Cal FC poses for a team photo before the club’s 2019 US Open Cup qualifying match against San NIcolas FC. Photo: Cal FCUPDATE
UPDATE (10/4/18): TheCup.us has learned that San Nicolas FC’s protest has been denied.
The local qualifying tournament for the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup kicked off this past weekend, and there is already a controversy.
After they suffered a 3-1 loss to Cal FC in the tournament’s opening round on Saturday, Sept. 22, San Nicolas FC has filed a protest. The Pomona, California-based club claims that Cal FC should not be eligible because they did not play the minimum number of games in their current league.
In Section 202, the 2019 US Open Cup Open Division Handbook, it says:
(a) To enter the Open Cup, a team must be an outdoor soccer team based in the United States and a member of a club or league of an Organization Member of the Federation. The team must be playing in a regular club or league competition of at least four (4) teams and the competition must consist of at least ten (10) matches for each team in the competition each fiscal year.
(c) Teams Entering Through the Open Division:
(1) To remain eligible throughout the tournament:
(i) A team must remain a playing member in good standing within its club/league competition, starting from the Open Division entry deadline and continuing until the Open Cup Final for the competition year;
(ii) A team’s league must be in operation from the Open Division entry deadline until the Open Cup Final for the competition year.
(2) Any team whose league is starting its first season of competition must have started its league schedule at least thirty (30) days prior to the Open Division entry deadline.
(3) Any team starting its first season of competition in an existing league must have started its new league’s schedule at least thirty (30) days prior to the Open Division entry deadline.
The basis of the protest is that Cal FC did not play in a league during this past season because the club was on hiatus for the last two years. While Cal FC will be returning to the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) for the upcoming fall season, San Nicolas claims that Cal FC have also failed to meet the criteria of a club that is starting its first season of competition, in addition to not playing in a league last season. Cal FC played their first game of the 2018 USPL Fall Season on Sept. 16 when they defeated the Kern County Mustangs 3-2. That does not, according to San Nicolas, satisfy the requirement of starting the season prior to that 30-day window.
“The game should have not been scheduled,” said San Nicolas FC general manager Daniel Collazo. “US Soccer told us to play it and then protest if we happen to lose. It is not fair for all the teams that enter sanctioned leagues and pay so many fees, [and pay for] refs, and home fields year-round to be eligible for this Open Cup local qualifying tournament and then Cal FC gets rolled a red carpet.”
According to Cal FC, they are confident that Saturday’s result will stand.
“We believe the win will be upheld,” said Cal FC owner Michael Friedman. “My organization was approved by the UPSL and US Soccer to participate in the 2019 US Open Cup. Our paperwork is in order and we have taken all the necessary steps to be eligible.”
According to Friedman, it was a merger that makes his club eligible for the 2019 US Open Cup.
Friedman launched Cal FC in 2006 and the club made a name for itself in the 2012 US Open Cup when they stunned the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. The club was a member of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) until health issues forced Friedman to put the team on hiatus in late 2016. With Friedman healthy again, he announced that the club will return to the UPSL for the league’s fall season.
What clears the team from any wrongdoing, Friedman said, is that he purchased the UPSL club Los Angeles Roma and merged it with Cal FC prior to this season. Friedman has since confirmed this transaction with TheCup.us.
LA Roma had played in the UPSL since the 2017 Fall Season and by essentially taking over that club, Friedman said the merger puts Cal FC in good standing as well. In a sense, Cal FC takes over LA Roma’s playing history, and they should not be considered a new team, according to Friedman. (NOTE: The owners of LA Roma have since moved on to launch a new UPSL club called “LA10.”)