The Los Angeles Area USASA Top 10

UPDATE: FC Golden State has been removed from the top 10 and FC Long Beach has been included at number 10. More details on this club below.

Previously

This is the first attempt to rank USASA teams in the LA area, that I know of. This ranking measures, especially, team performance across the affiliated USASA leagues (NPSL, PDL, UPSL, SoCal Premier, etc). More weight is given to clubs playing beyond their league conferences, for example. Simply put, with more success outside of league play, comes more merit. Sounds reasonable, right? I don’t think it’s that hard to comprehend.


Criteria

  1. First off, my metric encompasses clubs throughout the Greater Los Angeles area, made up of its counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino, Ventura.
  2. Results against clubs in the area, regardless of league, are especially favored.
  3. Clubs competing in cups beyond their league, and winning in those cups, are also weighted favorably.

Clarification

I’m going to lay this down once, to eliminate misperceptions in the future. I don’t subscribe to the notion that the NPSL is a better league, in general, nor by default. The NPSL has improved greatly in presentation and perception off the field, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to on-field success. I’ll give you two or three examples of how NPSL clubs haven’t delivered on the field.

The NPSL’s Sacramento Gold fell to La Máquina of the UPSL in last year’s Open Cup. Prior to that match, the Gold went on TV in Sacramento saying that they were going to come down here to win. Fast forward to Open Cup 2017 qualifying and the NPSL’s Orange County FC fell to “La Machina” [sic], on September 17, 2016.

OCFC got a “rematch” in February, and lost that too.

So what? Why do I make a big deal about this? To not assume that teams in a startup league like the UPSL, or any league, are inferior by default. This is too common a characteristic in American soccer and among its fans, even front offices.

The Top 10, Defined

1. Moreno Valley FC is the defending USASA Region IV Champion. This means they’re the best California team outside of the professional leagues (USSF divisions 1-3, do not confuse this to be anything other), and they’ve demonstrated it in the State Cup. Last year they defeated LA Wolves, the club that defeated the USL’s OC Blues, later-rebranded-as Orange County SC in last year’s Open Cup. Performance is telling, and especially against other regional standouts. “Mo Val” recently defended their state title successfully versus UPSL standout Santa Ana Winds FC in Norco, and they have another title defense coming up against Eric Wynalda’s L.A. Wolves.

2. L.A. Wolves have done some significant revamping since last year’s Open Cup exit versus Santa Ana’s La Máquina. They’ve brought on Eric Wynalda as head coach, perform consistently well in the UPSL, and are alive in two other competitions, the State Cup and the Open Cup. They have a chance to eliminate the sitting State Champion in Moreno Valley, and the have a chance to advance in the Open Cup versus San Diego Zest of the PDL.

3. La Máquina currently sits in third in the UPSL, and also has had a lot on their plate recently. They’re still alive in the Open Cup, and will travel to face Fresno Fuego at Chukchansi Park. They’re no strangers to travelling to face PDL teams. Last year, La Máquina eliminated Portland Timbers PDL, in Oregon. La Máquina was recently eliminated from the State Cup vs San Nicolás SC of Santa Barbara, by a score of 1-0.

4. Santa Ana Winds FC sit in 2nd in the UPSL and are having a turnaround season, having rebuilt their club with players from the reputable Santa Ana College Dons program. Winds FC won a 2017 Open Cup qualifying match over La Habra City, before being eliminated in the 2nd qualifying round by La Máquina. Santa Ana managed to grind out wins in the State Cup, including a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad Royals of the SoCal Premier League, and a momentous 3-2 comeback over UPSL leader Strikers South Coast. Their creative individual skills were not enough to best regional powerhouse Moreno Valley FC in the State Cup quarterfinals.

5. Real Sociedad Royals are 2nd in the SoCal Premier League, and like in-league club Outbreak SC, are accustomed to competing in extra-league tournaments. They’ve won Open Cup qualifiers in the past, and topped the best team in the UPSL in Strikers South Coast, effectively eliminating them from the State Cup. The only thing keeping them from being ranked higher than Winds FC is their loss to the Santa Ana side in the group stage of the State Cup. The Royals were eliminated from 2017 Open Cup qualifying by L.A. Wolves, 4-1.

6. Outbreak SC sits in 3rd in the SoCal Premier League, and has an upcoming Open Cup match against FC Golden State Force of the PDL on May 10. Outbreak qualified for the Open Cup by defeating in-league Buena Park FC and San Fernando Valley Scorpions of the UPSL.

