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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Santa Ana Winds FC get a new logo… and?

The Santa Ana Winds Football (Soccer) Club, formerly of the National Premier Soccer League, have resurfaced with a much-improved, and sorely needed, team crest. But they still don’t have a home field in Santa Ana proper. Instead, this team plays some of its “home” games in Aliso Viejo. And the team still doesn’t have its online presence down. Their dot com is inoperable and there’s no Twitter account. It’s shameful. Why re-brand if you’re not going to set your brand to market? The point is to project it and have a presence, make a mark, get on the map, get on the radar.

Santa Ana is flooded with soccer leagues, seemingly all competing with each other for fields. Santa Ana’s Parks & Recreation Director Gerardo Mouet said that these leagues tend to fight over Santa Ana’s Soccer Complex at Centennial Park, for example.

Because of this lack of organized soccer leagues in Santa Ana, it makes it difficult to unite behind a common goal, one that ideally has a pro-level or semi-pro team representing the city. No, it doesn’t have to be a Major League Soccer club, but perhaps one in the NPSL or maybe even the NASL. The truth is, any better-organized club at whatever level bearing the city’s name is better than the scattered, bickering teams and unaffiliated amateur leagues that aren’t really thinking of forming behind a common Santa Ana name, which would only be good for the city’s projection and brand.

Santa Ana could have an elevated profile in competitive soccer if the field at Centennial were better utilized and marketed. There’s also the new field at Santa Ana College, which is available for rent. But there’s been no team, or business plan, that has effectively identified with, and led to cementing a semi-pro to professional level soccer team bearing Santa Ana’s name.

What we have instead is one giant squandered opportunity given all of the talent here combined with the lack of a team with the inability to capture the Santa Ana soccer market.

Santa Ana Gets a New Soccer Field

A new soccer field will be placed at the corner of 17th Street and College Avenue, as part of the construction taking place at Santa Ana College. College Avenue is permanently closed to through traffic from 15th Street to Martha Lane as of February 20. There will be no further access to the campus from Martha Lane or 15th Street as these will become cul de sacs.

Other improvements include the addition of spectator seats on the west side of the track field, expansion to the parking lot on the southwest corner of the campus, and more.

For more information click here.

Santa Ana: A Soccer Town

This piece was originally published in the Santa Ana Sentinel on April 5, 2011.

It’s no surprise that Santa Ana is a soccer town. In fact, Santa Ana can boast that at least one player developed in a Santa Ana youth soccer league now plays professionally for Chivas USA of Major League Soccer, who is Jorge Flores, the first ever Sueño MLS Competition winner. He played for Santa Ana’s Juventus DSP before trying his luck with the MLS.

There was talk for awhile of building a stadium for Chivas USA at Willowick Park in Santa Ana. It makes sense to have some professional soccer team here. The idea for a Chivas stadium has seemingly fizzled, along with that club’s plan to invest in youth soccer in the city. Chivas USA mentioned having a facility or using Santa Ana fields for their youth clubs, but that relationship with the city was short lived. They did have two youth teams calling Santa Ana stadium home, the Chivas USA U-16 (Under 16 years of age), and the U-18 boys teams, but this is no longer the case.

Eddie West Field was the home of the Chivas USA U-16 and U-18 teams for a season

Yet other teams see the enormous potential for youth development and have come knocking. Mexico’s Atlante Football Club had a youth team based in Santa Ana…

The newest club to show interest and to move in is the Chivas rival club Atlas, another team originally from Guadalajara. Atlas Santa Ana’s logo retains one of the most important and identifying symbols of the city and its history, the fleur de lis used by the Saints of Santa Ana High School.

In 2001 the Orange County Blue Star of United Soccer Leagues’s Premier Development League was formed and played its games for a year at Santa Ana Stadium. One of the most notable former Blue Star players is Sacha Kljestan, who played professionally for Chivas USA and now plays for Anderlecht in the Belgian First Division.

All of this potential and talent is finally being harvested, so much so that a professional side called the Santa Ana Winds of the National Premier Soccer League emerged. This club plays its games at Eddie West Field but has been running into some snags as of late. The club already had to move its first game of the season against Hollywood United to Centennial Park last week.

It’s clear that these clubs see the potential for player development and a market for a professional team. Maybe City Council will see this potential and work to make an environment for professional soccer of the highest level. Major League Soccer and a 20,000 seat stadium (or expansion of Eddie West) anyone?

via Santa Ana: A Soccer Town.

Introducing Saint City Soccer

Here’s a new blog for discussing soccer matters in Santa Ana. As some may or not know, Santa Ana is a soccer town. A number of international clubs, mostly Mexican, have come to scout and develop talent here over the years, but the most visible club to have interacted with the city is Chivas USA. They currently are weighing their options around Greater Los Angeles and Santa Ana is on their radar.