FC Tacoma players celebrate a goal against the Portland Spartans in their US Open Cup qualifying match. Photo: FC Tacoma
UPDATE (3/8/15): Scores/schedule updated at the bottom with results from March 7
It’s one down, one to go for FC Tacoma 253 in its quest to qualify for the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in its inaugural year.
Facing the heavily-favored Portland Spartans FC, who finished 10-2-0 last year in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Tacoma snagged a 2-1 victory in front of a crowd of roughly 300 at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash. The game was the first and only contest of the NPSL Northwest qualifying tournament on Friday, Feb. 20.
The win sees Tacoma advance to a one-game playoff for a US Open Cup spot against the yet-to-be determined winner of the NPSL Southwest qualifying tournament on March 21. If they are able to qualify, they would be the first team from the city of Tacoma to do it in the Modern Professional Era (1995-present). The Premier Development League’s Tacoma Tide came close on two occasions between 2006-2011, but had their tournament dreams dashed on the final day both times.
“For us to go in there and to be able to not only get the opportunity to play in the US Open Cup qualifier, but to be able to represent the whole Northwest, it means a lot to the players but even more to the organization because as a new organization, we’re coming in to make a statement,” said assistant player-coach Paul Aur. “Not only are we new and going to be here to compete, but we’re going to be here to compete for years to come hopefully.”
According to Aur, the team only had two weeks of practice to prepare for the game, which was their first-ever as an organization.
253, who are seeking to become the first team in the Open Cup’s modern era to represent the city of Tacoma in the tournament, drew most of its players from the local Starfire Premier League. Many of the players were familiar with each other but hadn’t played on the same team before.
“We really haven’t had that much time to work together but at the same time, all of our guys know each other enough where we knew it wouldn’t be too big of a problem as long as we could figure out something when we had the ball, and that’s where we found our issues,” Aur said. “The first 15 minutes, we struggled to get the ball under control and to possess, but we were doing a good job of neutralizing their attack.”
Despite the relative unfamiliarity, Tacoma got off to a fast start when Gareth Vaughn found Bradley Jacobson wide open near the top of the Spartan box in the 27th minute. The former University of Washington Husky took a controlling touch before calmly placing the ball into left side of net for the 1-0 lead.
Just five minutes later, Vaughn was left unmarked at the far post, enabling him to blast a right-footed volley into the side of the net for what would prove to be the winning goal.
Though the Spartans would get a goal back in the second half from a back post tap in from Gerardo Marin, the two goals were enough to give Tacoma their first victory in club history.
“It’s hard to put into words what it means because obviously that’s an honor, the players themselves, to be able to play in that situation last night, was an honor for them. You could see how pumped up they were. That’s, I think, why we won that game,” Aur said. “50th minute, we were gassed. We were up 2-0 at half, the whole second half, we were on our heels because we just ran out of fitness. We’ve been building the team, but through the last two weeks is when most of the players have come in. We haven’t had time to work on our tactics, we haven’t had time to work on our fitness. We won that game just purely out of how much our team wanted it.”
After the folding of three Northwest Conference NPSL teams at the end of 2014, the addition of FC Tacoma 253 brings the conference to a total of just two teams. During the regular season, they will join the five-team Golden Gate Conference, however there will still be a Northwest Conference champion depending on which team, Tacoma or the Spartans finish with the most points.
Last year, the Spartans won the Northwest qualifying tournament only to fall 2-1 in a playoff against CD Aguiluchos USA, leaving them one game short of the Open Cup tournament proper.
Before the game, the teams held a minute of silence to honor Clent Alexander, the late CEO of the San Diego Flash, who are one of four teams vying to win the Southwest Conference tournament for a chance to play Tacoma for a spot in the Open Cup. The Southwest and Golden Gate tournaments kick off on March 7. (Details listed below)
FAN VIDEO: FC TACOMA VS. PORTLAND SPARTANS FC
2015 US Open Cup Qualifying (NPSL West)
First Round (March 7)
San Diego Flash 4:2 Temecula FC
FC Hasental 0:3 Deportivo Coras USA
Final (March 14)
San Diego Flash vs. Deportivo Coras USA
Final (Feb. 20)
SFC Spartans 1:2 FC Tacoma 253
Starfire Sports Complex – Tukwila, WA
WIN & YOU’RE IN
FC Tacoma 253 vs. Southwest winner
Date/Location TBA *Winner qualifies for 2015 US Open Cup
GOLDEN GATE CONFERENCE
First Round (March 7)
Real San Jose 2:1 Sacramento Gold
Second Round (March 14)
Sonoma County Sol at Real San Jose
San Francisco Stompers at CD Aguiluchos
Raimond Park – Oakland, CA
8 p.m. PT / 11 p.m. ET
Final (March 21)
CD Aguiluchos/SF Stompers winner at SJ/SAC/SOL winner * Golden Gate winner qualifies for 2015 US Open Cup