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?

 

 

 

 

Review: Winds FC vs Moreno Valley FC

Santa Ana Winds FC fell to defending USASA Region IV Champion, Moreno Valley FC on Sunday afternoon, April 30th at Silverlakes Soccer Park in Norco, CA.

Winds FC’s comeback performance of their last Cal South State Cup match vs Strikers South Coast fell well short this time. Santa Ana found themselves down 2-0 in the first half vs Mo Val, but lacked enough team cohesion and chemistry to pull off another comeback.

Winds FC played to their individual strengths, but seemingly relied too heavily on them. In contrast, Moreno Valley looked like the more disciplined unit, sticking to their shape and weathering Santa Ana’s creativity early on.

The first 10 minutes belonged to Santa Ana, with 2-3 close goal scoring chances created, but Mo Val held and struck on a counterattack in the 25th min. Mo Val added to that at the end of the first half.

With the score 2-0 to start the 2nd half, Winds FC struggled to generate danger. Too often Winds FC were generating attacks individually with hardly any triangulation and accompaniment. A number of imprecise passes and turnovers in the midfield compounded their problems, allowing Mo Val to settle in and control the pace of the match, while sticking to their shape on possession.

Winds FC ends their participation in the Cal South Adult State Cup, while Moreno Valley FC goes on to defend their title against LA Wolves, who won their match vs San Pedro in overtime, 4-1.

Next match: Anaheim Legacy, UPSL play, May 6, 6 pm.

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.

Winds FC top Strikers FC South Coast in Cal South State Cup

Santa Ana Winds FC topped fellow UPSL club Strikers South Coast in non-league play at Lake Forest Sports Park on Tuesday night, April 25. The match closed the third round of group play in the Cal South Adult State Cup, a qualifying tournament to the USASA National Cup.

Santa Ana fell behind early in the match on a breakaway, which Strikers took effective advantage of in the 7th minute. “We tend to give up an early goal, but then we settle in and take control gradually,” said Winds FC owner Leonel López. And take control they did, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the first half, to gradually grind and chip away, ending the first half 2-1 on a header by Andy Guerra.


Winds FC were noticeably the better side in terms of ball control and dictating the pace of the match, but as is common, with more possession come more passes and a higher probability of imprecisions. Strikers took advantage of the openings they were given, making quick work of them. Winds FC continued to generate, in spite of their imprecisions leading to Strikers’ goals, by playing to their individual strengths. The Santa Ana midfield and backline consist of players able to create their own space to retain possession, and this is a common trait of nearly all their individual players.

Striker Anthony Saldana dropped back into midfield to aide on Strikers attacks, displaying a versatility beyond his attacking role, while too generating space for himself going forward and achieving a high passing rate.

Winds FC’s José Gómez tied things up in the 64th minute. The club showed an uptick in form after subbing in winger Omar Pérez, who created extra danger on the flanks. Santa Ana finally went ahead in the 72nd minute on a goal by Anthony Saldana.

Santa Ana Winds FC have struggled to defeat Strikers South Coast in games past, but the club has managed to rebuild and gel with players from the reputable Santa Ana College Dons program. The win leaves observers identifying Winds FC as a candidate to finish atop their conference, in which they currently sit 2nd behind Strikers in goal differential, ironically.

The win over Strikers FC South Coast is the latest feather in the Winds FC cap with recent wins over top UPSL sides La Máquina (January 24), LA Wolves (February 18), and Ozzy’s Laguna (April 16). Their last win over LA Highlanders at Valley Falcons Stadium at the SAUSD Sports Complex on April 22, was neither an easy task.

Winds FC finished the Cal South Adult State Cup Group A with two wins, over Real Sociedad Royals and Strikers SC, and a loss at San Nicolás SC of Santa Barbara.

Next match: Santa Ana Winds FC at San Fernando Valley Scorpions FC, April 29 at 6:00 pm. Venue TBA.

Santa Ana Winds FC top Real Sociedad Royals

Winds FC topped Real Sociedad Royals of the So Cal Premier League on Saturday, April 8 at the Lake Forest Sports Park in US Adult Soccer National Amateur Cup qualifying.

The game was tight from beginning to end, with the only goal coming on a penalty kick in the first half, called for a handball in the box.

Real Sociedad Royals were maimed early in the second half, with a defender getting red carded for a tackle from behind on a goal-scoring opportunity for Winds FC. The play was setup by a through ball, in which the Winds FC striker broke through and was 1v1 with the keeper. He was stopped just outside of the 18 yard box, from behind, prompting the referee to eject the Real Sociedad defender.

Winds FC hit the bar in the second half, and created opportunities but was unable to convert on a number of chances, thus relying on its defense to contain Real Sociedad. The Winds FC rival went down to 9 men in the second half after a player disputed with the referee, needing to be held physically back by fellow players, and by coaching staff once sent to the sideline. 

The disputed call came on a side tackle on what was interpreted by Real Sociedad as a goal-scoring opportunity, thus requiring a red card be applied similarly to the Winds FC defender. The tackle occurred near the right flank, corner edge of the 18 yard box.

Real Sociedad disputed that call along with a handball in the box that was deemed unintentional by the referee. The play involved a shot on goal and a diving, outstretched Winds FC defender with arms behind him.

Overall, it was a very tight match for both clubs, with Winds FC managing to inch out a win though not displaying the best football, by failing to convert chances, but creating just enough situations including a red card and penalty kick, to impact and turn the game in their favor.

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):

Gauging interest in a pro soccer club in Santa Ana

I sent out a few independent surveys days and months back and these were the results. I must note that no one put me up to this, but these are of my own curiousity.

What I found, so far, is that using the city’s name for a club in Santa Ana is favored over using the county’s name.

When asked what names are most synonymous with Santa Ana, Winds and Saints are preferred.

Another name put out to test was LA Aztecs, and it surprisingly got a mostly positive response.

Weighing potential club name options

California Surf

The California Surf was an NASL team that played at Anaheim Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s. They were owned by the Segerstrom family, who are longtime landowners in the cities of Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, where they developed the upscale South Coast Plaza mall.

Santa Ana is nearer to Newport Beach than Anaheim or Fullerton… in fact, there was a point in time when Newport Beach was barely booming, that it was promoted as being “near Santa Ana.” California Surf fits the landscape very naturally, although the name “California” is very broad, and maybe not specific enough.

L.A. Aztecs

The LA Aztecs played in a number of venues in Los Angeles County during their existence in the first NASL, but never called an Orange County venue home. There’s no telling how they would fare if they went the route of the former LA Rams, the current LA Angels, the former LA Blues, the current LA Kiss. These were / are Greater / Metropolitan Los Angeles- (Orange County) based pro teams. But if an LA Aztecs club were to really want to appeal to an Orange County community, Santa Ana would be a top choice, but Titan Stadium in Fullerton could work too.

Santa Ana Winds FC

The Santa Ana winds, or “Santa Anas,” are very synonymous with Los Angeles and the Southland. The name is realy ideal in that it’s one that is entirely authentic and native to the landscape, and it’s very common in the Angeleno/angelino conscience. It’s ideal because it’s very region-specific, but widely known in the Los Angeles area, and its more specific than saying “California.”

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below or engage on Twitter: @SaintCityPost