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?

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

 

 

 

La Máquina, to Round Four of the US Open Cup

La Máquina FC became the last-standing Open Division team in the US Open Cup by defeating fellow UPSL side LA Wolves on Wednesday night at Westminster High School in Westminster, CA. With that win La Máquina earned a Fourth Round match with LA Galaxy to take place on  June 14 at the StubHub Center at 7:30 pm.

Ex Liga MX and Ascenso MX forward Edwin Borboa notched a brace and was La Máquina’s man of the match with goals scored in the 17th and 68th minutes. LA Wolves came out more intensely in the second half and had a flurry of goal scoring opportunities in the last 15 minutes of regulation time, but La Máquina was too resolute.

La Máquina has shutdown its opponents in each round of the 2016 US Open Cup, outscoring opposition 6-0, with 2-0 wins over Timbers U-23 (PDL), Sacramento Gold (NPSL) and LA Wolves (UPSL).

 

 

Gio Dos Santos in Santa Ana: What’s the Meaning of This?

Soccer is so important to my heart, to the community here in Santa Ana… – Kenney Aguilar, Director, Santa Ana Police Athletic and Activities League

The LA Galaxy and the Santa Ana Police Athletic and Activities League recently opened a mini soccer, or futsal, pitch at Jackson Elementary School (right next to Windsor Park, in Ward 4, east of the Santa Ana River and north of Centennial Park) in Santa Ana. Galaxy striker Giovanni Dos Santos was in attendance for the official ribbon cutting.

So what does this all mean? It’s marketing, for one. The mini soccer pitch is marked with a large LA Galaxy logo in the middle of it, and all kids in attendance were given t-shirts with Galaxy logos as if to say, “property of LA Galaxy,” or “this is Galaxy country,” etc.

It’s not the first time that the Galaxy has made its presence in Santa Ana. The Galaxy has placed ads on billboards, buses and bus stops, for years, in Santa Ana. The Galaxy and the SAPD have a longtime relationship with kids being taken to the StubHub to watch games. They have an “official” pub at the Olde Ship near Santa Ana College. This further demonstrates the importance of the Santa Ana soccer market, just in case there are any doubters left out there.

Santa Ana College Dons coach José Vásquez played for the Galaxy and set a record with them way back at the beginnings of the league, current Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers played at Mater Dei, and these reveal more Santa Ana-Galaxy ties.

So why hasn’t a team calling itself “Orange County’s pro team,” meaning the Orange County Blues, done the kind of marketing and outreach that the Galaxy has done here, for years? Why is Santa Ana good enough for the Galaxy, but not the OC Blues? Do the OC Blues need the Galaxy’s permission to market in Santa Ana? Given that MLS and USL have an agreement not to compete with each other, except for the in the seasonal US Open Cup, this may be the case. Like I’ve said, the failure of that team to realize the importance of the Santa Ana soccer market shows in their attendance.

Santa Ana is an important soccer market, this is an exhausted fact. This is something that the North American Soccer League needs to take seriously if they’re going to setup an expansion team in Orange County, which is rumored to be in the works. It’s one thing for the Galaxy to setup a mini soccer pitch in Santa Ana, it would be a much greater move to setup a pro club at Santa Ana Stadium, and the NASL has the opportunity to do this, because neither MLS nor USL will. They haven’t shown the will to do so.

Why has pro soccer not stuck in Orange County in the past?

There’s a commonly held belief by followers of soccer in this country that “Orange County can’t support a pro soccer team because it doesn’t support the OC Blues.” I say repeatedly to these commenters, mainly on social media or Reddit, that all attempts at pro soccer in Orange County in the past, and in modern times, have failed because they didn’t and don’t connect with the heart of soccer in the county, which is Santa Ana. Face it. The OC Blues are notorious for their less-than-desirable attendance, and this is how they’re viewed around the country in spite of their on field record, because they’ve never prioritized Santa Ana.

All attempts at pro soccer in Orange County have failed, for decades, because they’ve failed to connect and build community with the most important soccer city in the county, and one of the most important in Southern California, which is Santa Ana. The market is there, not suburban Orange County, South OC, Irvine, etc. I don’t know if it’s because the city is “too Mexican” for marketers and they don’t know how to capture it but it’s probably something along those lines.

The “Orange County Zodiac” of the A-League left Irvine and tried to establish themselves at Santa Ana Stadium in the 90s, but it was too late because both the USL and MLS were on the rise. They never had the chance to firmly establish themselves with an academy, etc. Their name didn’t help either, as they seemingly wanted to play off of the “Galaxy” moniker, showing just how out of touch they were with the landscape. Speaking of out of touch, an “OC Blue” doesn’t ring very local, to me.

A Map for Renovating Santa Ana Stadium

No, I haven’t dropped this subject. Nor will I.

Granted, Santa Ana Stadium isn’t only a soccer venue. It stages all kinds of events and it will continue to do so. But why not with some sorely-needed renovation?

