Graphic by Dallas Kreil | IG: @dak_design
The hero of Orange County FC’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Third Round upset of the Las Vegas Lights FC (USL Championship) has had quite a journey well-traveled. He has played for two youth teams, two colleges including his ongoing time at Utah Valley University, currently plays for two open division eligible teams all while being a full-time student and Lyft driver “for fun”, as he explains it.
For Blake Frischknecht, the game-winning goal he scored in the 89th minute to help advance his team, the last Open Division amateur side left in the competition, is a career highlight that he’ll never forget. For a man who’s made it clear that helping others is his goal, he did so in a big way for his teammates and earned himself TheCup.us Player of the Round honors.
Blake Frischknecht of Orange County FC battles for the ball against the Las Vegas Lights in their 2019 US Open Cup game. Photo: Las Vegas Lights
The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff, a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters and supporters (those that pledge $10/month or more) of TheCup.us’ Patreon team. Frischknecht won the award by a wide margin with Philip Breno of the Charleston Battery finishing in second, followed by Sonny Gudarrama (Austin Bold FC) and Alexy Bosetti (Oklahoma City Energy FC).
Blake’s first goal couldn’t have come at a bigger time. After assisting on the goal that gave his team a two-goal advantage in the first half, OCFC saw that lead evaporate after Vegas’ Junior Sandoval sunk a deep kick past goalkeeper David Preys and the match looked to be heading to extra-time for the second game in a row for the amateur side. Las Vegas head coach Eric Wynalda and his group looked poised to take the game away from the Cinderella side and reach the Fourth Round for the first time in the young professional club’s history.
Only a minute to go in allocated regulation time saw Frischknecht’s team get a throw-in deep in the Lights’ end and, following a couple of passes around, a cross found him deep in the 18-yard box.
With a teammate in front of him falling over and under pressure from a LVL defender, Frischknecht raised his left leg in the air just enough to redirect the ball into the net for what would prove to be the winning score. While winning goals aren’t something new to him, the moment was one of the biggest in his career so far and Frischknecht, during an interview with TheCup.us earlier this week, confirmed as much.
“I think this Galaxy game (and) the Las Vegas game from last week are some of the biggest matches I’ve ever played in my life,” Frischknecht said while also looking ahead. “It’s different playing in the [Open] Cup atmosphere. I’m so, so excited to play against the Galaxy. Who knows what team they’ll put out on the field, I doubt it’ll be all the big names that we see on TV, but still I think that’s probably the biggest match.”
The full-time student wasn’t that unfamiliar with the Lights heading into the knockout game two weeks ago. While originally born in Southern California, he and his family moved to Las Vegas early in his life where he became a multi-purpose athlete while attending Centennial High School. He became proficient in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and American football – the latter of which earned him college scholarship opportunities after he spent his senior year kicking – and also played for multiple youth soccer programs.
It’s no surprise to find out that in late 2018, he had a chance to perform for the Lights during one of the team’s open tryouts. While he was there, he’d have a chance to meet two men, both former US Men’s National Team players, that would come to play a part in his life in some form.
“This past fall I played for Utah Valley, had a decent year, and the Las Vegas Lights were brand new and I knew they were having an open tryout, so I thought I might as well go to get my name out there,” Frischknecht said. “I’m a local guy and I know they’re interested in signing local players if possible if they’re up to the talent level. So I thought it’d be good to go out and see if I can compete at that level. I got to know Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda that day because they were running the tryout.”
Blake Frischknecht of Orange County FC celebrates a goal against the Las Vegas Lights in their 2019 US Open Cup game. Photo: Las Vegas Lights
“Obviously Eric’s the head coach and Paul was there helping them and it just turned out to be a turning point for me as this relationship that I have with Paul has developed,” he continued.
Caligiuri has served as the head coach for Orange County FC since 2017 and since that tryout, he has kept in contact with Blake. The former LA Galaxy player, probably best known as the man whose goal against Trinidad and Tobago sent the US back to the World Cup after a 40-year drought in 1990, has been a constant presence in the young player’s career. Not only giving him a chance to play for him in Orange County, but also as someone to pass knowledge onto.
Frischknecht explained that his coach, whether he’s telling old stories about past games or declaring that his group will “shock the world,” is always up to help one of his players.
“Paul is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and he loves to just talk to people,” he said.”We’re sitting there in the lobby before our game the other day in Las Vegas and he was showing me photos of him playing in a world All-Star match. He was playing on the field alongside, you know, Diego Maradona and he’s told me about his a hundredth cap, which was against Argentina … So he’s got all this experience and it’s just funny to hear some of the stories that he tells us.”
It’s a sentiment that the coach himself shares about his player.