7. Strikers FC South Coast, while at the top of the UPSL with goal differential, the Strikers fell twice in the group stage of the State Cup. In one loss the club blew a 2-0 lead to Winds FC, who exposed them by taking control of possession, and turning the game in their favor 3-2. Strikers fell to Real Sociedad by the same score, finishing last in the State Cup group stage, but did edge out Santa Barbara club San Nicolás in the State Cup, in which the latter is a semifinalist.

8. Riverside Coras are dominating the NPSL Southwest Conference, which includes conference leaders OCFC and FC Arizona. Surprisingly, to this writer, the NPSL Southwest is the only competition Coras are participating in. Coras had a UPSL squad, and nave focused on the NPSL, which is the right thing to do in my book, but are absent of the Open Cup and the State Cup (more on this later).

9. Orange County FC is having an impressive debut season in the NPSL, sitting 2nd behind Coras. The Irvine club has a chance to bump Riverside out of 1st, in their upcoming match, which will reveal who’s the best in the NPSL SW. OCFC is undefeated and features ex-Máquina player José “Chila” Montes and ex-Sueño MLS Winner Armando “Mambo” Flores of Santa Ana, CA, among others. OCFC lost an Open Cup qualifier to La Máquina, of Santa Ana, in September 2016, and a rematch in February 2017.

10. FC Long Beach is a semifinalist in the State Cup and has won 3 matches in that tournament, in which they defeated Los Angeles United Soccer Club, of the L.A. Premier League, along with Chula Vista and Newhall Premier, but were pummeled by L.A. Wolves, which is revealing. They have an upcoming match with San Nicolás SC. FC Long Beach appears to be a non-league club, described as the men’s club of the Long Beach Youth Soccer Association. Due to this fact there’s no telling how this club would fare in leagues like the UPSL, NPSL, or the SoCal Premier’s first division. Their only measure against a UPSL club is an 8-0 loss to L.A. Wolves.

Closing thoughts

As a fan, I argue that more interleague play, outside of Open Cup one-offs and the like, are a necessary part of “growing the game,” which every league and club claims to want to do. It’s a win-win when leagues and clubs cooperate. Maybe there should be an invitational for LA area clubs. Anyway, whether observers agree with my assessment or not, USASA clubs in the LA area need prodding to produce even better matchups. The UPSL and the NPSL are consolidating and forming top clubs in the LA area. The NPSL Southwest Conference has improved greatly with its recent expansion teams. The So Cal Premier’s best will always be there pecking at the top.

Remember, before you blow a gasket, rankings are never stagnant. As boxing referee Mills Lane used to say, “Let’s get it on.”

What do you say? What’s your top ten? Do you hate me yet?

 

 

 

 

Preview: Winds FC vs Moreno Valley FC

Santa Ana Winds FC will face defending USASA Region IV Champion and fellow UPSL Club Moreno Valley on Sunday at the Silver Lakes Soccer Complex in Norco at 5:30 pm, in the Cal South Adult State Cup quarter finals. The finalists qualify for the USASA Region IV championship, and the winner of that moves on to the USASA National Cup, contested by its three other regions.

Theses two clubs faced each other in week 2 of the current UPSL season in a high-scoring match that went “Mo Val’s” way 5-3. Winds FC’s defense struggled in that match allowing two “soft goals,” but their offense came alive in the 2nd half, and took control of the match with a late surge, scoring 3 goals. 

This result vs Mo Val ended up being Winds FC’s only loss to date. Since then, they’ve won 6 in a row and sit in 2nd place, trailed by Mo Val in 3rd.

Analysis

A good team that keeps possession can make Moreno Valley struggle. This was made evident in their match vs La Máquina at Centennial Park in Santa Ana. La Máquina went down early on a failed clearance late in the 1st half, but took control of the match winning a majority of possession, and turned the game around to win 2-1. Winds FC will need to learn from that match, as they tend to concede a soft goal on occasion. They’ll need to tighten up and eliminate any mistakes that could prove costly in a tight knit match. Winds FC should play to their individual strengths, with their slew of players good at creating space for themselves.

I don’t expect this to be a high-scoring match, a repeat of week 2, with two teams that are in their best form of the season. Moreno Valley topped La Máquina 1-0 in UPSL play recently, and Winds FC defeated conference leader Strikers FC in the last round of the Adult a State Cup.

La Máquina advances in National Amateur Cup qualifying 

UPDATE: This post previously stated that La Máquina advanced in USASA National Cup qualifying. Instead, the club won its first of three matches to be played in a group stage, before going to knockout rounds. The top two finishers of each group advance.

