The qualifying round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup rarely has any earth-shattering news, but that changed over the weekend.
The Los Angeles Wolves FC, one of the powerhouses in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), announced they have hired US Soccer Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda to be the team’s new head coach. The former U.S. international will take over the team for league play and for the team’s run in the 2017 US Open Cup.
Wynalda’s head coaching experience has been limited, but both jobs have been history-making ones. In 2012, he led Southern California-based amateur club Cal FC to a pair of upsets of professional teams, including a 1-0 road win over Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers. It was not only the first time a USASA team had defeated a MLS team in regulation (the only other upset by Dallas Roma FC over Chivas USA in 2006 was by penalty kicks), it was also the first time a USASA team had scored a goal against a MLS team. At the time, Cal FC was one of six amateur teams in the Modern Era (1995-present) to reach the Fourth Round, where they lost to the Seattle Sounders FC, 5-0.
Wynalda later joined the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 2014, and helped them make history as well. He led the Silverbacks to the best cup run in club history. Atlanta upset a pair of MLS teams (Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids), marking the first time the Silverbacks had ever eliminated a top-tier side. The run would end in the Quarterfinals with a 3-1 home loss to the Chicago Fire.
The story of Wynalda’s new job has spread all over the soccer media from Soccer America to outlets that rarely report on amateur soccer. But what has been missed by some of the reporting is that the Wolves have yet to qualify for the 2017 competition. The Wolves have cruised to back-to-back wins in this year’s open division qualifying tournament (4-1 over Real Sociedad Royals and a 9-2 win over Inland Empire FC), but there’s still at least one more step to take before they qualify for the 104th edition of the tournament.
The third round of the competition was postponed until March of 2017, and according to the US Soccer Federation website, the draw for the third round was supposed to be announced in “mid-January.” The Wolves are still waiting to find out who they will face. And if they survive Round 3, there could be a fourth round of qualifying, which is scheduled to take place the weekend of April 8-9.
There is also the possibility that the third round of the open division qualifying tournament could be canceled, like it was last year, which would likely send all of the remaining clubs (with the exception of Minneapolis City SC, who are expected to be disqualified) into the tournament proper.
Wynalda inherits a quality Wolves roster. LA has won the UPSL Western Division in each of the last two seasons, including a perfect 16-0-0 finish during the Fall season. However, the Wolves have fallen short in each of their first two playoff runs, losing in the Spring championship game and suffering a first round upset in the Fall.
The Wolves made waves in their their US Open Cup debut last year. After a 2-1 win over fellow UPSL side Del Rey City, the Wolves defeated Cal FC by the same scoreline to qualify for the tournament. Once they got in, they got a free pass into Round 2 after the Ventura County Fusion (PDL) forfeited. Next, they upset their first professional team by holding the USL’s Orange County Blues to a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes and winning the penalty kick shootout 4-2. Their cup run would end at the hands of 2016’s Open Cup darling La Maquina, another UPSL rival, by the score of 2-0.
Wynalda is expected to continue his work as a broadcaster where he works as an analyst for Fox Sports and hosts a show with SiriusXM Satellite Radio.