Trail Trials Help Spark Redlands FC’s Open Cup Adventure

An injured Ryan Whiley willed his way out of the Himalayas and – with that same spirit – helped forge amateur club Redlands FC from scratch and guide them to an unlikely Open Cup First Round berth.
By: Dennis Pope

Without food or potable water, Ryan Whiley was limping badly on a torn ligament in his ankle. He willed his way out of the Himalayas.

Starting an amateur men’s soccer club and advancing to play in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game in the space of two years has been no less daunting.

“Things can get hard but knowing that we can push through gives us the confidence to keep moving forward,” Whiley wisely said.

Lead owner in a group of investor-operators that brought Redlands Football Club to USL League Two (the amateur summer league once known as the Premier Development League or PDL) in 2023, Whiley had dreamed of owning his own club since he was a kid mashing the controller of his video games.

It was his college trip to India, however, that laser-focused him on his goals.

Into the Mountains

At the urging of his parents, Whiley signed up for a trip that took him whitewater rafting in the Kali River. He lived with an Indian family more than an hour north of the closest city, and, eventually, he embarked on a 45-day camping and hiking adventure in the range that includes Mount Everest.

“They take you and they teach you how to live outdoors,” said Whiley, thinking back on this formative journey with his club’s first Open Cup match just days away. “I went to India in the spring of 2013 and we hung out in Delhi for a couple of days before we headed up into the Himalayas for three months.

“The first two weeks we did a whitewater rafting trip down the river that separates India and Nepal, then we did an eight-day course in wilderness first aid and then we stayed with a family about an hour or two from Ranikhet,” Whiley remembered.

He was exposed to culture and customs he had never experienced – and he headed up into those unforgiving mountains alongside a group of mostly college students.

The community has turned out for its new club / Photo Redlands FC

“We cooked and ate with [the family] and lived with them and it was about so much more than camping out,” Whiley said. “It was about the culture and I learned so much.”

It was on his way out of the Himalayan mountainside, first with guides and then without supervision for the final seven days, where Whiley sustained a torn ligament in his left ankle and was forced to unlock a heretofore untapped reserve of mental toughness in order to finish his journey.

He looks back on those days with reverence.

“We had to finish off the last part of the backpacking expedition by ourselves and that was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Whiley said. “It was just really eye-opening. I was a little immature when I left, and after I grew up a little and was a lot more social and a lot more confident.”

Whiley returned home and graduated from UC Santa Barbara. He took a job as a software engineer in Redlands a few years ago, looked around and found a city ready to support his lifelong goal. Just 60 miles east of downtown LA – tucked away in San Bernardino County – was land ripe for planting. 

The Journey Begins

Redlands FC exceeded expectations in their expansion year, capturing the USL League Two Southwest Division regular season title, thus earning a home playoff game and an automatic spot in the First Round of the Open Cup.

Sponsored by high-end local pub La Volata Pizzeria, Redlands FC hosted large crowds at Dodge Stadium on the campus of Redlands High School to the surprise of just about everyone.

“We have to make sure we’re not getting ahead of ourselves but last year was very promising,” Whiley said. “The City of Redlands has been a tremendous partner and we continue to have conversations with everyone we can to grow this thing.”

The club plays home games out of the local high school / Photo Redlands FC

The team is led on the field by Redlands High School graduate Omar Yehya, a senior at Utah State. He’s one of a group of elite players from college programs (mostly around the Inland region of Southern California including UC Riverside, California Baptist University and Cal State San Bernardino).

“We’re able to integrate with the [local college] programs because it is a shorter season, but we’re definitely shooting for the stars,” Whiley added, an oozing ambition in his voice.

Several of the team’s players from the first year have moved on to the professional ranks, including Turner Humphrey (to Major League Soccer side and 2016 Open Cup Champions FC Dallas) and Luis Mueller (LAFC II).

The Journey Continues

Leading off Year Two with a matchup against a professional side in the Open Cup wasn’t something that Whiley saw coming – but it’s an adjustment the club is more than happy to accommodate.

The tricky part is getting players to commit for a tournament that starts nearly two months before the USL League Two season is set to begin.

“As we build this U.S. Open Cup roster we also have to think ahead to the summer roster, which will probably be different in a lot of ways,” Redlands FC coach Cody Carlson said of the club who won’t start league play until early May.

Carlson, a long-time assistant under legendary coach Ralph Perez at the University of Redlands, has had his hands full sculpting a roster for the new season.

“Some of them will be returning guys and some of them will be new players,” said Carlson, who knows the area's soccer scene and player profile as well as anyone. “The one nice thing is we have more time to build a roster than we did last year.”

The matchup against the pro side of L.A. Force – of the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) – in the First Round of the Open Cup offers the Redlands-based club a shot at national recognition and credibility.

“We’re thrilled to be involved in the U.S. Open Cup,” said Whiley of the country’s oldest and most venerable soccer tournament. “Just the history of all of it, and us being able to go into it in our second season is an incredible thing.”

Dennis Pope writes about local sports for the SoCal Newspaper Group and serves in a communications role for both NISA Nation and the Southwest Premier League. Follow him at
@DennisPope on X/Twitter.