In the late Southern California evening, PSA Elite defender Aaron Simmons lined up for what was surely the biggest penalty in club history. Against the reserve squad of one of Major League Soccer’s premier sides, a berth in a battle against the Seattle Sounders was on the line after 120 minutes elapsed without a goal from either team.
Simmons, lined up, charged toward L.A. Galaxy II keeper Cody Laurendi. He coolly scored, advancing the Irvine, Calif.-based side, the final USASA side remaining in the tournament, to the next round.
“I can’t even describe the feeling,” forward Michael Salazar said postgame. “It was a good game and we came in as underdogs, and, you know, we just try to pack it in. Somehow, they couldn’t find the back of the net.”
It certainly helped to have a stellar performance by keeper Earl Edwards, Jr., who saved 14 shots, including two penalties in the deciding shootout. All night, he and his backline were tested.
The crowd was evenly split between Galaxy supporters, including senior manager Bruce Arena, and friends and family of PSA, cheering on their loved ones in the face of a professional side.
There were certainly signs of home field advantage in the first half as L.A. dominated the first 20 minutes, accruing chances while PSA Elite had to stay disciplined.
“In the beginning they had fresh legs, they were coming at us, and we just wanted to keep our game plan coming in, and I think it worked out fine for us,” forward Michael Salazar said.
A handful of dangerous free kicks were won and taken by Rafael Garcia, testing PSA. But PSA held up in the first 45 minutes despite recording more fouls and the first half’s only booking, a 21st minute yellow shown to Salazar, who played calmly up top with strike partner Lester Hayes in the upset.
The second half featured a more open match, allowing both teams to create chances up and down the pitch. It also opened up the referee’s book, handing out three yellow cards in the second half and two in extra time.
In the 80th minute, a window opened up for Galaxy II and forward Travis Bowen. PSA defender Michael Sahagian brought down the active striker in the box, forcing referee Michael Zapata to give a penalty. Bowen elected to take it but weakly took it, sending a slow shot that deflected off Edwards’ feet. It was the closest both teams got to scoring; a chance that would have sealed Galaxy II’s advancement.
Various chances occurred in extra time, but nothing substantial took shape until the shootout. L.A. Galaxy II won the coin toss and elected to shoot first. Substitute Laurent Courtois scored first followed by a cute chance from Jose Preciado – a chip down the middle, easily saved.
But then PSA’s fortunes shifted. The following three penalties for Galaxy II were mishit, either poorly taken and saved such as Jack McBean or Bradford Jameison IV’s attempts. Andre Auras put his attempt over the bar. Conversely, PSA finished their following three PKs, cementing the victory.
Next up, PSA face the juggernaut that is Seattle. U.S. skipper Clint Dempsey will not be in the fold due to the World Cup. But it’s still an intimidating task for Salazar, a 21-year-old University of California, Riverside student who took an exam early Thursday.
“That’s a whole different level now,” he said of Sigi Schmid’s team, “and I feel like we’re gonna go back, take in this win today and see what we can work on in the next two weeks.”
No matter, what comes next can’t detract from the realized dream of reaching the cup’s Fourth Round. PSA Elite, a side with just over 500 Facebook likes and under 100 Twitter followers edged a group of men paid to play soccer. And they just played for one thing: the love of the game.