Previously:

La Máquina defeated defending USASA Region IV Champion, and fellow UPSL club, Moreno Valley FC on Sunday April, 9 at Centennial Regional Park in Santa Ana in a comeback victory.

The Santa Ana-based club opted to not use one of the city’s recently renovated fields at their heavily-used Dan Young Soccer Complex at Centennial, according to league president Leonel López. “We offered to help them get a field at the complex, but they went at it alone,” said López. That decision paid off, as La Máquina opted to play on grass, on an unassuming field, but one putting the game on a rugged pitch, the type where clubs like La Máquina are forged over time. It was by design, looking in retrospect, leaving a befuddled observer like myself wondering why they weren’t on a field at the complex. They took the game to their rugged field roots, where many upcoming Santa Ana players evolve their game.

It was a tight affair throughout, with all three goals coming late in both halves. Moreno Valley scored first in first-half stoppage time, on a pinballed and failed clearance in the box, after a corner kick.

La Máquina, through strikers Edwin Borboa and Ronaldo Pineda, had some missed scoring opportunities in the first half. Cal State Fullerton midfielder/ striker Ronaldo Pineda came on as a sub in the first half, blasting a shot off the bar from distance just minutes after coming into the match, and unphased from the immediate, targeted tackling coming from Moreno Valley.

So was the first half, a quasi-chippy one, with Máquina players getting chopped down.

The second half belonged entirely to La Máquina, who saw much more possession and controlled the game that way from that point on. The club pulled the game out in under the last ten minutes, the first one on a swarm on goal, the ball looking forced into the net by sheer will. About three players converged to knock the ball in.

The second goal came on a header late in the game, that sealed La Máquina’s grinded out, come from behind victory. With the win, La Máquina advances in US Adult Soccer’s National Amateur Cup qualifying.

La Máquina put on a display of why they’re a tough competitor, a rival incómodo, going back to their roots, and put on a lesson in true fútbol.

A Burgeoning National Soccer League, with Santa Ana Origins

The United Premier Soccer League launched in 2011, when Santa Ana Winds FC leaders reformed their club in this new league, outside of the National Premier Soccer League, where they had a season-long stint. Winds FC started the league with other Santa Ana clubs including La Máquina and Ozzy’s Laguna, in addition to Orange County area clubs like OC Crew and Irvine Outcasts, etc. By 2016 two more Santa Ana clubs, Cal Arsenal and CF Cachorros, joined the UPSL.

The league is turning seven and now has an upward and national trajectory that’s mostly taken off in the last year. Much of this boom, arguably, came from one of their more successful clubs, La Máquina, that made a splash in the 2016 national US Open Cup. 

For those that need a primer or a reminder, La Máquina shattered all expectations of an “Open Division” or “amateur” club in that tournament. The club defeated other clubs from longer-established and supposedly better quality leagues including the Premier Development League and the National Premier Soccer League. La Máquina made it to the fourth elimination round where they faced the LA Galaxy and lost on a controversial deadball play, a play in which the referee officiating the match later admitted he was wrong in allowing. (See Máquina – Galaxy: The Aftermath).

Incidentally, fellow club LA Wolves of the UPSL deafeated another club from another supposedly superior league, the OC Blues, of the United Soccer League in the same 2016 Open Cup.

This performance on the national stage, one representative of the league put on by La Máquina and LA Wolves demonstrated what is possible outside of the existing system/s found in the PDL/NPSL/USL, etc.

Come 2017 and the UPSL has seen interest from clubs around the country interested in joining their model:

It’s gotten to the point that the UPSL has identified regional directors to oversee growth and nationwide expansion. The league is positioned to be a national league by 2018:

The UPSL makes up part of the frontier of American soccer, a league existing outside of the wall that is the closed system and the status quo involving the youth development to collegiate player drafting method. This league, like other regional leagues, proves that there is undeniable talent in the “Open Division,” outside of said closed structures.

It’s a league like the UPSL that leads reputable American soccer figures like Eric Wynalda to affirm that US Soccer isn’t functioning at its maximum potential by overlooking talent in leagues like the UPSL, instead opting for the current collegiate/PDL, etc player drafting model.

