Burned-out cars and charred homes cover the landscape in Santa Rosa on Oct. 14, 2017, after the wildfires that spread across Sonoma County, California. Photo: California National Guard | Capt. Will Martin/Released (Flickr)
The California Victory was founded in Feb. 2017 by two cousins, Michael and Ramiro Briceno, who have deep ties to the North Bay community that their club represents. They both decided on establishing this club so the youth of their community in Sonoma had a place where they could advance from the youth clubs like Santa Rosa United, Atletico of Santa Rosa, Napa United, and of course, Briceno Soccer Club of which Michael is the president.
The California Victory are based in Petaluma, Calif., which is located in Sonoma County in the heart of the recent North Bay wildfires. The club plays home games in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Rohnert Park, three communities that have all been seriously affected by the deadly wildfires.
The fires began on Oct. 8 and are just now beginning to be contained. Cal Fire is expecting to have the fires fully contained just one day before Cal Victory will host the Davis Legacy on Oct. 22 in a second round match in the open division qualifying tournament for the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The soccer game can only serve as somewhat of a respite for the people of the area to help take the minds of the players and staff off of the tragic situation.
The fires have caused thousands of local residents to be evacuated, many of whom are still under evacuation orders. More than 100,000 residents were evacuated during the fires that left at least 42 people dead and took out nearly 7,000 homes and other buildings.
Included in those affected were three Cal Victory players living in Napa County who had to be evacuated. The club’s general manager Don Shaffer lost his home in Santa Rosa to the fires.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the Shaffer family begin to rebuild their lives.
This is one of those times when the entire soccer community across the country can come together to support each other in a time when the residents of the North Bay could use much support.
The Cal Victory are coming off of their inaugural UPSL summer campaign in which they finished runner up in the UPSL summer season, falling to the Los Angeles Wolves in the championship match. They earned their spot in Round 2 of Open Cup qualifying by knocking off fellow UPSL side, Real San Jose, last month.
“The opportunity to qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is very important to us,” said Michel Briceno. “We want to have the same chance as any soccer club in America.”
Even with all of the drama surrounding the club, the Victory will be ready for Sunday’s game against Davis, and will play at Casa Grande High School in the heart of their beloved community. (Kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT)
“Our team was happy to start practicing again and have the upcoming game [to focus on],” said Cal Victory administrator Kathy Fagundes. “It has helped gathering everyone together to train and just have fun. We are very focused and ready for Davis Legacy. The Open Cup is very important for us and we are happy that we can play with our full team even with the events that happened to our community.”
PLEASE GIVE: A GoFundMe campaign is available to help Cal Victory general manager Don Shaffer and his family who lost their home in the Santa Rosa wildfires
If the name Cal Victory sounds familiar, then you’re correct. Back in 2007, a San Francisco-based team called the California Victory played a single season in the USL First Division (Div. 2 pro) before folding. Briceno played on that team and helped the club reach the Third Round of the US Open Cup in their only season. Unfortunately, the only thing the casual Open Cup fan will remember from that cup run was a Round 2 win over the Minnesota Thunder (USL First Division) when Ricardo Sanchez scored the lone goal of the match in extra time. Sanchez then ran over to the Thunder supporters section and did what the referee later described as a “dog and fire hydrant” celebration and was issued his second yellow card of the match for his efforts. The two teams finished with nine men and California advanced to play the Colorado Rapids (MLS).
With a slightly different name to avoid any trademark issues, the Victory have entered the US Open Cup for a chance to promove themselves.
“The US Open Cup means a chance to show how talented our club is and that we can compete with the big guys out there that play for their national and MLS teams,” said Fagundes. “Also, having the US Open Cup here in Sonoma County is a great honor.”
ADDITIONAL WAYS TO HELP: There are other fundraising efforts underway to help members of the soccer community in Northern California affected by the wildfires:
* NorCal Premier Soccer Clubs (Napa, Calif.)
* Emergency Relief Fund for Communities Affected By Napa Fires