“[Frischknecht] has been a huge addition to OCFC,” Caligiuri told TheCup.us. “He is a tall, powerful striker that possesses skill and a high soccer IQ. We’re happy to have him play for us and excited to follow him throughout his professional career moving forward.”
That idea of giving back isn’t something that’s new to Blake. Currently a rising senior at Utah Valley and earning a degree in communications, his dream isn’t to go pro like it once was. Instead, he wants to follow a path similar to that of Caligiuri and others from his life.
“My dream is actually to be a college soccer coach,” he admitted. “I think that would be incredible to be able to impact the lives of young athletes like the coaches that I’ve had have impacted me. I think that would be an incredible opportunity to just stick around the game and to share the knowledge that I’ve collected so far and hopefully continue to collect.”
Following his last year in high school and with multiple options on the table for college across the western United States, including quite a few scholarships, Frischknecht knew he wanted to stay with the sport he enjoyed the most. But he also wanted more.
Orange County FC celebrate in the locker room after the club’s 5-3 upset win over Las Vegas Lights FC in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orange County FC
“I decided to go to [Brigham Young University] because at the time they were playing in the PDL, which was the Premier Development League,” he explained. “I thought that was going to be a good level of competition for me and it was a little bit different than the NCAA route because there were no restrictions really about how many hours a week we could train … I knew [BYU] had a relationship with Real Salt Lake, they played against them once or twice a year, and I thought those were going to be good opportunities for me.”
During Blake’s first season in 2014, he and the rest of the BYU Cougars had the school’s best season in half a decade, finishing runner-up in the Mountain Division of the PDL Western Conference with a 7-3-4 record, reaching the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and earning a berth the following year’s US Open Cup – the team’s first since 2007. While the team’s postseason journey only lasted one game, that year it was clear that even as a freshman, Frischknecht was an integral part of the group. His performance in May of 2014 when he scored both goals in a win over the San Jose Earthquakes Under-23 team was proof of that.
However, despite his love of the game, Frischknecht knew he wanted more for himself and wouldn’t be around for that Open Cup match. Besides knowing about the school’s soccer program, which at the time was the only school to field a team in an amateur league, the religious background at the institution also gave him the chance to take part in a mission abroad which was something that influenced his decision.
For two years, Frischknecht traded in the mountains of Provo, Utah for the city streets in Bahía Blanca, Argentina. His full-time sports life took a back seat during a period Blake called one of the greatest experiences of his life. While he was busy developing relationships with locals and integrating himself with the community, the sport was never too far from him though.
“I took cleats with me, and only got to wear them once,” Frischknecht joked. “I played pick up in the streets whenever I saw little kids playing or on our day each week that we are allowed to, you know, go out and play, I’d always go play, you know? Futsal or little five aside games.
“Obviously you’re out there preaching your religion,” he continued. “But even if people aren’t interested you’re also there to get to know people, to learn the culture and to try and help people better their lives in any way possible.”
Tim Harbison (right) and Eli Galbraith-Knapp of FC Tucson work to contain Blake Frischknecht of the BYU Cougars in a 2014 Premier Development League game. Photo: FC Tucson
With one year left to go in college and currently playing for two teams, OCFC in the NPSL and recently joining Utah based Ogden City SC in USL League Two, Blake hopes that all the time and resources he’s committed over two decades will lead him to his dream coaching job. But after all this time he has realized just how much work he’s needed to do especially after his two year mission.
“My journey’s been completely different than most people,” Frischknecht added. “I decided to not go to the NCAA route and play for BYU … I was 18 years old and I had an incredible season. And so I was thinking possibly about going pro at that time, but [then] I decided to go on a mission and take my life in another direction. So coming back was tough. I basically had to start over, you know? My body had changed completely. I had grown into a man. So coming home and trying to get fit and getting … my soccer body back to where I want it to be. It’s been a development. It’s been a process.”
It’s a process, he says, that wouldn’t be possible without constant support from those around him, from the college coaches, to the staff at both OCFC and Ogden City, to his wife Ella who played soccer at BYU and Ole Miss between 2014 and 2018. The latter of which has been one of Frischknecht’s biggest supporters since his return to the game. The pair, which married in the summer of 2018, have pushed one another in both of their lives.
“She’s a fitness guru,” Frischknecht said. “She just ran a half marathon, her first half marathon, the other day. She was a great player at Ole Miss herself, so it’s nice having someone by my side who understands soccer, who loves it, and then who understands me and understands my dreams because she’s been nothing but supportive to me. It’s been great.”
The competition continues for Blake and his team on Wednesday, June 12, when his team make the short, hour-long trip north to Dignity Health Sports Park to face off against the LA Galaxy. No matter the outcome, the dual state native, driver, missionary, soccer player, student, and aspiring soccer coach will have a tale to tell the others he helps along the way.