As 2015 U.S. Open Cup Cinderella side Harpo’s FC was in Colorado Springs trying to extend an unthinkable run to the Third Round last Wednesday night, USASA side Chula Vista FC looked ready to take the glass slipper.
As the final whistle blew on Harpo’s 2-1 defeat at the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Chula Vista FC was in the midst of a 3-0 shellacking of USL side Arizona United SC. The Second Round win came on the heels of a 2-1 extra time victory over PDL side FC Tucson in First Round play a week before, and anointed the tournament debutantes as the new amateur darlings heading into round three on Wednesday.
“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised with our success,” said Chula Vista FC head coach Hector Diaz. “It’s a little overwhelming that it happened in our first U.S. Open Cup trip but a lot of these guys have had pressure before and been successful under that pressure. I think we rise to the challenge -- there aren’t any egos, they’re trying to take advantage of the opportunity they’ve been afforded and I like that. Hopefully we continue with the same attitude.”
Perhaps what’s most amazing about the team’s run is that the side is made up entirely of players 23 years old and under. Half the team that started the match against the pros at Arizona United were under the age of 21. Even Diaz, a former airman in the Air National Guard, is one of the youngest coaches in the tournament at just 28.
Chula Vista FC celebrates earning a berth in the Third Round of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup after defeating Arizona United on May 20.
The holder of a USSF “B” Coaching License, Diaz began his managerial career at the age of 15, working with his father, Hector, Sr. as coach of his brother Alberto’s youth squad. Keeping the core of the team together over the past 13 years, Hector has taken over the reins, culminating in their first Open Cup qualification earlier this year.
Alberto, a slight but technical former U.S. youth international and 2010 Cal South Player of the Year, shined in the team’s Second Round match against Arizona United, scoring the first and third goals and setting up teammate Angel Pinal for the second in the 3-0 rout.
“I had a big smile when he scored the first goal,” said Alberto’s big brother Hector. “I watched and saw Francisco Ramirez, who started on this team with ‘Berto when they were both six or seven years old, set him up for the goal. They’ve always been the top two players in whatever league they’ve played in and now they’re big things against a pro team in the U.S. Open Cup – it’s incredible.”
The win sets the club up for its biggest match yet, a visit north to reigning USL champions Sacramento Republic who beat Sonoma County Sol 4-2 in Second Round play last week, a team Diaz says he’s followed closely since they began last year.
“It’s hard not to notice the buzz they’ve generated,” he said. “We have a great group of guys and the same night we beat Arizona, our captain Luis Alvarado watched their game against Sonoma Sol and took notes, three hours after our game, our captain had already analyzed our opponent. He said, ‘I did half the job for you, I’m going to give you these notes. They’re real good, real dangerous on the attack. I think we can counterattack them this way, go at them that way.”
“They’re very good offensively,” Diaz continued. “The good thing is our defense I think has been the strongest. Both first halves against Tucson and Arizona were unbelievably difficult. They both pressed us and our defense was able to hold in both cases. In the second half of both games we were more offensive and released a little pressure.”
Chula Vista FC's next challenge comes in the Open Cup Third Round against reigning USL champs Sacramento Republic FC.
With just five amateur teams left in the tournament, Chula Vista FC know that if they can get past Sacramento on Wednesday, they’ll have a good chance at the tournament’s $15,000 prize for the Amateur Division team that advances the furthest.
And while Diaz admits he didn’t think his team would get this far in its first appearance, he’s also sure to point out that, despite two wins, they haven’t reached their goal in the tournament just yet.
“I keep telling the guys that we have nothing to lose and everything to win. They’re responding and starting to believe a little more and as we go the confidence is growing. We always saw the goal as being able to go up against an MLS team. I thought it would take a couple more tries to have a chance at that we’re not at our goal yet, but were hoping to get there on Wednesday.”
The winner of the match will advance to a Fourth Round date away to the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on June 16.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup