Welcome to our continuing series of Meet the USASA features where we annually profile the clubs representing the United States Adult Soccer Association in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Advancing from the four regional tournaments, these often unknown clubs have great stories to tell and each year, our goal is to allow fans to get to know them as they attempt to become this year’s Cinderella story.
A year later, and a year wiser. Though the club, founded in1974, boasts a great amount of experience, it is not quite so cliché when it comes to the ASC New Stars of Houston, Texas. More importantly for the club, the format and draw of the tournament was a lot kinder a year later.
“We played against a great team in the final and won the championship, I think the difference was experience we all had as a team from previous years over our opponent,” said head coach Majid Savadkoohi.
The third generation took Aria Soccer Club to new heights, reaching the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament for the third time in five years and finally claiming the elusive USASA Region III championship. But it is upsets in the Open Cup that makes the amateur teams memorable, and that has been a difficult task courtesy of the draws the team has faced.
As Region III runners-up in 2008, the New Stars were sent to South Carolina., where they were blanked 3-0 by the second division’s Charleston Battery. Last year, it was a trip to Orlando, Fla. where they lost 4-0 to eventual season and playoff champion Orlando City of the third division USL Pro.
This year if the club is successful, the New Stars would likely play three rounds in-state before having to leave Texas, possibly four. ASC were drawn against a Premier Development League power in the Laredo Heat, a club with which ASC has great familiarity with, and have a second round contest awaiting them with North American Soccer League expansion club San Antonio Scorpions. An upset against the second-tier pro club would most likely net them a match against either the hometown Houston Dynamo or their MLS rival FC Dallas, though the pairings have not been announced for the Third Round yet.
That is a nice bit of karma for the previous travel. They were even the hosts of the Region III tournament a few weeks ago as well.
“Since we don’t have to travel out of state and some of players have friends or relatives – and also some former ASC players that are playing for Laredo now – makes us feel more close to home,” said Savadhoohi. “I think we are going to do better this year.”
A former ASC player they may face come Tuesday night is Emmanuel Frias. Frias, who has played for ASC off and on before joining the Heat, saw action between the posts on six occasions for Laredo during the regular season last year, boasting a nice 0.386 goals-against average for a 3-1-1 record and four shutouts. He went on to start all four playoff matches, leading the Heat to the PDL championship before falling, 1-0 in the Final to the Kitsap Pumas. They will not, however, see Edward Estrada, who played for the New Stars at the 2010 Region III tournament. Estrada played 12 games in defense for the Heat last year with four more appearances in the playoffs, including three starts, but has moved to the IMG Academy in Bradenton where he is playing for the Academics in the PDL.
“Laredo Heat is a great team, I have a lot of respect for the players, coaches and management; and I think this will be a great game. We have a very good relationship with all of them, and I think it will be a friendly atmosphere in the game on Tuesday,” he added, concluding that, “We have to remember we have to think one game at a time and you know in cup games each game is a Final.”
The humble Savadkoohi has plenty to be proud about with his club, though, too. The New Stars went into the Region III tournament as favorites. Veteran star Alex Bolan, who notched four goals and an assist in the 2011 Region III tournament, last year had 17 goals in the local HFA Premier League this season. In this year’s regional tournament, though, it was George Sangira, who scored once in the 2011 event, who had the winning touch, scoring five goals over the course of the championship run.
Savadkoohi said that all of his players had outstanding performances throughout the tournament, but “in the final match George Sangira was the player of the game.” He went on to say that his eight new players had performed well, including 19 year-old goalkeeper Jason Taffet, who allowed just two goals in the group phase, including a 2-0 shutout in the final over fellow Open Cup qualifier North Texas Rayados. The win in the championship game punches their ticket to the USASA Nationals which are being held in Bridgeview, Ill this summer.
Always extending his thanks to the players for their dedication and hard work, as well as the club’s co-founder and General Manager Tom Khalili, it is Savadkoohi that is the mastermind behind the success of the third generation, which appears to be transitioning to the fourth with the sizable injection of new talent.
“In 2003, after the previous coach retired, I became the head coach of the only premier team ASC had in the Houston Football Association,” said Savadkoohi a year ago. “I kept three players from his team and brought in young players ages 17-21 to build basically a new team, and changed the name to New Stars to fit the team’s character, which was made up of young and new players.”
That is when the domination of the HFA began. The New Stars have won the title now all eight years as well as claiming numerous cup titles.
To continue to challenge the team, the New Stars have had to step onto a more regional and national stage. The first time was in 2008 with limited success. After skipping the regional event in 2009, they returned in 2010 only to finish winless in group play. That made the 2011 Region III tournament about reclamation.
“After last year’s extreme disappointment we came into this year with redemption on our mind,” said Savadkoohi during the 2011 Region III tournament. “We just keep building positive momentum after each win along with improved chemistry and purpose.”
This year, it is all about looking forward.
MORE: History of ASC New Stars (2011 Meet the USASA)