As a 19-year-old fresh off of his first season at UC-Irvine, Brad Evans didn’t know what to expect out of his first training session with Orange County Blue Star.
The Premier Development League team headed by UCLA product Nick Theslof featured many of Evans’ friends from other California colleges, but even still that first day of training brought something that he never could have anticipated.
The session was in San Juan Capistrano and only featured a dozen or so players, so they played 6v6 man-marking games to get a feel for some of the players who may be involved with the team. Evans was having fun with his new teammates, but the man he was covering kept knocking in goal after goal.
A player who looked to be older than the college-aged players around him, Jay Goppingen knocked in a right-footed volley, then a left-footed volley. All in a cool rhythm that tipped the rest of the players off that Goppingen was something special.
In fact he was.
Goppingen was the pseudonym used by former German superstar and 1990 World Cup champion Jurgen Klinsmann after he retired and moved from Europe to California, playing occasional games and training with the PDL club to quench his competitive thirst.
Klinsmann would go on to great success as manager with the German National Team, Bayern Munich and now the US National Team and Theslof was his assistant with Germany and Bayern Munich and is now an assistant coach with Chivas USA. Their individual success was only a portion of the success that would be had by the teams Evans played for though.
The names on the rosters during Evans’ three seasons includes a list of players who would go on to be regulars on MLS rosters and others who would make waves with the US National Team and abroad.
Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, Montreal Impact and former Sounders FC defender Tyson Wahl, Portland Timbers midfielder Sal Zizzo, Colorado Rapids forward Kamani Hill, Leeds United and former Columbus Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers and Anderlecht and former Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan are just a few of the players that were teammates with Evans from 2004-2006.
Also among them was Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara and when Evans meets with players from those teams, it’s always a bit of a reminder of the times they shared together during those California summers.
“Anytime we got together, it was really fun. We all wanted to win, but that also came from the ownership and Nick Theslof,” Evans said. “He always made it fun, but he always put an emphasis on winning, so that’s why he went out and grabbed all the best players from southern California and brought them together.”
At the time, Kamara was playing for Cal St. Dominguez Hills – a Division II school that shares its campus with the home field of the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center. Little was known of the Sierra Leone refugee, but he was just one of many who would go on to great things after playing for Orange County Blue Star.
“Kei was just a Division 2 guy at Cal St. Dominguez Hills. Now he’s one of the best forwards in the league,” Evans said. “At the time, we didn’t realize that we would all go on to bigger and better things. We were just 18 and 19 years old and coming together and having fun.”
Despite all the talent that would feature in games during each season, busy summer schedules often meant that Orange County wouldn’t field a consistent lineup from game-to-game. For that reason, they were never able to make it far in the Open Cup and fell in the semifinals of the PDL tournament on at least one occasion.
Although they were never able to lift those championship trophies, Evans and his teammates will always look back on those summers with fondness.