When U.S. Open Cup debutants San Francisco City FC take to the Kezar Stadium field against Cal FC in one of Saturday’s two U.S. Open Cup “Play-In” matches, the club will have the city’s rich history in the tournament to draw on.
|Club: San Francisco City FC
Head Coach: Andrew Gardner
Affiliation: U.S. Club Soccer (NorCal Premier League)
Stadium: Kezar Stadium; San Francisco, Calif.
Tournament Appearances: First appearance (2015)
There was the Italian Athletic Club, coached by local soccer icon Steve Negoesco, who brought the first title to the Bay Area in 1976. Before becoming U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Lothar Osiander led Greek-American A.C. to the 1985 title, with the club earning another Open Cup Final appearance in 1988. Upstart San Francisco Soccer Football League side C.D. Mexico barnstormed to the 1993 championship, before Greek-American won another trophy in 1994.
Three years into the tournament’s “Pro Era”, the Division Three San Francisco Bay Seals downed MLS sides Kansas City Wizards and San Jose Clash before their historic run ended in a 1997 semifinal defeat to then reigning champions D.C. United and even the short-lived California Victory made a small run in 2007.
San Francisco City FC will take it all into account when the club honors San Francisco’s soccer history at halftime of Saturday’s match.
“It’s been a while since this city got to see the Open Cup,” club president Jacques Pelham told ussoccer.com. “There’s a lot of history to inspire our players and, we’re excited to honor San Francisco’s past success in the tournament while we try to write our own story.”
Founded as a local league side in 2001, City FC switched to a supporter-owned model last year, pushing to create a more competitive team to play in U.S. Club Soccer’s NorCal Premier League and qualify for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In their first attempt earlier this year, the side ran through the U.S. Club Soccer tournament and defeated Stanislaus United Academica 3-0 in the league final on February 3.
On that day, City FC’s 300 members, who pay annual $50 dues or a lifetime $350 stake, saw their first success as owners. Since then, the amateur club has drawn 400-600 fans to matches at the city’s refurbished Kezar Stadium (former home to the NFL’s 49ers) and brought an increased local spotlight to the club.
“Our structure and early success has created some good,” said Pelham. “When we started we really had no idea what success would be. We had goals to aim towards what Detroit City FC and Nashville FC have done. I don’t think we’ve hit their level of success, but we’re getting there. No matter what, this is a good step for soccer in the Bay Area – people are excited about what’s happening here.”
The personnel of the amateur side expectedly has a number of interesting stories, beginning with head coach Andrew Gardner. A student of the game, the City FC boss began moonlighting as a field goal kicker in high school and eventually earned a scholarship to play football at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
"Soccer is my first love. I watched and played constantly, studied tactics, but football was paying the bills," said Gardner.
It’s been a while since this city got to see the Open Cup. There’s a lot of history to inspire our players and, we’re excited to honor San Francisco’s past success in the tournament while we try to write our own story. - San Francisco FC President Jacques Pelham
While he didn’t play anything beyond recreational soccer in college, it was his decision to study Management in Business School that has suited him well as he’s balanced an ever-changing squad of mostly former collegiate players that have taken jobs in the Bay Area’s tech and financial sectors.
“I did a lot of work on managing people and conflict resolution which doesn’t necessarily translate into the tactics of coaching soccer,” Gardner admitted. “But we’re at this very unique place where guys aren’t being paid, they’re not professionals, and we need to shuffle schedules and have a number of guys that are committed in case guys can’t play because of work.
“Coaching a high level amateur team, there are a lot of big personalities and talented players that you have to balance – one game we might have our top 18 players and numbers 20-25 players are going to be mad they’re not playing. My background there and in the business world has allowed me to think on my feet, develop and create relationships with my players so I’m able to navigate the choppy waters of some of the tough decisions.”
Some of his personalities include 2010 California High School Player of the Year and former UCLA forward Reed Williams who works in finance and goalkeeper Austin Harms, a four-year starter at Harvard who moved to San Francisco to attend law school.
San Francisco City FC fields an eclectic mix of amateur players determined to make a run in the 102nd edition of the U.S. Open Cup. Photo credit: Victor Wang
Central midfielder Mauricio Diaz De Leon, is an alumnus of the University of San Francisco and is now a popular youth coach in the Bay Area, while the team also features left back Gabriel Padilla, who played at Georgetown and recently trialed with USL sides Sacramento Republic and Wilmington Hammerheads.
“It’s a great mix of guys who are one step below playing professionally, whether they went off and trialed and maybe didn’t quite make it. Then there’s a group that could be playing in USL, but they’re realistic. They’re smart and have degrees to work in some great areas and taking a small paycheck to play soccer didn’t work for them.
“We’re able to cater to the best of both worlds, allowing them to have a day job that they’re passionate about, but also provide a high level of soccer.”
San Francisco City FC takes its first bow in the tournament Saturday and they’ll do so against Cal FC, another amateur side that took the tournament by storm in 2012. After running off early wins against the PDL’s Kitsap Pumas and USL PRO’s Hammerheads that year, the side helmed by former U.S. international Eric Wynalda stunned Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers before falling to eventual finalists Seattle Sounders FC in the Round of 16.
Just as City FC will draw on the Bay Area’s soccer history for inspiration, they’ll do the same with their opponent’s 2012 achievement on Saturday.
“They’re the pinnacle of what teams like us are looking to do,” said Gardner. “When the announcement came out, it was unbelievable for us because as we’re forming the team over the last few years, we think about what Cal FC accomplished. You want to be able to compete at the highest level, put yourself in position to play these top teams and give yourself a chance and show that you have players that are able to compete at that level.
“Given their history and what they represent in this era of the Open Cup, getting Cal FC is special,” Pelham added.”The romanticism of this tournament is that anyone can beat anyone on any given day and we’re aiming for a similar trajectory.”