There were two players who scored hat tricks in the Second Round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, but the majority of voters were more impressed by a youngster carrying his team to the biggest upset of the round. Alberto Diaz of Chula Vista FC of the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) scored a pair of goals and set up a third as the amateur club from Southern California traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz. and stunned the USL’s Arizona United, 3-0. For his efforts, Diaz has been voted as TheCup.us Player of the Round.
The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters.
Diaz beat out Tommy Stewart of Sacramento Republic and Tomasz Zahorski of the Charlotte Independence, who both registered hat tricks in their respective games for the award. Michael Salazar, who was the key player in PSA Elite’s upset of the Orange County Blues (USL) also received strong consideration and finished tied for third with Zahorski in the final voting. This is only the eighth time that a player from a USASA team has won since the award began in 2006.
Entering the 102nd edition of the tournament, the USASA had only eliminated 12 professional teams in 81 games since 1996. This year, we had two in the same round as PSA Elite knocked off the the Orange County Blues (USL) and Chula Vista shut out Arizona United.
What’s even more rare is a USASA team earning a clean sheet, and even more rare than that is a road shutout, something that has only happened one other time (Cal FC defeated Wilmington Hammerheads 4-0 in 2012). Diaz, the younger brother of Chula Vista head coach Hector Diaz, was the catalyst for the victory.
“It was awesome,” reflected Diaz. “Every single player on our team had a great game. We started a bit shaky for about the first 30 minutes, but we shook off the rust and got going.”
The San Diego-born midfielder who has played for the US Under-15 national team, opened the scoring in the 37th minute when he dribbled past Arizona defender Daniel Antunez and into the clear, remaining onside as he got the ball around goalkeeper Carl Woszcynski and found the open net.
In the 48th minute, Diaz took a free kick that found the head of Angel Pinal to make it a 2-0 game. He put the game away in the 72nd minute by taking a a couple touches before unleashing a shot that beat Wosczynski with ease. The Arizona goalkeeper appeared to not see the shot, as he didn’t move.
“Of course we thought we could win, but we were a bit nervous going into this game because we had a pretty bad first game and our physical condition wasn’t the best,” said Diaz. “But we had another week of training and preparation leading up to Arizona United so we were optimistic. The 3-0 (scoreline) did surprise me because we struggled mightily the week before and it was hotter in Phoenix.”
With the win, Chula Vista earns another challenging road game against a professional team, the Sacramento Republic.
“I know we have enough talent to knock off another pro team,” said Diaz. “We are focused on Sacramento Republic and I’m sure they will be more than ready, especially with the amazing crowds they pull.”
It’s more than a 500-mile trip from Chula Vista to the state’s capital city and the team launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of the trip. Much to Alberto’s surprise, there has been a strong response so far with more than $2,000 raised as of Tuesday. May 26.
“(The campaign) only adds fuel to our fire,” said Diaz. “Knowing all these people are rooting for us. We are more than grateful for all the support that has been shown our way and we will repay those by playing our heart out this Wednesday.”