|Club: Harpo’s FC (Colorado)
Manager: Johnny Freeston
Affiliation: United States Specialty Sports Association
Stadium: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Field #20; Commerce City, CO
Tournament Appearances: First (2015)
“They’ve been very good to us,” said club manager Johnny Freeston.”They house our trophies and are a base for a lot of memories for some of our players. We’ve had a lot of good times up there.”
With the core of players made up of graduate students that have collegiate playing experience, Freeston says his side transitioned from a “pub-league team” to one with more competitive aspirations in 2010, following the club team’s National Championship that year.
In 2012, the team started to make a name for itself outside of Boulder, winning some local tournaments. The following year, the club began to dominate in the Colorado Amateur Soccer League, winning titles three out of the last four seasons and eventually winning the 2014 State Cup which qualified the side for the United States Specialty Sports Association’s National Tournament this past March.
With a spot in this year’s Open Cup on the line, it was at that USSSA tournament held in Kansas that Harpo’s became acquainted with Saturday’s “Play-In” Round opponents, KC Athletics. Having already qualified for the 2015 Open Cup, the Kansas City-based side had a little less to play for: Harpo’s thrashed KC 4-1 in group play.
“We played them on a Friday night in Overland Park, Kansas. We got there early to warm up, and I don’t think they rolled in until about 30 minutes before kickoff,” Freeston remembered. “We pushed the kickoff a bit later and they didn’t have a lot of subs. In hindsight we thought they were doing it as an exercise. They took it lightly and it showed.”
Despite winning only one of their group matches, through some quirks in the tournament schedule, KC Athletics found themselves in the tournament final, meaning Harpo’s final group match against local rivals Colorado Rovers would be the deciding match for the USSSA’s remaining Open Cup berth.
A back-and-forth match saw Shane Wheeler’s 25-yard blast clinch a spot in the Open Cup as Harpo’s won 3-2.
2014 Colorado Amateur Soccer League State Champions Harpo's FC hope to continue the club's rise up the amateur American soccer ranks with a run in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup.
With its first Open Cup appearance in hand, Freeston said his team went out and celebrated the victory that night in Kansas.
“When we played against KC Athletics the next day, we looked like we’d just come from spring break,” Freeston joked.
It showed in the result as the Athletics won the USSSA title game 3-1.
With neither team putting their best foot forward earlier this year, Freeston said Saturday’s “Play-In” game in Commerce City, Colorado, is the ultimate rubber match between the two sides.
“There’s mutual respect there. We know they’re not a pushover, and they know we’re a quality team. This time though they’re coming to play in our back yard, at altitude, where we’ve been playing a lot of games.
“We’re going to go at them. It’s a chess match, we get that, but we’re not here to make up the numbers. We want to win and we want to dominate.”
Like most amateur teams in the tournament, Harpo’s players have regular day jobs. Captain and center back Dan Campbell was a four-year letterman at University of California-Davis who moved to Boulder for grad school and now works in real estate development with Denver-based company UDR.
This is something we’ve been gunning for and being in the Open Cup is our club’s pinnacle achievement so far. That said, we want more; we don’t want to just get there. We want to have a run, see how good we are and test ourselves against some great teams. - Harpo's FC head coach Johnny Freeston
Sean Sullivan, a four-year starter at Siena College in New York, works as an Account Executive in the Colorado Rapids’ ticket sales department and helped arrange for Saturday’s game to be played at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Soccer Complex in Commerce City.
Elsewhere on the squad, professional aspirations exist in Wheeler, a 23-year-old standout forward and alumnus of local clubs Boulder Academy Force and FC Boulder. Wheeler works for Ibotta, a Denver-based start-up behind a mobile app that specializes in helping users of the app earn rebate cash. On the field, he’s averaged 15 goals a season since joining the club in 2012 and has also recently trialed with USL sides Wilmington Hammerheads, Rochester Rhinos and Colorado Springs Switchbacks as well as trained with the PDL’s Real Colorado Foxes.
“Shane is so dangerous in front of goal,” said Freeston. “He’s got the potential to go pro and we’re trying to set him up with more trials. The route for him looks to be in the PDL this year and hopefully a good performance in the Open Cup combined with success there, could be his spring board.”
As his side makes final preparations for Saturday’s match, Freeston is adamant that simply making it to the Open Cup won’t be enough satisfaction for his budding squad.
“This is something we’ve been gunning for and being in the Open Cup is our club’s pinnacle achievement so far. That said, we want more; we don’t want to just get there. We want to have a run, see how good we are and test ourselves against some great teams.”
Despite being North American neighbors, the first meeting between the United States and Mexico actually took place on the other side of the Atlantic. Played on May 24, 1934 in Rome, the game was a one-off match – essentially the USA’s first World Cup qualifier – for the right to play in the second FIFA World Cup, which was set to kick off days later in venues across Italy.
Playing in front of 10,000 spectators, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the Americans rode a four-goal performance from Aldo “Buff” Donelli to defeat Mexico 4-2 and earn a place in the 16-team field at the 1934 FIFA World Cup.
You would hope the 11 players that came away victorious that day cherished the memory in Rome, because as big as the result was, it would take another 46 years before the USA would defeat Mexico again.
Though 17 of those 24 matches were played on Mexican soil, that winless streak against our neighbors to the south is by far the longest against any one opponent in team history, both in terms of number of games and years,. It fortunately ended on Nov. 23, 1980, when the U.S. used a pair of goals from Steve Moyers to defeat Mexico 2-1 in another Qualifying match, this time for the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
With Mexico already booking its ticket to the next round of Qualifying and the USA already eliminated, from a competitive standpoint, the match was meaningless. However, whether or not they realized it, the 2,126 fans in attendance at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium witnessed history that night, and to this day are among the few Americans that saw the USA’s 43-year winless streak against Mexico come to an end.
Though the USA and Mexico met only once more during the decade, the dam had been cracked. With 1990 marking the MNT’s first appearance in the World Cup in 40 years, the 1980s also served as a transitional phase in the rivalry with Mexico as a new generation of American players began to reap the benefits of greater emphasis on the game here at home to lay the foundation for future triumphs.
The first in a series of successes came during the semifinals of the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Led by former Mexico head coach Bora Milutinovic, the USA used second-half strikes from John Doyle and Peter Vermes to stun El Tri 2-0 in front of a pro-Mexico crowd of 41,103 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and went on to win the tournament’s inaugural title.
WATCH: USA Defeats Mexico 2-0 in 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup SemifinalRead more