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.
Founded in 2002, PSA Elite is known as one of the premier amateur sides in Orange County, California. They are competing in their first Lamar Hunt US Open Cup this year as they travel to Portland to play the Portland Timbers U23’s. Despite this being their first trip to the national spotlight as a team, they are far from inexperienced.
Owner and executive director Alex Lujan is looking forward to the opportunity of competing in the US Open Cup this year. His club got their first taste of national competition last year, as PSA Elite competed in the 2011 USASA National Championships in Bowling Green, Kentucky. There, after defeating the Region III champion from Texas, they lost to a Chicago side from Region II by a score of 3-2 in the final.
Soon after the tournament, the option was presented to him to compete in the US Open Cup. It offered two things: being able to compete in the United States’ oldest national soccer tournament, and entering the amateur national championship. So he obliged and signed up to compete. He wanted to make sure that the team was prepared for the challenge, so out of the 17 players he is bringing to Portland, all but three of them were on the team last year. He wants to create continuity and a familiarity between the players.
The three players that were brought into the squad were midfielder Edwin Miranda, who came from the Los Angeles Blues of USL Pro, midfielder Miguel “Mikey” Lopez, who is entering his sophomore season at North Carolina this fall, and Miguel Ontiveros, who recently played with Premier Development League side Orange County Blue Star.
PSA Elite has no lack of talent, and plenty of players who have had professional experience. The aforementioned Miranda was drafted by the Dallas Burn in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, was signed by the Portland Timbers, and later moved on to Puerto Rico, Miami, and Hollywood. He has spent the last eight years in the USL professional ranks. PSA Elite’s captain, Cameron Dunn, has played for the Timbers, the California Victory, and the Los Angeles Blues. He is known for having a strong presence in the back, and having excellent leadership. Also, John “Tre” Lee, a defender for the club, has suited up with the Cleveland City Stars.
The club is run very professionally, with the only caveat being that it is an amateur side, and that no players are paid. There is an extremely high talent pool in Orange County the team is drawing from, and it shows in the competition. The players are treated like pros, from the moment they lace up their cleats to the minute they finish the match and walk off the pitch. Everything from scheduling to laundry is taken care of in house by staff, so that the players can focus solely on playing at their best. Also, in the offseason, professional players spend time training with the club. Players known to appear include Sporting Kansas City striker Kei Kamara, Blake Wagner of the San Antonio Scorpions, and Toronto FC’s Eric Avila (whose brother, Adrian, is a current member of PSA Elite).
Facing off against the Portland Timbers U23’s is a good test for the club, says Lujan. Due to the multitude of players that have suited up for the Timbers in the past, they know what to expect going into Jeld-Wen Field. “The facility is amazing. The crowd is going to be loud and exciting.” He exclaims that the veteran presence on the club should help the younger players adjust to the atmosphere. They have to “make sure some of the younger guys play within themselves, and handle the adrenaline rush effectively.”
Lujan feels that the US Open Cup experience is going to help his club and his players, regardless of the outcome. “This is an absolute win-win for us. If we win, we play an NASL team (Carolina Railhawks). It’s a great experience for the guys. If we lose, the experience will be extremely rewarding. … We’re trying to give these guys experiences and opportunities to be seen and play in front of crowds on an amazing football field.”
Lujan sums up the whole opportunity by exclaiming the following statement: “I want to go out and win, but if we don’t, hopefully [the experience] will make everyone better players.”