Welcome to our continuing series of Meet the USASA features where we annually profile the clubs representing the United States Adult Soccer Association in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Advancing from the four regional tournaments, these often unknown clubs have great stories to tell and each year, our goal is to allow fans to get to know them as they attempt to become this year’s Cinderella story. Click here for more Meet the USASA stories.
Dreams really do come true. Just ask Tono Aspinall, the manager of the DV8 Defenders from Redwood City, CA, as he works on the final details of his team’s first-ever appearance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“We did not really know what to expect when we entered the qualification tournament in Sacramento (last May),” said Aspinall speaking pitchside as he watched his team battle MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes reserve squad. “But when we won our group, I couldn’t believe it had become a reality. For us, being able to qualify and move on to the Open Cup for the first time ever is great.”
Earning the right to represent Region IV of the USASA has already opened doors for the club that didn’t exist as the year began. Being invited to play the Quakes reserves as a tune-up for the DV8 Defenders first round match against Real Colorado Foxes (June 14th, Shea Stadium, Highland Ranch, CO) was just one example of how much the profile of the club has grown in the last few weeks.
“I don’t know if it is nerves, but hopefully our guys will settle into the match,” said Aspinall as his dark-blue clad side played cautiously to start the match. “Just having this opportunity to recognize our squad and to continue our growth into an elite team in the Bay Area, more kids will see that we play a good brand of soccer.
While the Defenders were able to turn their nervousness into positive play, an Earthquakes side that featured a mix of starters, trialists and academy players eventually triumphed 2-0 over the amateur team. However, they rarely backed down against the professionals, and even saw their star in the making put in another great performance. Goalkeeper Matt Grosey, a student at West Valley Community College in nearby Cupertino, saved not one, but two penalty kicks against Quakes forwards Scott Sealy and Matt Luzunaris.
“Our goalkeeper is the youngest player on the field and he is also our team captain,” shared Aspinall. “He’s probably our best player and I hope one day that he goes pro. The kid just turned 19 years old, but he’s already a phenomenal player.”
The age and circumstances of Grosey highlight what the DV8 club philosophy is all about. The team on the field against the Earthquakes reserves, and the team that will travel to Colorado for their first round Open Cup match on June 14, has an average age of just over 22-years old. Most of the players have some college experience, but for some just the chance to play soccer regularly must be balanced with real life situations that can often put playing the sport on the back burner.
“Some of these kids do not come from privileged backgrounds and the ability to go to Division I schools,” explained Aspinall when asked where he finds his players. “They are really talented from a soccer perspective, so what we are trying to do, especially in Redwood City is to get them more exposure. If we can give them the environment to play and develop further, then maybe the right opportunity comes along and they get the chance to play professionally.”
Founded in 1999, DV8 Soccer fields teams in the local amateur Peninsula Soccer League made up of primarily college-aged players and a few in their early 20’s. The mission of the club from the beginning has been to give local players with aspirations to play soccer on the biggest stage the chance to build their reputations and skills. The program has found some recent success in that regard with two players moving on to opportunities to play abroad. Team manager Eduar Mafla has successfully transferred one player to a Bulgarian team and another to a Mexican team in the last 12 months. Both he and Aspinall expect that others on the squad are very close to having some of the same chances to step up to the next level in their careers.
“It’s great to win games and progress, but what we are really trying to do is give these kids a great environment to play soccer and develop their skills,” said Aspinall. “They might not have been noticed before, but we want to help get them into professional soccer.”
While still an amateur side playing locally in the Peninsula Soccer League, Aspinall has aspirations to expose his players to more talented opponents, starting in the NorCal Senior Premier League and eventually in the PDL. The move to play in the NorCal league comes as DV8 has joined in a partnership with Juventus Sport Club of Redwood City to help them make the transition away from just being a Bay Area club. Many of the current players on the DV8 roster played in the Juventus system and so a natural connection between the two organizations helped the partnership develop.
But first is the grand opportunity to compete in the nation’s oldest soccer tournament, the U.S. Open Cup, and Aspinall is busily finishing preparations for the DV8 Defenders most meaningful match in their history.
“Anything is possible in soccer and we have been training very hard to get ready for the match and the altitude,” said Aspinall. “We are taking our full 18 man club and we’ll arrive the same day as the game so that we hopefully will be fresh, but it will definitely be a challenge, and I expect we’ll have some tired legs before the match is over.”
Emerge from the match with Real Colorado Foxes as the victor and the Defenders will again head out on the road for a second round match in either Washington or Texas. Given that the club has only in May played outside of the Bay Area, DV8 will enjoy every moment of their U.S. Open Cup experience and continue living their dream.
Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com. You can send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas