Not every real-life fairy tale ends with Cinderella finding her prince.
On Tuesday night at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Cal FC was enjoying their time at the ball. They already ousted the Kitsap Pumas and Wilmington Hammerheads before reaching the third round of the US Open Cup, where they outlasted the Portland Timbers in overtime to become the first US Adult Soccer Association team to top a Major League Soccer team in the Open Cup with a 1-0 victory.
Through the first half of their match against the Sounders FC on Tuesday night at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, it looked like the band might play all through the night and the made-for-Hollywood story would continue as they went into the break knotted at 0-0.
But in the 50th minute, Osvaldo Alonso put away a penalty kick, striking midnight on the fairy tale as the Sounders would pour on four more second-half goals for a 5-0 win to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament and end Cal FC’s run after four matches.
“Fitness is a big issue with us. We really haven’t been able to assimilate an environment that would be conducive to being fit. So you’ve got to commend these guys on that,” head coach Eric Wynalda said. “It was just a matter of time. They wore us down.”
Lower division teams have made runs through the Open Cup before. Seattle is no stranger to that, having reached the Open Cup semifinal in consecutive years before falling to FC Dallas in 2007 and the Charleston Battery in 2008.
In this year’s tournament alone, eight MLS clubs were upset in the third round by lower division foes and another – the New York Red Bulls – suffered that fate in the fourth round. That is the charm of an all-inclusive tournament like the US Open Cup or the equivalent FA Cup in England and Copa del Rey in Spain.
“I think it’s great for the tournament,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think that’s what this tournament is all about. This is what has made this such an incredible, phenomenal sensation in England. I think the more you can enhance it, the more you can showcase it the more it becomes something that people are excited about.”
While the end result always stings in that moment, the journey to that point ends up being more memorable in the end.
“All in all, I think, if you really look at the goals we set for ourselves, we did exceed a lot of people’s expectations,” he said. “We’ve been together for a month. That’s it. That’s what you get after a month. We should be very proud of that. I think some of these guys will explore the options and the interest. I think they’ve proven they can play and hopefully they’ll get a chance to play at a better address.”
The success of the team certainly turned heads – it even got the game nationally televised on Fox Soccer and the station also sponsored the club’s jerseys.
That will undoubtedly get players on the team opportunities to play elsewhere, be it MLS or another league. But the beat goes on for Cal FC as they return to league play in La Gran Liga in California, though they will do it with a much higher profile than when they started.
“We’ve formed some partnerships throughout this and we have a fanbase. If that’s 20, that’s more than we had a week ago,” Wynalda said. “I’m going to continue to try and provide a platform for these guys to play. We’ll go back to league play. Some of these guys I hope will end up somewhere else, but we’ll continue to bring the next wave of players through and see what they’re made of.”
So while the US Open Cup title proved too lofty a goal for the amateur club, the players and Wynalda may find that their glass slipper will come another day and their tale may truly have a special ending.