California Clasico isn’t new: North has battled South in US Open Cup since 1950s

Posted by | July 10, 2017
Willie Carson (center) of the Los Angeles Kickers, shown here in action against Schwaben AC (Chicago), scored six goals in the Kickers' 8-1 victory over San Francisco Scots in 1960. Photo: LA Times archives

Willie Carson (center) of the Los Angeles Kickers, shown here in action against Schwaben AC (Chicago), scored six goals in the Kickers’ 8-1 victory over San Francisco Scots in 1960. Photo: LA Times archives

This year’s quarterfinal meeting of the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes will be just the sixth time the California Clasico will have been played in the US Open Cup. However, for the better part of 40 years the rivalry between Northern and Southern California was a key component in determining the Open Cup champion.

Between 1954 and 1978, the winners of the Open Cup preliminary qualifying tournaments in Northern and Southern California met over two legs for the Far West Championship, as well as a spot in the Western Final to oppose the winner from the Midwest (St. Louis, Chicago, & Milwaukee).

Teams from the West Coast didn’t participate in the Open Cup until 1954. Two teams from Los Angeles, LA Scots and McIlwaine Canvasbacks, entered in 1952 and 1953 respectively, but both withdrew when the cost of traveling to St. Louis was too high. That first year, 15 clubs from Southern California and eight from the Bay Area entered. San Francisco’s Hakoah AC emerged victorious in the North, while Los Angeles’ Scottish AC won the SoCal tournament.

On Jan. 10, the teams met at Rancho Cienega Stadium in Los Angeles for the first leg of the inaugural West Coast Open Cup showdown. The Scots took the first game 1-0 on a first half goal from Ray Stelmack, although a missed penalty kick in the second half by Hakoah’s Dennis Miklos kept the teams from finishing level. A week later at San Francisco’s Balboa Stadium, the second leg would turn out to be a classic. Tied 1-1 at halftime, Hakoah dramatically tied the aggregate score at 2-2 when Bob Kellerman scored in the 83rd minute.

Neither team could score in 30 minutes of extra time, so an additional 30 were required to break the deadlock. The Scots’ Ray Stalmach was sent off, leaving the LA club to play with 10 men. Playing through approaching darkness and on a muddy field, Larry Radulski, a Marine from Camp Pendelton, put the short-handed Scots ahead in the 128th minute on a penalty kick. Radulksi scored once more in the 143rd minute to put the game away. Hakoah goalkeeper George Durschlag was so frustrated at allowing the goal that he booted the ball over the stands.

Los Angeles dominated the early meetings, winning 14 of the first 16 encounters,with wins going to Hakoah AC in 1957 and San Francisco Scots in 1962. In the 1958 series, the Los Angeles Kickers demolished Teutonia AAC 13-2 on aggregate. In 1960, when the matchup was played as a single game, Willie Carson scored six goals in the Kickers 8-1 victory over San Francisco Scots.

When teams from Washington state began entering the tournament, the California matchup was moved to the Western Quarterfinals for 1966, as Orange County SC moved on to defeat Seattle’s Hungarian SC. In years following, a game with the Washington winner would await the Bay Area teams before the series with LA. The low point for NorCal teams came in 1970 & 1971, when losses to Seattle area clubs prevented them from reaching the faceoff with LA.

In 1973, San Jose was represented for the first time by the San Jose Portuguese, losing to LA’s Maccabee AC 3-0 on aggregate. With the 1973 win, Maccabee began their dominance on the LA side, representing Southern California eight out of the next 10 times against opponents from the North, winning five Open Cup championships along the way. In 1976, San Francisco AC broke a winning drought that stretched back to 1962, beating the Maccabees 2-1 on aggregate on their way to claiming the first Open Cup title for the Bay Area.

San Francisco Greek American AC player Tom Dawkins takes a shot while Bayardo Abaunza (left) and Lorenz Lenhardt (center) of Los Angeles Kickers-Victoria look on during the Kickers' 3-1 second leg win in 1965. Photo: LA Times archives

San Francisco Greek American AC player Tom Dawkins takes a shot while Bayardo Abaunza (left) and Lorenz Lenhardt (center) of Los Angeles Kickers-Victoria look on during the Kickers’ 3-1 second leg win in 1965. Photo: LA Times archives

Beginning in 1979, the North-South contest ceased to be a regular National Quarterfinal contest. Then, in 1982, all of the state winners gathered at a central location to determine the regional champion for the national semifinals; 1986 & 1987 marked the first time since 1971 that the California clubs did not face each other in Cup play.

After years of playing second fiddle to the Los Angeles clubs, the Bay Area finally found success in the 1980s and 90s. From 1982 to 1994 San Francisco AC won the battle for California six times, winning two Open Cup championships along the way. In fact, the final three Open Cup winners prior to the Modern Era (1995-present) were all Bay Area clubs: San Jose Oaks (1992), CD Mexico (1993, now El Farolito), and San Francisco AC (1994).

Once Major League Soccer began playing in the Open Cup, the North-South matchups were not guaranteed anymore. The rivalry between the Galaxy and Earthqualkes, known as the California Classico, has only been played five times, with Los Angeles regaining the dominance of the past by winning all five contests. The Earthquakes will try and prevent the streak from reaching six in a row tonight at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.