Wynalda reached this affirmation, or reaffirmation, in Santa Ana, on the night of April 1, after the club he now coaches, LA Wolves, lost to La Máquina at Santa Ana Stadium. (LA Wolves are still trying to find that elusive win over La Máquina, btw):

U.S. Open Cup Qualifying Review: La Máquina vs Santa Ana Winds FC

Sunday’s 2017 U.S. Open Cup qualifying match between Santa Ana clubs La Máquina and Winds FC, both of the United Premier Soccer League, came down to capitalizing on scoring opportunities, of which both sides had plenty. La Máquina took advantage of three “soft goal” opportunities given by Winds FC, with a final score of 3-0. The story of the night for Winds FC was failing to score on clear scoring opportunities, of which they had at least 4.

The difference was set in the first half with La Máquina scoring off of two failed clearances by the Winds defense, first in the 8th minute on a goal by Edwin Borboa and then in the 18th on a shot from distance by José “Chila” Montes de Oca. The Winds FC game plan was to attack up the flanks, with which they did manage to generate some danger but ultimately no goal, and to shut down La Máquina’s midfield commandeered by the Castro Pérez brothers (José and Rosendo), both with Liga de Ascenso experience with Club Dorados de Sinaloa.

The third goal came in the 86th minute, “Chila’s” second of the night, with Winds FC playing with 10 men after a hamstring injury to a midfielder. Ironically, La Máquina scored when Winds FC made it easiest for them to do so, something good teams like La Máquina take advantage of. Overall, La Máquina created more dangerous shots on goal and crosses, and hit the post twice.

Santa Ana Soccer: Forgotten History, Forsaken Potential

Visit the LA Times online archives and you’ll find some nuggets of history concerning pro soccer at Santa Ana Stadium. You’ll see a story of international matches and local pro league matches that took place at this stadium, long before the creation of Major League Soccer, in 1996.

You’ll see a period when soccer flourished at the stadium, followed by a period of stagnation in the face of other developments in pro soccer, and pro sports, in the LA area. Before there was a Home Depot Center or a StubHub Center, there was Santa Ana Stadium as an option for international soccer matches. This stadium as a soccer venue was hindered even further with the removal of its natural grass and the installation of an artificial American football gridiron.

You’ll see a city’s replacing of the sport of international soccer, with all of the economic potential that it had back then, and has now, with a favoring of American football for the city’s private Catholic high school, Mater Dei, and the city’s public school district teams. Is it any wonder that Mater Dei games are what usually fill the stadium nowadays, attended by friends and families of kids that generally aren’t from, nor live in Santa Ana?

International soccer at Santa Ana Stadium, since its advent

International soccer began being programmed at Santa Ana Stadium soon after it was built in 1963. The stadium was the site of a match between a local team named the Orange County Soccer Club, and none other than historic German powerhouse, FC Bayern Munich in 1966.

Side note: Information on pro soccer at Santa Ana Stadium for nearly a 20 year period is unavailable here, as the research for this article is limited to the Los Angeles Times’ online archive, which only goes as far back as 1985.  

Whoever the promoters were putting on international soccer at Santa Ana Stadium knew what teams would draw well there given the city’s demographics, those teams being Mexican clubs Chivas de Guadalajara and Club América. It was common practice to see a club face a national team, like in the cases of Guadalajara’s 1-0 win over Honduras, on March 15, 1988, and a 5-4 goal fest Chivas took over the United States, a month later on April 24, 1988. Club América defeated Bayern Munich 2-1 on January 14, 1989 and East Germany by a score of 3-1 on August 2, 1990 at this stadium. América faced the United States at Santa Ana Stadium on March 25, 1989 prior to their match with East Germany, in a match for the “Santa Ana Soccer Cup,” a game in which the “team from Mexico City” (Club América) won 2-0.

There was at least one game with tinges of CONCACAF regional tournament play, with Central American clubs Herediano of Costa Rica facing storied club Olympia of Honduras, a game which Herediano won 1-0 on August 28, 1988.

American pro soccer leagues and club ventures at Santa Ana Stadium

Santa Ana Stadium was the home of the now-defunct clubs California Sunshine (American Soccer League, defunct), Orange County Zodiac, later rebranded Orange County Waves, (A-League, now known as the United Soccer League). Most importantly, what did these teams have in common? None of them used the Santa Ana name, thus failing, fantastically, to form a club that would resonate with the Santa Ana market.

