North Texas Rayados pose for a picture before a recent exhibition game against the Tulsa Athletics. Photo: NTX Rayados
When you think of some of the more memorable amateur qualifiers from recent US Open Cups, you probably think of teams from California like PSA Elite or Cal FC; the latter did pull off the most memorable run in recent years back in 2012 with an upset of the Portland Timbers. You might also be familiar with Harpo’s FC, the somewhat notorious pub side from Boulder, Colorado. If you’re on the East Coast, maybe you prefer New York Pancyprian Freedoms and their historic title winning sides of the 1980s.
No matter what your level of familiarity with the Open Cup is, you might end up overlooking the youth soccer hotbed of North Texas.
Case in point: North Texas (NTX) Rayados.
NTX Rayados probably aren’t even the most well-known amateur team in their home city of Dallas. Open Cup fans might remember Dallas Roma FC’s then-historic run of three wins back in 2006 when they took down MLS side Chivas USA on penalty kicks and then ultimately lost to LA’s other MLS club, the Galaxy, in the fourth round.
That run in 2006 inspired former Richland College teammates Tito Salas and Raul Herrera to form a new team in the summer of 2011 comprised of friends and other Richland College players in the area who wanted to compete at a high level. Richland College was a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III power back in the mid-2000’s and former players like Salas and Herrera were anxious to continue challenging themselves. They won the North Texas Premier Soccer Association 1A title in their first season and have qualified for the Open Cup every year since, setting a new Modern Era (1995-present) record for consecutive appearances by an open division amateur side.
“We try to stay simple and keep the same base of boys playing to compete,” said Salas, who is the team’s general manager and player/coach. “As we know that we are only getting older, we try to keep the youth involved with us. I think that people around the community see us involved in many different activities as well. A few of us are public school teachers, others are actively coaching within the metroplex, not to mention the NTX Rayados Youth academy one of our players just started.”
Antonio Rodriguez, who is not on the Rayados roster this year, launched the academy with seven teams from as young as four years old up to the Under-16 level.
“The boys are very humble, very simple guys that never give you an impression that we are better than any other amateur team around here,” said Salas. “Several teams around Dallas now claim to be semi-pro, yet never get to compete at the level that we have.”
According to Salas, the team is also proud of the fact that so many of the players on the team have used their soccer talents to earn college degrees. This foundation of their friendships and their love for the game has been what has kept the club going over the years.
While Salas is listed as the team’s general manager and head coach, the team receives a lot of support both on and off the field from assistant coach Humberto Rodriguez. Sales describes Rodriguez as “another hard working, humble man that simply enjoys watching us play. He has been there since day one, and we really appreciate his support. Would not be able to do it without him.” (He’s the white-haired man in the team photo at the top of the page).
The team actually did not participate in the highly-competitive North Texas Premier Soccer Association this past season. Salas says numerous injuries combined with a lack of player availability. They have scheduled a number of exhibition games to stay fresh. They played against teams like Dallas City FC, FC Dallas Academy teams, the NPSL’s Tulsa Athletics, Texas Spurs and will be playing against local rivals Legends FC and Liverpool Warriors before the match on the 11th.
They have also entered multiple tournaments like the Metro PCS Cup. They won the tournament which gave them a cash prize that will help them pay for their US Open Cup run. They will also be taking part in the Copa Alianza, another Dallas-based tournament that they have won three of the last four years.
North Texas Rayados prepare for their 2016 US Open Cup qualifying match vs. Austin Real Cuauhtemoc. Photo: NTX Rayados
Much like Dallas Roma FC, NTX Rayados drew the inspiration for their name from a professional club; in this case Mexican giants C.F. Monterrey. The team simply went by “Rayados” in their first season but then quickly decided to add “NTX” in order to broadcast their home base of Dallas. The team does feature a roster loaded with Mexican influence, but several players of English descent have graced their roster over the years. They want to honor their favorite Liga MX side, but they also want the best of the best regardless of heritage.
Key players on this team include goalkeeper Eduardo Cortes and striker Alberto Rodriguez. Both entered the 2016 MLS draft but unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the Rayados, they weren’t selected. Rodriguez scored three goals during the 2014 US Open Cup (tied for third-most in the tournament), including two scores and the game-winning kick in the penalty shootout against the Austin Aztex. Returning players include Jamie Lovegrove and Kevin Ellis and left back Fernando Garza, who also play with the Dallas Sidekicks indoor team.
Even with February’s announcement about MLS-owned USL teams no longer being eligible to compete opening up more amateur side spots, NTX Rayados still had an easier path to the first round than most. They defeated Austin Real Cuauhtemoc 4-2 on Nov. 1, 2015 after the initial match the week before was postponed due to heavy rain and flooding in the Texas capital. Joshean “Yoshi” Gonzalez scored twice to help seal the deal and that was the last time the team had an Open Cup match. Their second round of qualifying saw them advance after International Portland Select (IPS) had to forfeit because they couldn’t make the 2,000 mile trip to Dallas. IPS had reached Round 2 because their opening round opponent, KC Athletics, had to drop out because they couldn’t make the long trip to Oregon. Travel was an issue for a few open division amateur teams that entered the qualifying process this year.
Despite their sustained excellence in qualifying, NTX Rayados haven’t had much success in the tournament itself. They’ve only managed to advance past their first game once since their qualifying streak began back in 2012. In 2014 they took down Austin Aztex (PDL) in a thrilling 4-4 game that ended with Rayados advancing via the penalty shootout. The victory was sweet for the North Texas side given that Austin crushed them 3-0 in the previous year. Rayados went on to put up a spirited fight against the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions but ended up losing 4-2. This year they find themselves paired with another team from San Antonio: Corinthians FC of San Antonio. The Red and Black Rayados will be hoping this is the year they can finally make a sustained run and announce themselves as a true Open Cup amateur power.