Meet The Underdogs: Fan-owned San Francisco City brings US Open Cup, professional aspirations back to city

Posted by | April 23, 2015
San Francisco City FC celebrates after winning the 2015 US Club Soccer Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Lynsday Radnedge | CenterLineSoccer.com

San Francisco City FC celebrates after winning the 2015 US Club Soccer Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Lynsday Radnedge | CenterLineSoccer.com

Every year, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup includes a new batch of amateur clubs hoping to be the tournament’s latest Cinderella story. And every year, TheCup.us introduces soccer fans across the country to these teams that have been the heart and soul of this competition for more than a century. This year, we are expanding our annual “Meet the USASA” series to include the USSSA and US Club Soccer. We bring you “Meet the Underdogs.”

In a market flush with technology, entrepreneurs, and some of the smartest young minds in the world, San Francisco City FC is aiming to be the next big start up in the Bay Area.

Less than a year old, San Francisco City has become the first amateur club from the city to qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in nearly 20 years. City will kick off its first-ever cup run on April 25 with a home game at Kezar Stadium against Cal FC (USASA).

The club has done this using classically San Franciscan, outside-the-box thinkingl which has given the club aspirations taller than the Transamerica Pyramid.

Similar to Nashville FC of the NPSL, City’s model is that of fan ownership, where each willing fan can buy into the team and possibly have a say in the operations of the club.

“Our goal is to expand to 10,000 active members and reach the highest level of US Soccer competition by 2020,” reads the end text of each club press release. “Our mission is to provide top quality football and honor the civic and sporting legacy of San Francisco, while acting in meaningful service to the local community, and offering local youth the opportunity to learn and grow as students of the game & citizens in San Francisco’s unique cultural environment.”

With 258 members as of April 7, City is obviously short of its membership goal, but it has checked off nearly every other in its mission statement.

san-francisco-city-logo-bigPlaying in the NorCal Adult Premier League last fall as Ticket Arsenal FC, the name of left back Jordan Gardner’s company in the city, the club compiled an impressive 10-1-0 record to qualify for the league’s postseason tournament in which the winner would receive a US Open Cup berth.

Before easily dominating the postseason tournament, Ticket Arsenal decided to merge with San Francisco City FC, which founded youth teams as early as 2012, but were unable to secure a first team despite attempts to join the NPSL.

Through head coach Andrew Gardner, a former American football kicker at Cal Poly and brother of Jordan, Ticket Arsenal had the players but not the infrastructure. For SF City FC, the opposite was true with the deep pockets of the long board member list, and thus a perfect marriage was formed.

“We, as in San Francisco City, have done all this off-the-field work and it looks like Ticket Arsenal has done all this on-the-field work and is making a huge push for the off-the-field stuff, but just doesn’t have a ton of infrastructure outside of (the Gardner brothers),” Andrew Gardner said.

“So they called me up and set up a meeting and said, ‘Look, this is who we are, this is what we’re about, this is what we think we can provide you guys. You guys do your thing, we trust what you’re doing, it’s amazing,” Gardner added. “This is like a perfect fit where we merge our clubs.”

The system the club has set up is relatively unheard-of in American sports, giving fans an unusual amount of power.

“It’s a natural, supporter-run team, where, say we start playing like shit and they decide to fire me, when I go off board, the team is still there because the team is the city,” Andrew Gardner said. “What we’ve been pushing for is to really integrate the soccer community here in San Francisco, to unite it into one group. From the adult, all the way to the youth level, and really bring high-quality, passionate soccer to San Francisco, [in] which we see the potential.”

Photo: Lynsday Radnedge  | CenterLineSoccer.com

David Romney helped San Francisco City qualify for the 2015 US Open Cup but left shortly after when he was signed by LA Galaxy II of USL. Photo: Lynsday Radnedge | CenterLineSoccer.com

City’s efforts to make a difference in the community took a step forward in March, when the club announced a pair of jersey sponsors in Classy and Street Soccer USA. The former is the largest fundraising platform for socially “good” organizations in the world, featuring over 1,000 nonprofits and social enterprises such as The World Food Programme and National Geographic, while the latter is a company that uses street soccer to advocate for social change and better community health.

Featuring mainly former Division I college players, City is off to an impressive start in league play, beating 2014-15 runner-up Stanislaus United Academica 5-0 before trouncing Juventus SC Juventus Adult Soccer Academy by the same score. City defeated both teams in the Open Cup qualifying tournament in January. They enter Saturday’s match with Cal FC undefeated in league play at 4-0-0.

In addition, City has come up with one-sided friendly results in beating the Division I University of San Francisco 4-1 and Division II Holy Names University 5-1 as part of its preseason.

Results like this brought the attention of United Soccer League clubs LA Galaxy II and Tulsa Roughnecks FC, who swooped in and weakened City’s roster by picking up David Romney and Ben Brewster, respectively.

According to the club, that same success has also developed interest from the North American Soccer League as the second division professional league looks to expand westward in the coming years.

But for now City is focused on the season ahead, with home games scheduled to be played at Kezar Stadium, the razed-and-rebuilt former home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the location for numerous US Open Cup games over the last 30 years (According to TheCup.us records, the earliest known game took place in 1983). It’s also known for being a location for the movie Dirty Harry in its NFL heyday.

The 10,000-seat stadium located in Golden Gate Park was recently renovated to include seats from the soon-to-be demolished Candlestick Park, another famous 49ers venue.

Shane Watkins of the San Francisco Bay Seals eludes San Jose Clash defender John Doyle during the Seals' 2-1 Quarterfinal upset at Spartan Stadium on August 20, 1997. The Seals will be honored during a halftime ceremony on Saturday. Photo: San Francisco Bay Seals

Shane Watkins of the San Francisco Bay Seals eludes San Jose Clash defender John Doyle during the Seals’ 2-1 Quarterfinal upset at Spartan Stadium on August 20, 1997. The Seals, who made history with a run to the Semifinals that year, will be honored during a halftime ceremony on Saturday. Photo: San Francisco Bay Seals

Perhaps no event at Kezar will be more important for the young club than its April 25 Open Cup Preliminary Round match against Cal FC, the Southern California-based amateur club that qualified out of Region IV of the USASA made a name for itself in 2012. That year, under the leadership of former US international Eric Wynalda, Cal FC knocked off a pair of professional teams, including a stunning upset of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.

“We are excited and honored to be hosting Cal FC in the [Preliminary Round] of the US Open Cup. Their 2012 run led by Eric Wynalda was truly a remarkable accomplishment,” Andrew Gardner said. “We are so fortunate to be able to host this year’s historic matchup here in San Francisco. The community here has rallied around our club, and this game really means so much to the soccer community. On the pitch, this game will be a very challenging test for our club, but I am confident that we will end up on top.”

Notes: At halftime, San Francisco City FC will honor other San Francisco teams who have played in the Open Cup including 1993 champion Club Deportivo Mexico, two-time winner Greek-American Athletic Club (1985, 1994), 1976 winners San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, 1997 semifinalists San Francisco Bay Seals, and the last professional team to qualify from the city, the California Victory (2007). The club will also honor the passing of Jim Rally, the co-founder of Greek-American AC.

Evan Ream covers Sacramento Republic FC for the Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam

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