As of late last week, according to Outbreak SC’s player/manager, Trent Bryson, the team had only had three practices in the past 10 years. In spite of that, this group of friends from around Orange County, Calif. have won their division five times in the last six years, and are now gearing up for a first round Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match Wednesday against the Seattle Sounders U23s.
Yet this is not a team lacking pedigree. Nearly all of them played collegiate soccer, mostly for schools around southern California like Cal State Fullerton, UC-Irvine and UCLA. They even have Jason Boyce, a former professional player on the roster, who played for the USL Premier Development League (PDL) with Orange County Zodiac, in MLS with the Colorado Rapids and Miami Fusion after a college career at the University of Washington. He also played professionally in Seattle for the Sounders in their USL A-League days. This isn’t Boyce’s first chance at an Open Cup upset. He was on the amateur Hollywood United squad that knocked out the Portland Timbers, who were USL First Division team at the time) back in the first round of the 2008 tournament. Bryson said the team has never recruited solely for skill, instead opting for recommendations from current players on new guys who fit the personality of the club first.
The fact is that they don’t practice because of everyone managing careers, families and other responsibilities. Four players work with Bryson at a financial firm. Most guys keep their fitness up by playing in weekly recreational leagues, indoor soccer or futsal at one of the facilities near Long Beach where Outbreak got its name. They barely have time for drills before their Sunday matches in the SoCal Premier League’s Major Division.
Although they won that division last year, Outbreak SC earned their way to this moment by entering the US Soccer Federation’s Open Division qualifying tournament. In their first-ever Open Cup match, they easily dispatched Buena Park FC 5-1 on Oct. 25, then weeks later in their second round match, they fought off the San Pedro Monsters, who tied the game with two goals in last 15 minutes of regulation, to pull out a dramatic 4-3 win in extra time.
They’ll face a Sounders U-23 team that finished third in the PDL’s Northwest division, but ended up qualifying for the playoffs and reaching the PDL Semifinals. They’re returning a good number of players from last year’s squad including leading scorer Michael Bazja. When asked if Outbreak heading into the game at the end of their 16-game season (where they wrapped up the title on May 1) gave them an edge over Seattle, with a roster of college-age athletes playing together in their first match of the year tonight, Bryson deflected, saying, “I’m more worried about us nursing injuries than us being in game shape. I guess that’s when age gets to you.”
The youngest player on Outbreak is 26, but most are between 35 and 40.
“We just play well together,” said Bryson. “There are no superstars on the team.”
They rely on the fact that this crew of players have played together for so long that they just know where their teammates are going to be. Despite the age difference, Bryson said the part of their success is the confidence they have “when we show up, we expect to win games.”
A member of the SoCal Premier League’s Major Division, a step below the Premier Division (which was just won by past Open Cup darlings PSA Elite), Outbreak doesn’t plan on stepping up a level.
“This is truly about playing for the love of the game,” said Bryson. “None of us have any vision of going pro. We do more off the field than on the field.”
He added that the team “is more about the camaraderie amongst the guys.” As for the team’s goals for the Open Cup, they’re taking it game-by-game and, despite their confidence, admit some surprise that they’ve gotten this far.
Traveling mid-week can be tricky for amateur teams and Outbreak is no different. They’ll be missing a few starters, one, Tomer Konowiecki, to a family vacation, the others due to being unable to get out of work. Even though Outbreak does field a reserve team in the SCPL that they could’ve added people from and had the option to pull in a couple ringers for the Open Cup games, Bryson said the players made a decision to stick with the collection of guys that got them into the tournament.
“We all have friends that are great players who we could’ve brought in, but we said “we got here together, we’re going to finish this off together.”