It was not exactly the “meeting of the ages,” yet it turned out that way. In the third round of the 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup soccer tournament last week, a team from the United States Adult Amateur Soccer Association defeated Chivas USA of Major League Soccer 4-2 on penalty kicks after going 120 scoreless minutes.
Let me break this down for those of you who don’t get it. The USASA is the very organization in which I, a 32-year-old former college player with two bad knees and a weird hip (probably the onset of osteoporosis), am currently playing, albeit on a much smaller level and in a lower division though still in the organization.
This upset is the equivalent of a high school basketball team going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocking off Duke on a last-second shot. Or, in soccer parlance, any English F.A. Cup in which a lowly club team sponsored by the local pub gets a chance to whack Manchester United around.
That’s right; what Dallas Roma FC of Texas did to the Goats happens in England every single year, in front of ten times as many spectators. Yet nobody is watching the U.S. Open Cup tournament. Despite the immense popularity of Chivas in the region and the possibility of a huge upset, all of 2,000 fans packed a college stadium in Santa Barbara, Calif. This is unbelievable to me.
Why? For those Chivas USA fans making excuses for the loss, allow me to disclose that your team’s lineup for the match included the following: Jesse Marsch, Sasha Klijestan, Paco Palencia and MLS All-Star forward Ante Razov. Even Mexican international Claudio Suarez got into the action, and still, nothing.
Cooler heads prevailed, the starters for the MLS side did not (this partly because Razov was sent off in minute 57) and the amateurs hardly played attacking soccer. They didn’t need to. (They spent all of extra time in their half of the field, a part of the game called “bunker ball,” relying on a defense led by Todd Paulette, who had several appearances in the U.S. national team in the 1980s)
Thus tiny Dallas Roma FC, a consortium of ex-pros and ex-collegians, continued their unlikely march through the tournament, having already knocked off Miami FC of the second-tier United Soccer Leagues First Division (another professional league) in the second round and Brazilian greats Romario and Zinho and a Premier Development League team (Laredo Heat) from their home state to open the Cup.
In yet another David versus Goliath battle, all of the possibilities of a team loaded with college players on summer hiatus putting the wood to Kansas City of MLS went to no avail. The Wizards prevailed 2-1 over the Des Moines Menace (Iowa) of the USL’s only amateur league, the afore-mentioned Premier Development League, saving some embarrassment. Attendance for the game in Overland Park, Kan.? Ditto. 2,000.
Well, nobody wants to lose to a bunch of amateurs either, or so we thought. But Roma’s victory may ring somewhat hollow once you learn that several players either were in MLS or in the Major Indoor Soccer League, which for years prior to MLS was the biggest professional league in the U.S. Now those names on Roma FC read like “Who?” and not exactly a who’s who at any level of soccer, except for Dallas Sidekicks fans. Even so I give you the entire Dallas Roma FC line-up as they certainly deserve a curtain call. Who knows? They may have become an answer to a trivia question. By position, they follow: GK’s Jesse Llamas, Greg Lackland, Austin Wendelken; defenders Jose Maria Bazan, Kiley Couch, Todd Hammett, Paulette, Brad Flanagan, Alex Funes; midfielders Dominic Schell, Mikey Remington, Mark Rowland, Kellen Zindel, Wilco Ravestjin, Beau Brown, Mirza Okanovic, Patrick Shamu, Jon Waters, Jaun Sastoque, and forwards Matt Clark, John Calandro, Dwayne Bergeron, and Louis Hernandez.
But does anyone think if the game were held in the Home Depot Center there would be the regular crowds one would see in a Super Clasico? No. And for those who argue that Dallas Roma F.C. is a semi-pro team, an upset is an upset; Roma FC are ex-pros now working in regular jobs against players who play soccer to make ends meet.
Next up for the amateurs is the L.A. Galaxy, reigning Open Cup champs in the Home Depot Center track stadium on August 1. (NOT the actual Home Depot Center soccer stadium, though.) Yes, Patrick Shamu will battle against Landon Donovan in a sort of MISL vs. MLS tilt. It’s almost as though the Dallas Sidekicks are reprising their role as boot-stompers in the 1980s and 90s without Tatu, their legendary forward. They can’t put this stuff on pay-per-view fast enough for me. But for the next few years, they won’t. Some MLS players have even started complaining about the Open Cup format. To them I say this: Shut up and play. You just watched one of your teams get beat by a bunch of thirty-somethings who don’t care about you, who trained weekdays at 7 a.m. two hours before they had to go to work to prepare for the chance to play you. Note to viewers of the Open Cup fourth round: the Galaxy has struggled and another Roma upset is possible.
A tournament of this magnitude in terms of actual pairings does not happen on a professional level in any other sport in the U.S. And that’s what makes the U.S. Open Cup so great and is the reason why I can’t fathom not coming out to support the one thing that makes sport great, the idea that a team like Roma FC can truly win on any given day.