In other sports, we often wonder aloud if the best college football team could beat the Cleveland Browns, or if the University of Kentucky could upset the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. In soccer, thanks to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, we get to openly ask and answer that question.
And for 90 minutes last June, we nearly answered in the affirmative as La Maquina, an amateur team out of Santa Ana, Calif., took the mighty Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer to the brink.
“Alex , our owner was encouraged,” said La Maquina coach Edson Martinez. “’You went toe-to-toe with the Galaxy,’ he said, ‘if you can do that you can go toe-to-toe with anyone.’”
Of course, the Galaxy infamously found the winning goal in extra time on a broken play where most players thought the referee had stopped play. The controversial goal opened the floodgate and the Galaxy prevailed 4-1. That goal led to an unsuccessful protest by La Maquina.
So how did that affect La Maquina as they approach their First Round US Open Cup match away to the PDL’s Fresno Fuego on Wednesday night?
“Everyone’s on the same page,” said Martinez about their approach to this season. “The main focus is to practice, play in the league that we play for, and play the US Open Cup.”
As a result, the ambitious Southern Californian club has passed up a local competition or two to stay healthy and rested for the Open Cup.
“There was just a big tournament here in South California that was big locally but we didn’t enter because we didn’t want our players to get hurt,” Martinez said.
But the team is ready, and thanks to the year-round schedule of UPSL plus the various California cups, La Maquina comes into their first round match at mid-season form.
“Last year we weren’t really practicing until we started the US Open Cup. We’ve been practicing since November now,” said Martinez. “I think that’s going to be the big difference this year.”
While the roster is mostly composed of players just coming out of college, like identical twin midfielders Jose and Orlando Casteo, they’ve sprinkled in a few former Liga MX veterans. Most notably Edwin Borboa, the striker who’s played for Chivas, Pachuca, and Leon in his career. Borboa had a breakout Open Cup last year as he tied for the tournament lead in goals with five. In fact, in one tournament, Borboa is now tied for the Modern Era lead for most goals by a player from any USASA amateur club.
“We’ve played nine games, Borboa’s already scored 19 or 20 goals,” Martinez said. “And I know for a fact he’s in better shape this year than last year, he’s been working hard.”
It would be difficult for Borboa to surpass his 2016 Open Cup, where he scored at least one goal in every game, tying the Modern Era record by scoring in four consecutive games. If he scores on Wednesday night, he will break that record.
Not that Borboa or the rest of La Maquina gets fazed by the notion of playing someone like the Galaxy.
“You always need those players that have actually been there at a professional level playing against famous teams,” Martinez said.
At the heart of almost every major “Cupset” is a past or future pro like Borboa or Jose Montes de Oca, a young player from Leon in Liga MX. The Open Cup is a prime opportunity for him to be seen by USL and MLS teams.
But La Maquina don’t want to be stepping stones to the pros forever. Someday, Martinez mentioned, La Maquina, perhaps alongside their competitive league-mates LA Wolves, would like to ply their trade in the USL. With the new Division 3 league in the works, that could be a realstic next step with the club’s local fan support.
And what better way to make their case than another deep Open Cup run?
“We’re usually the underdog,” Martinez said, “but we know for a fact that we have a really good team and a really good system. We have players that play with their hearts.”