Another factor that contributed in part to burying pro soccer in Orange County (and more importantly, Santa Ana), until the LA Blues of the USL rebranded themselves “OC Blues” in 2014, is the formation of Major League Soccer and that league’s goal of subjugating USL, and placing MLS development teams there, so as to not have a rival to its soccer “business,” which is really an ongoing monopolization of the “First Division,” or, “Major League” status, which is really no much more than a tag set by monetary criteria and not sporting merit, through promotion and relegation among divisions, which is how Division 1 status is attained in leagues around the world. But not in the USA, ’cause what works for pro basketball, baseball, football in this country, works for soccer is their thinking. Getting back to the original point of this paragraph, Orange County went without pro soccer for 14 years, the Blues now play in Irvine, the city next door, but Santa Ana Stadium hasn’t had a pro team since the “OC Zodiac,” which made a last-ditch effort to save themselves by moving to Santa Ana Stadium, (they moved out of Irvine) but it was too late, and they insisted on branding themselves generically as the “Orange County Waves.”

So we see this timeline of pro soccer at Santa Ana Stadium beginning in the 1960s, with some information missing on the 1970s missing from the LA Times online archives, although it can be deduced that soccer was played there throughout this decade, given that the sport has always been popular in the city and given that a Santa Ana soccer player, José López, worked his way up through UCLA to eventually play on the inaugural 1974 LA Aztecs of the first North American Soccer League. It’s safe to say that Santa Ana Stadium remained a destination for soccer during that decade and it was such through the 80s.

In the 80s we see a number of international soccer matches, particularly ones appealing to the city’s Latino (mostly Mexican, and or Mexican-American) demographic, one that the city has been strongly associated with since then and prior. In the 90s we see the inclusion of American soccer leagues that came and went, one flopping out entirely and one rebranding itself as the United Soccer League.

At the start of the 21st century we see the growth of MLS and its stymying of organic growth in soccer cities like Santa Ana, because of that league’s and the US Soccer Federation’s refusal to implement promotion and relegation. For the LA Galaxy to continue being what it is, an unchallenged franchise clinging to a division 1 tag, no other team and city in the LA region can grow a team and reach division 1 status through sporting merit. For the LA Galaxy to continue as is, soccer cities in the LA region must remain subjugated, at best allowed to exist as a mostly irrelevant club trotting along in a MLS development league, which is the case of the OC Blues.

Afterthoughts

One this is abundantly clear. Santa Ana has always been a soccer destination. It’s soccer potential is still great and better than ever before, due to population growth, along with the popularity the sport enjoys. “Every place you go in the community is about soccer,” said Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent Rick Miller. The Galaxy knows this and that’s why they’ve always tried to treat Santa Ana like nothing more than a market. It is much, much more than a market. MLS knows this and that’s why they squatted on santaanafc.com, which is absolute pettiness on the part of the shot-callers at that league, which are backed NFL, MLB and NBA money.

Just recently the LA Galaxy struggled to move on in the US Open Cup versus a Santa Ana amateur team known as “La Máquina.” What would’ve that result been if a Santa Ana club had the competitive advantages of a pro club? Things like fulltime training, physical trainers, doctors, nutritionists, and at least the opportunity and incentive to receive the necessary cash injections to compete regionally? That full potential is capped through US Soccer’s locking out of all clubs not already bought into (literally) “division 1” and the exposure that’s associated with that tag. And that’s done to curb competition, don’t be naïve.

 

 

 

Máquina – Galaxy: The Aftermath

The fourth round of the US Open Cup has concluded with MLS teams inching past NASL ones in most cases. In fact, it took most MLS fourth round entrants more than 90 minutes to move on to the fifth round. So much was MLS’s struggle in the 4th round that the league’s flagship LA Galaxy needed more than 90 minutes, and a highly questionable goal, to get past an amateur club, La Máquina.

The goal in question caused such a stir that La Máquina and their league, the United Premier Soccer League, exercised their right to protest the match the following day. At first it seemed that the club would have no case, some scoffing it off, but a series of very revealing tweets showed that the referee that handled the match, Ramón Hernández, admitted to a mistake in allowing the play that led to the goal to continue. It remains to be seen whether La Máquina’s request for a rematch will be granted by US Soccer, as of the time of this writing, June 16 at 11:36 pm, PST.

The tweets came from another referee, Edgar Martínez, who attended the match and who knows Ramón Hernández, get this, because they’re both still attending refereeing school, known as RPD for Referee Professional Development, offered through Cal South.

Galaxy players admitted, as revealed by their writer Adam Serrano, and also by former MLS and ESPN writer, the reputable Scott French, that they too were surprised with the referee’s allowing of the play by saying things like, “If I were them [La Máquina], I’d be pissed,” or “Am I allowed to shoot this?”

And so it remains to be seen if La Máquina’s protest will be upheld. But most commentary on Twitter has been sympathetic and favorable towards La Máquina, if not outraged, over the allowance of the controversial play that opened the floodgates for the Galaxy.