When asked why his club entered the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, Red Force FC president Christian Vega simply said, “we enter every year because it is the most prestigious tournament in the US, and we want to compete with the very best.”
That drive to compete with the best is what’s taken Red Force FC from a local youth club to making its third US Open Cup appearance in 2017.
After his son graduated high school, head coach Gabriel Vega started Red Force FC as a way to allow Christian and his friends to continue playing competitive soccer. But this isn’t just a high school team.
After their inception in 2009, Red Force made a name for themselves around the Florida amateur leagues. They won the SSM Premier League five times in their 10 seasons in the league, with a stretch of four in a row, before moving up to the American Premier Soccer League (APSL) in 2015, which they won the 2016 Pre-Season Tournament and reached the finals of the Fall Tournament.
Red Force made their US Open Cup debut in 2013, but it was a short-lived run, as they lost their opening match to fellow Florida club Ocala Stampede of the Premier Development League (PDL). They returned the following year and picked up their first cup win, edging the Colorado Rovers (USSSA) on the road by the score of 2-1. The cup would end in Round 2 with a rough and tumble 2-1 road loss to the PDL’s Laredo Heat. The match saw a fight break out and five red cards handed out.
Red Force FC pose for a team photo in April of 2017. Photo: Red Force FC
Many members of Red Force FC have played at the professional and international level. Stiven Salinas represented the United States in international 5 vs. 5 tournaments, David Holguin and Cesar Murrillo played professionally in Colombia, and Evandro Rachoni earned a living in England’s League Two. The club mixes former pros with a solid core that has played together since the team’s inception, giving the team great chemistry, according to Christian Vega.
“The core of our team is Colombian players, but we range everywhere from Nigeria to El Salvador, Brazil, Peru, and throughout Latin America,” said Christian Vega. “But no matter where we come from we all play the same style of soccer. Possession soccer.”
Salinas contributed one of the team’s three first half goals in the opening round of US Open Cup qualifying, as Red Force defeated Miami Nacional SC 3-0 in a weather-shortened game. In Round 2, it was a battle of two APSL teams. Red Force erased a 2-0 deficit with two goals by Alvaro Franco in the final 15 minutes. to force extra time against Uruguay Kendall, the team that eliminated in last year’s qualifying tournament. Gilbert Ruiz scored the game-winner in stoppage time to send Red Force to the US Open Cup.
“Our expectation [for the 2017 US Open Cup] is just to take it one round at a time,” said Christian Vega. “And to show everyone good, quality, possession-oriented soccer that Red Force has been known to play.”
Red Force will host the opening game of the tournament as they will take on the PDL’s South Florida Surf as the only matchup on Tuesday, May 9. They will face them at Tropical Park Stadium in Miami. The winner of the game will take on Miami FC of the North American Soccer League, and if Red Force wins, they will host the game on May 16.