Players from the LA Wolves FC and Buena Park FC go up for a header in a 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match. Photo: Tmesis FC
The Los Angeles Wolves, last year’s USASA Region IV Champion under coach Eric Wynalda, are back to their usual winning ways, just in time for their return to the US Open Cup, this being their third consecutive qualification to the tournament.
The Wolves lost their footing soon after Eric Wynalda’s departure, finishing in an unusual sixth place in the fall season of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) Western Conference.
However, this season, they’ve bounced back. They have yet to lose a game in this new UPSL season, after six games at the time of this writing, and racking up 16 out of 18 points.
The club has built another strong squad, after the departures of Bryan De la Fuente, Duncan Capriotti, Paolo Cardozo who joined California United.
The new Wolves head coach, Felipe Bernal, is eager and grateful for the opportunity to coach the Wolves in the Open Cup.
“We’re very grateful that the UPSL is out there, for the homegrown players that really don’t get that prime opportunity in Major League Soccer,” said Bernal. “And leagues like this give the opportunity for local clubs, and for those players to shine and grow into the next level. That’s very important. It’s definitely exciting for the league and clubs like the Wolves to create these opportunities.”
Coach Bernal sees having to travel in the first, and would-be, second Open Cup round as opportunities to make his team stronger, due to the expected hostile environments.
“I was brought in to change some dynamics … a lot of our players are new, but they’ve played Division 1, Division 2, Junior College and are well-experienced,” said Bernal. “They’re young and hungry.”
The Wolves have enjoyed quite a bit of success in the tournament in their first two years. In 2016, they advanced to Round 2 by way of forfeit and then upset a pro team in their first Open Cup game, eliminating the USL’s Orange County Blues by penalty kicks. They would fall to fellow amateur side La Maquina in Round 3.
Last year, the draw was favorable and the Wolves won back-to-back home games against amateur sides (San Diego Zest, Chula Vista FC) before Orange County SC got their revenge with a 1-0 win.
The Wolves qualified to the Open Cup, through the Open Division qualifying process, where they defeated Real Sociedad Royals (SoCal Premier League) by a score of 6-1 in the opening round. They got a free pass into the final round after Vanquish FC (UPSL) withdrew from the tournament, and they clinched their third straight Open Cup berth with a 4-0 win over Buena Park FC (SoCal Premier).
The club opens the first round versus FC Golden State, no stranger to the Open Cup, having qualified out of the Premier Development League for the second year in a row.
LA Wolves vs FC Golden State in the first round of the Open Cup kicks off on May 9 at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif at 7 p.m. local time.
Paul Blackman also contributed to this story