Open Cup history and became the first USASA team to defeat an MLS team in open play without the need for a penalty shootout. The Timbers Army supporters group serenaded the visitors when it was over with chants of “You deserve it!” and “Beat Seattle!”
Webster recalls the moment:
“We were so tired after that the usual victory [party] that would rage until the early hours ended at 3 am instead of 6 am!”
Though Cal FC finally succumbed to the Seattle Sounders in the 4th round a week later, their place in history was set.
Wynalda has since left the team and Webster is on his own coaching this time around.
Cal FC’s first game of this year’s tournament is May 14 in the second round against LA Galaxy II of the USL (Division III). Webster is realistic about his team’s chances against organized and fit professional players, but is hoping that they “can be compact and disciplined, hang around, make them nervous and then see what happens.” While they don’t possess the same caliber players as that magical run of 2012, Webster believes the group is solid and gives Cal FC a puncher’s chance. After all, anything is possible in a one-off match – they proved that just two years ago.