Blake Frischknecht’s journey to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup started at an open tryout hosted by Eric Wynalda, the very man whose team the recently married college senior hopes to upset in the Third Round.
A 24-year-old center forward, Frischknecht [pronounced Frish-Connect] was an all-district player at Las Vegas’ Centennial High School before matriculating to Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. A large part of that decision to attend BYU was based on his desire to play for the school’s now-defunct PDL participant club.
“I graduated from high school on a Friday night and left right after so I could play in a PDL [Premier Development League, now known as USL League Two] game for BYU on Saturday,” said Frischknecht, a leading light in attack for 2019 U.S. Open Cup darlings Orange County FC.
While at BYU he met his future wife, Ella, before traveling to Bahia Blanca, a province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a two-year humanitarian mission that changed many of his perspectives.
Service & Soccer“It was the best experience of my life. Argentina is one of those soccer-crazy countries and I played local futsal [but] I dedicated every day for two years to just helping people. And that changes you as a person,” added Frischknecht, an electric attacker who’s been crucial in dragging amateurs OCFC to the Third Round of the 2019 Open Cup. “You learn a lot about other people but you also learn about yourself and you learn about what it means to serve others.”
Frischknecht returned to the States in March 2017 transferred from BYU and enrolled at Utah Valley University in Orem with three seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining and a spot on the men’s soccer team available to him.
He struggled with groin and hip injuries during the fall of 2017 but rehabilitated and was a major contributor as a junior at Utah Valley in 2018. “I had a decent season,” Frischknecht said. “So I decided to travel to Las Vegas in December and just try to keep my name out there since I’m from Vegas and you never know what could happen.”
What happened was, Frischknecht stood out at a Wynalda-hosted Las Vegas Lights FC (USL Championship) tryout at Cashman Field.
“Wynalda wanted him but he’s still in college and has a year left at Utah Valley,” said Paul Caligiuri, Orange County FC’s technical director, head coach and former teammate of Wynalda’s with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Target ManA classic target forward, tall and rangy at 6-3 and nearly 200 pounds, Caligiuri saw Frischknecht as a player who could fill an important role for his amateur Orange County FC.
“[Caligiuri] said, ‘Hey, I really like the way you play,’ and that he’d see if there’s a way I could play for him in the Open Cup,” Frischknecht said.
Caligiuri and Orange County FC of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), of course, don’t have any issues with Frischknecht’s amateur status.
“He’s a pure striker with good height and is a guy who is deceptively fast with technical skills. I like his ideas,” said Caligiuri, most famous for scoring the goal against Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 that brought the U.S. back to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. “It’s not just having a skill but it’s what you do with it, and he fit with OCFC like hand in glove right from the start.”
Frischknecht played in one tune-up game for OCFC in early May and earned National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) Player of the Week honors after a three-goal, one-assist performance.
Since then Frischknecht played in OCFC’s first two U.S. Open Cup games, scoring in the First Round against FC Golden State Force. He played 120 minutes in the club’s shootout win over Orange County SC (USL Championship) in the Second Round and was a constant threat against the near neighbors and full pros.
Heading HomeIt all comes full-circle now, with Frischknecht heading to his hometown of Las Vegas to play a Third Round Open Cup contest against Wynalda (head coach of Las Vegas Lights and admitted Frischknecht admirer) who set this whole ball rolling in the first place.
“It’s been great but it’s been tough,” said Frischknecht, caught between two worlds and set to face the man who spotted his talent at that open tryout in North Las Vegas all those months ago. “Right now Orem is home so the distance creates challenges. When I’m down there in Southern California I’m training with them, and when I’m not I’m now training with my other teams.”
Frishknecht is committed to Caligiuri and Orange County FC through their Cup run, but he intends to play for Odgen City FC (USL League One) this summer before fulfilling his NCAA eligibility with Utah Valley in the fall.
“I have nothing to lose and the Open Cup is a great opportunity for me to go out there and play my best and get some eyes on Orange County FC,” said Frishknecht, a player with a long and fruitful road potentially unfolding in front of him. “But we still have a long way to go,” he said.