The LA Wolves wanted to get on the map when they participated in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the first time last season. Fast forward to now, the young club is hoping to turn some heads in this year’s tournament and has a new leader with some experience of doing just that.
The Wolves, under the new direction of head coach Eric Wynalda, are in the Open Cup for the second straight year and take on the San Diego Zest in the first round Wednesday night at Azusa Pacific University.
“I can comfortably tell you that we are better than we were last year because we’ve invested more into the program,” said Wolves president and GM Yan Skwara. “Eric was handed a pretty good team already, but as a coach who’s gunning for more, he saw holes that needed to be patched up. Now the guys just have to do it. I know they’re up to the challenge.”
To say Wynalda is experienced is a gross understatement. The US Soccer Hall of Famer played in the Bundesliga and scored 106 goals at the international level. His name has been floated around for an MLS coaching job for years, but his most recent coaching stop was in 2014 with the Atlanta Silverbacks when they were a part of the NASL.
His most famous run as a head coach came in the Open Cup with Cal FC, who beat the Portland Timbers in the third round, becoming the first amateur team to score against and advance via a victory in 2012.
“That’s what he’s here to do again and the players understand that,” Skwara said. “He’s brought a lot to the table with his experience. He’s very professional and he has come in here and he’s put some good focus into what we’re about to face.”
The Wolves have been dominant in the regular season the last two years, finishing atop the table in each of the seasons, but falling short in the playoffs. This season, they sit in fourth place in the Western Conference with 21 points, six points behind first place with two games in hand and have allowed a conference-best eight goals this season.
Much of the roster from last year has returned, including former LA Galaxy and Chivas USA winger Paolo Cardozo, who wasn’t eligible to play last year’s Open Cup because he was cup-tied.
Miguel Sanchez and Chuck Pitts have another year of playing together up to and Skwara said the team shored up the midfield compared to last season. They also added a veteran MLS defender as Chris Klute joined this season.
“We’re playing a lot more rounded than last year,” Skwara said. “We’ve got a good core group of existing players along with the new players that have really bonded over the last few months. The screws have been tightened. We have some high expectations, but we don’t them to be too high.”
LA qualified for this year’s Open Cup thanks to a 4-1 win against the Real Sociedad Royals in September and then dominated Inland Empire FC 9-2 in October to earn a spot in the tournament for the second year in a row.
They had a successful run the Open Cup last year. After moving through the first round against the Ventura County Fusion via forfeit, they beat USL Pro side OC Blues on PKs in Round 2 before falling to fellow UPSL squad La Maquina in Round 3.
“We’re playing a lot more rounded than last year,” Skwara said. “We’re here for the long haul and we’re here for the future. The screws have been tightened. We have some high expectations, but we don’t them to be too high.”