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.
Doxa Italia’s player-manager Bryan Byrne was very excited to hear that his team will be playing against the PDL’s Seattle Sounders U-23s in the opening round of the US Open Cup.
You’d expect him to be burning up the phone to make travel arrangements for his team.
There is just one problem: he didn’t have a phone for most of the week.
His phone, of course, decided to stop working just in time. He tried to buy a used one through eBay, but the person he bought it from took too long to send it. He finally got it on Saturday, leaving him with only a short time to make arrangements for the May 15 contest.
“It’s been pretty tough without a phone,” Byrne said. “It’s been difficult with a lot of communication back and forth trying to get it together.”
Doxa Italia’s qualification for the Cup this year is a bit of a vindication for the Manhattan Beach, Calif. based club.
The Greek and Italian themed name reflects the clubs formation in 1997 from the union of two local teams. Success in local amateur leagues followed. Eventually, the club joined forces with Hollywood United in 2005. It only took a year for the relationship to collapse and the team was dissolved.
The team picked up the pieces in 2009, but didn’t qualify for the US Open Cup until 2011. Among the teams they moved past to qualify was Cal FC, a team American soccer fans become familiar with last year with their historic run to the Fourth Round.
After another successful run in the Coast Soccer League in 2012, Doxa were confident of qualification.
“We talked before the game. We beat them twice in the league,” said Byrne, a former player for the New England Revolution and Ventura County Fusion. “There is no reason we can’t beat them a third time.”
The result: a 7-0 loss to a very different Cal FC team than they had faced during their season. This Cal FC included a raft of professional players.
“Our squad is a very thin one. It can be frustrating to see teams sign people up for Open Cup qualifying,” Byrne said. “In the league they had average results. We really weren’t prepared.”
Byrne and Doxa Italia were able to deliver some payback when the Coast Soccer League season started last September. Doxa opened with an away match against the upstarts and won 3-1, a game which included two goals from Byrne.
The win began a streak which included a win over PSA Elite in October. This meant that Doxa beat both teams that qualified for the 2012 Open Cup in the region.
But it was a second win over Cal FC in November that gave Byrne a thought.
“That’s when we looked around and said we have the opportunity to go undefeated for the season,” Byrne said.
That they did. Sixteen games from the opener at Cal FC to a March 10th 7-0 drubbing of OC Crew, the team did not lose a single match. Byrne ended the season with 28 goals.
If Byrne has a complicated coaching philosophy, he isn’t sharing it.
“It was a matter of getting the team on the same page,” he said.
“It’s a big deal,” he said of getting his team qualified for the Open Cup. “This is what we play for each year. Our season is about preparing for the Open Cup run. It’s important to us.”
Still, preparing for a game against a PDL side that he hasn’t seen presents some challenges. Byrne can make assumptions about the style and system of the Sounders U23s based on their parent club, but not much more.
“We know what to expect to some extent,” he said. “But we go by our own plan and play to our potential.”
“We’ve been winning so far,” he added.