FC Tacoma (purple) hosted San Diego Flash with the final spot in the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on the line. Photo: Marcus Annable (PHOTO GALLERY)
Did you want an underdog story?
The San Diego Flash had the worst possible run up to Sunday’s 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup play-in against FC Tacoma 253. Back in February, Clent Alexander, the well-liked CEO of the team, passed away after an illness. The team fought on, winning the NPSL’s Southwest Conference qualifying tournament after playing to a draw against Deportivo Coras last Saturday. After getting past their Inland Empire opponent on penalty kicks, they qualified to play in a final one-off match to qualify for the Cup.
The trouble is, that meant a drive to Tacoma, Wash. They didn’t have the money to do it, so Justin Picou, the team’s No. 10, started a GoFundMe page to raise some cash. They got enough money to make the trip, but they had to leave one player behind who couldn’t get out of work.
We all love underdogs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end well for the scrappy, underrated folks. The adversity may have been too much for them as they got stomped by Tacoma, a team only playing its second match in club history, 6-1.
FC Tacoma 253 (the number is Tacoma’s area code) got things off to a strong start with a ninth minute goal from former Venezuelan youth international Pedro Millan. Tacoma extended the lead with a 16th minute own goal.
If San Diego was hoping halftime would change their fortunes, Matt Shaxton’s strike two minutes after the whistle blew put that to rest. The Flash managed to see a bit of light when they were awarded a penalty kick.
Sergio Valle-Ortiz easily found the back of the net. The team had no chance to build on the momentum.
Memorial Stadium in Seattle was the site of the FC Tacoma vs. San Diego Flash match. Photo: @Brazbit (Twitter)
Millan came back to score his second in minute 72. Then, San Diego keeper James Stroud looked to have a save, but his body carried too far on the wet turf. He was ejected for handling the ball outside of the box. He handed the his goalkeeper jersey to Picou, who was unable to stop either the free kick (it became Millan’s third goal of the match) or the 88th minute strike from Eil Goodley.
Despite the lopsided result, Tacoma assistant coach and midfielder Phil Aur said that San Diego was a tough opponent, one that “had a right to be there.”
“We dealt with their final third attack well, but we gave them more of the ball than we would like to have,” he said. “They are a good team, very creative. Every final ball they played was over the top, and that’s where we excelled.”
“They challenged us throughout the whole game,” he added. “There was a lot of play that the defense had to gobble up.”
FC Tacoma is a new entrant in the NPSL, and the only two matches they have played so far have been open cup qualifiers. They formed after the dissolution of two other teams in the area, Inter United FC and Seattle Sporting. Aur played for Inter United FC, and his team has players from both sides as well as a strong local adult club league.
“Last year, a lot of us were rivals,” Aur said.
Millan, a local coach in Seattle with experience as a pro in his native Venezuela, was an addition from Sporting. Despite Millan’s hat trick, his role was more of a distributor high up the field.
“It’s hard to keep the ball off of him. He’s very skillful,” Aur said.
Aur acknowledges that the team had some trouble working in a new player who joined up with the squad this week, Oussama Esabr. Esabr is a Moroccan who played for Juventus’s youth side and a number of lower division Italian teams.
“We weren’t sure if he was going to start,” he said. “We were trying to find a way to get him on the field and give him a role where he could have a lot of responsibility. He didn’t have the ball much because we didn’t always know where he was going to be.”
Needless to say, Aur is proud that his team has made the US Open Cup.
“You can’t say that you’ve played in the US Open Cup until you get there,” he said. “The guys were pumped, you could see it from the way they played.”
Tacoma opens their NPSL season opener Saturday against Real San Jose. They will need to figure out how to play both their NPSL season plus Open Cup matches.
“We are a new club, we have a lot of unseen territory,” Aur said. “It’s not anything we can be prepared for. Do we know when our next game is? No … we just gotta suck it up and be the underdogs.”
Oh, there’s the underdog story you were looking for.
2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup entries
Participating Professional Teams (47 total):
Major League Soccer
(Division I – 17 teams, entering in the Fourth Round)
Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City
North American Soccer League
(Division II – 9 teams, entering in the Third Round)
Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Indy Eleven, Jacksonville Armada, Minnesota United FC, New York Cosmos, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies
United Soccer League
(Division III – 21 teams, entering in the Second Round)
Arizona United, Austin Aztex, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Harrisburg City Islanders, LA Galaxy II, Louisville City FC, New York Red Bulls (USL PRO), Oklahoma City Energy, Orange County Blues, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Portland Timbers 2, Real Monarchs SLC, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Sacramento Republic, Saint Louis FC, Seattle Sounders 2, Tulsa Roughnecks, Wilmington Hammerheads
Amateur Leagues (44 total teams):
U.S. Adult Soccer Association Regional Qualifiers
(11 places [nine entering in the First Round, two entering in the Play-In Round)
Region I: Maryland Bays, New York Greek American Atlas
Region II: Kansas City Athletics, Madison Fire
Region III: North Texas Rayados, Triangle Brigade
Region IV: Cal FC, Chula Vista FC
Wild Card Berths (3):
GPS Massachusetts (MA), PSA Elite (CA), RWB Adria (IL).
Premier Development League
(19 places, entering in the First Round)
AC Connecticut, Burlingame Dragons, BYU Cougars, Des Moines Menace, FC Tucson, Golden State Misioneros, Jersey Express, Kitsap Pumas, Laredo Heat, Long Island Rough Riders, Michigan Bucks, Midland/Odessa Sockers, Ocala Stampede, Reading United, Seacoast United Phantoms, Southwest Florida Adrenaline, Ventura County Fusion, West Virginia Chaos, Western Mass Pioneers.
National Premier Soccer League
(12 places, entering in the First Round)
Brooklyn Italians, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, FC Tacoma 253, Fort Pitt Regiment, Greater Binghamton Thunder, Lansing United, Miami United, Sonoma County Sol, Tulsa Athletics, Upward Stars, Virginia Beach City FC.
US Club Soccer
(One place, entering in the Preliminary Round)
San Francisco City FC (will play Cal FC in Preliminary Round)
US Specialty Sports Association
(1 place, entering in the Preliminary Round)
Harpo’s FC (will play KC Athletics in Preliminary Round)