Pro soccer continues to grow and evolve around the country and not only in the now overly-mentioned Major League Soccer division. The North American Soccer League (Division 2) is adding 3 teams in 2016 in Miami, Puerto Rico and Oklahoma City, and the United Soccer League (Division 3) adds teams at a frequent rate. The latter leagues don’t make an issue about building a stadium first, in order to “secure” a club, or franchise, to be more precise. MLS is entirely about having a stadium deal in place, deals done with city governments that at times include getting tax breaks or anything having to do with reducing costs for those proposing expansion franchises. In Miami and Queens, NY, for example, MLS tried to sway government to give them some of the most scenic land to build stadiums, but ended up getting shut out of Queens, and is looking like their options have run out in Miami too. Theirs is a top-down approach to starting up a new team, and it never happens without the blessings and piles of cash associated with NBA, NFL or MLB owners. That is how those owners want to run a “major” soccer league, one called Division 1, that is supposed to be perceived as the top league. Why? Because it’s run by guys with experience running American sports leagues. The problem is soccer is a global sport and not simply an American sport.

The North American Soccer league differs from MLS in a number of ways, one of which is in its approach to building clubs organically, starting small in venues that are already built, which gets us to the main point. Santa Ana has a very potent city-owned resource in disrepair in Santa Ana Stadium.

So how can Santa Ana Stadium be renovated, if the city wanted it to be?

Political Will

Worry not, Santa Ana councilpersons, city manager, etc., it’s ok to like soccer. Really, it is! Don’t feel ashamed that it’s a sport associated with your Mexican / Latino ancestry. I know some of you are big on baseball and the NFL, and are as American as bratwürsten, I mean, hot dogs, but really it’s ok to have worldly taste in sport. No?

Look at politicos in the city of St. Paul, MN that okayed a land use deal with MLS to add a franchise there.

Look at San Antonio that put in some of their own money to buy from Toyota Field stadium from a private developer, the owner of the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. I’m not saying the city of Santa Ana should pay anything to a private developer, mind you. I’m giving examples.

In Sacramento, their mayor Kevin Johnson is the biggest cheerleader for an MLS expansion franchise, gleefully touting stadium renderings for the world to see.

City governments have shown a willingness to house pro soccer, and to have multi-use in their facilities, all around the country. New stadiums have been built very recently, and new ones and or redevelopment of existing ones are slated to happen in Orlando, Portland (converted a baseball stadium), Kansas City,  Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and in other parts.

So how are some ways that Santa Ana can maximize the use of such a potent city resource like Santa Ana Stadium?

Stadium sponsor

First off, never mind tearing it down. Never mind reorienting it to face the “East End” of the downtown. It’s orientation is fine the way it is. And it’ll keep the cost down! What it does need is complete improvement of its caged-up concession stands (at least what they appear to be) and just overall upgrades to seats, the press box, maybe throw in some Wi Fi–no, it’s a must that it have powerful Wi Fi to broadcast games from there, which is the way of the future.

Our stadium missed out on the age of stadium sponsorships. I remember when Anaheim Stadium was just that, before it became Edison Field. In came the era of the Arrowhead Ponds, Home Depot Centers, Nokia Theaters, etc, etc. And we stayed as is all of this time. No disrespect to the memory of Eddie West, but I’m sure if he were here today he’d love to cover a game in a venue reflective of its time. So why not be proactive towards finding a stadium sponsor for our stadium? Look at our corporate tenants: Ingram Micro, Behr, Yokohama, First American… who else?

Models for stadium redevelopment

Public-private partnerships around pro soccer proposals abound around the country. There are the examples I gave before in Sacramento, San Antonio and St. Paul, but lets focus on St. Paul for a minute.

The investment group bringing a franchise to St. Paul brokered a deal with the city that involves a primary building expense covered by the franchisees (the investment group). That expense is to be paid back by the city on payments. The details / terms of those payments were negotiable, of course.

In Detroit, the Detroit City Football (soccer) Club formed a partnership with a school district to redevelop Keyworth Stadium, for their use in 2016.

Contingency plan

If for whatever reason Santa Ana Stadium can’t be renovated, there’s another option for pro soccer at Centennial Park. The soccer complex at Centennial can be modeled like the one at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, GA, which was also renovated and expanded to seat 5,000 spectators.

Another option is at Santa Ana College. The track field, where the SAC Dons football and LA Kiss of the Arena Football League train, can have seats added if necessary, if the right partnership is reached with the college and its district.

Lastly

Modern-day Santa Ana stakeholders inherited a stadium that has tremendous potential. A renovated stadium coupled with the new downtown attractions would be an economic boost to the city. Elected city councilpersons favoring an upgraded Santa Ana Stadium would be putting the city on the map. It is true that city council has been cooperative in the past with other plans to bring pro soccer to the city, like in the case of Major League Soccer’s defunct Chivas USA and their upcoming Los Angeles Football Club. But the city, we, shouldn’t be deterred by MLS or anyone, from our intentions of realizing our potential as a soccer city.