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.
As the adage goes, the third time is the charm. After being eliminated in the USASA Region IV tournament the previous two years, Doxa Italia finally captured the elusive berth to the US Open Cup. But just four years ago the successful Southern California side was dissolving itself, starting a journey that would result in a rebirth of the team recently.
Doxa Italia is a club with a rich history dating back to their formation in 1997. The original group of players that banded together at that time came from an assortment of Southland and Orange County A-League (American second division) teams.
Current goalkeeper Brian Burdue joined Doxa Italia in 2001, and remains one of the oldest tenured players on the current squad.
“Our team pretty much dominated the Southern California amateur soccer scene for a few years,” said Burdue describing the team’s first decade of play. From 1997 to 2005 the team won five Pacific League titles, four Coast Soccer League championships, and claimed the California Soccer Association South’s State Cup crown four times in seven appearances in the tournament final. “If we didn’t win the tournament, you had to go through us to win it — but we usually won it.”
In 2007, Doxa Italia had their worst league performance since their formation and many players were reaching the end of their eligibility to play with the team. When the ownership and management of the club suggested that the team be broken up, Burdue leaned on his contacts with Hollywood United FC, Doxa’s potential upcoming Second Round opponent, and helped bring the remaining players over to join forces with that club late that summer.
The following year, Hollywood United’s Open team made an impressive run in the US Open Cup — including a stunning 3-2 road win over the Portland Timbers — with a team that included many of the holdovers from Doxa Italia as well as former Major League Soccer players Brian Dunseth and Matt Taylor. After falling behind, Taylor converted a penalty in first half stoppage time and then netted another equalizer from the spot in the 58th. Then with overtime looming Earl Alexander stunned the home side in stoppage time with the game-winner for Hollywood.
Less than a year later, as the union between Hollywood United management and the former Doxa Italia players slowly soured, the Open team was disbanded in the middle of their season, as United moved on to launch a PDL franchise. With the help of forward Derk Droze and some of the Doxa Italia holdovers from prior to their merger with Hollywood, the former side reunited in the spring of 2009.
And without missing a beat, the team went on to nearly qualify for the Open Cup. By that summer, Doxa Italia were back on track with a mix of new players and seasoned veterans, and back to their winning ways.
“Derk Droze took a leadership role and has been instrumental in re-building the team,” remembers Burdue about the tumultuous transition back to being an independent club. “There have been growing pains as we have made it to the finals of every tournament we’ve entered but we seem to just fall short of lifting the cup.”
That is why after watching his side narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Open Cup the past two years, the player/manager Droze left nothing to chance in preparing for the USASA Region IV tournament held last May in Sacramento, CA.
After earning a draw and a win in their first two group stage matches, the Southern California side faced a familiar scenario with one match left to play and the looming prospect of again being denied their desired prize.
“We had to go for it,” stated Droze. “As I explained to the other team, we did not want to go out of the tournament for the third straight year on goal differential.”
In 2009 and 2010 Doxa Italia were eliminated from contention by the Sonoma County Sol and the Arizona Sahuaros respectively, so this year when they went into their last group match knowing that the goal differential tiebreaker would likely be invoked again, they made sure to score early and score often. And at the expense of a greatly overmatched CV Eagles FC team, Doxa Italia posted an 18-0 win and finished at the top of their group, thus earning one of the two Region IV bids to the Open Cup tournament.
“We have felt that we were the best team during these qualifiers,” shared Doxa Italia goalkeeper Brian Burdue. “This year we were not going to let the goal differential tiebreaker lead us to be eliminated again, hence the 18-0 drubbing. We felt bad about it but it needed to happen.”
With both Arizona and Sonoma County now competing at the NPSL, the path to the Region IV championship appeared to be much easier, but Droze took no chances over the duration of the weekend tournament. Courtesy of their 18-0 win, the Southern Californian USASA powerhouse finished with seven points in the group and posted a whopping +24 goal differential to take Group B honors.
“It was good to get such a great result and advance to the tournament final,” shared Droze on the team’s dominating performance, “especially after the disappointment of the last two years.”
The club finished the Region IV tournament with a showdown with Cal-North side DV8 Defenders in the final with the two sides playing to a 1-1 stalemate before Doxa Italia prevailed, 4-1, in penalty kicks to claim the regional championship.
Doxa Italia recently completed their club season in the Coast Soccer League with a second place finish, but all the attention around the team is on the upcoming First Round match in the US Open Cup against the Ventura County Fusion of the PDL. For Droze, Alex Bengard, Nate Reeves and Nas Koubourous who played a part in that upset victory in Portland, they begin a quest to make more history – this time under their own name and banner.
“I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are to be in this tournament,” said Droze not long after his side had qualified. “Falling short in the last two years and now getting to represent our region is a great achievement.”
Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com. You can send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas