LOCALS: PSA Elite wins a battle of pros
ONTARIO -- There were lot of familiar names on the turf at Ontario Soccer Park for Sunday morning's USASA regional title game, but the biggest name of all actually wasn't anywhere nearby.
Eric Wynalda, the former U.S. national team star and a first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, had to follow his Cal FC team's clash with PSA Elite via constant text messaging while on the air in his main gig in West L.A., as studio analyst at Fox Soccer Channel.
The news he received wasn't good.
A missed penalty kick and a red card proved costly for Thousand Oaks-based Cal FC, which dropped a 2-0 decision to their Orange County-based foe in the U.S. Adult Soccer Association's Region IV championship.
PSA Elite, bolstered by players from Premier Development League power Orange County Blue Star, scored twice in the second half to qualify for the USASA National Cup final four July 20-22 at the Chicago Fire's Toyota Park.
The club from Irvine also got to choose its first-round opponent in the U.S. Open Cup -- well, perhaps -- and decided to play against PDL power Portland Timbers U-23 at Jeld-Wen Stadium, the Timbers' Major League Soccer team's home, in the May 15 opener. That sends Cal FC, which also qualified for the Open Cup, to play reigning PDL champion Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash.
U.S. Soccer, which runs the nearly 99-year-old tournament, has in the meantime scheduled a coin flip Monday to determine which team plays where.
Andrew Riemer scored in the 63rd minute and set up an 83rd-minute rocket by fellow Blue Star forward Christian Ramirez (Garden Grove/La Quinta HS and UC Santa Barbara/Concordia University).
“Oh, well,” Wynalda, Cal FC's head coach, messaged after he was informed of Ramirez's goal. “I have qualified [for the Open Cup]. Time to strengthen the squad.”
Both sides came in plenty capable.
Cal FC had nine professionals, including former Galaxy (and L.A. Blues) defender Mike Randolph (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), Real Salt Lake midfielder Artur Aghasyan (Glendale), Houston Dynamo draft pick Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS and UCLA), five others who have spent time in MLS camps, and Richard Menjivar (Panorama City/Monroe HS), whom we last saw with El Salvador during CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
PSA Elite had more than a half-dozen pros, with former L.A. Blues defender and Chivas USA draft pick Cam Dunn (Alta Loma/Alta Loma HS and UC Irvine) anchoring the backline and Chicago Fire draft pick Davis Paul (Upland/Damien HS) and Seattle Sounders trialist Jonathan Prieto (La Habra/La Habra HS and UC Irvine) manning central midfield.
The match turned on two events. PSA goalkeeper Trevor Whiddon (Cal State Fullerton) dived to his left to deny Arreola on a 32nd-minute penalty kick -- he had twice parried Arreola chances before that -- and then Randolph was sent off with his second yellow card eight minutes later, a horrendously harsh decision by referee Nestor Chavez.
Randolph and PSA midfielder Willie Lopez (South El Monte/South El Monte HS and Rio Hondo College/Cal State Fullerton) were conducting a push-and-shove positioning battle in the wall before a PSA free kick; after warning them to halt, Chavez showed both yellow cards. Randolph had picked up another for a foul 15 minutes earlier.
“You don't often see a red card in a title game for that kind of, uh, offense,” said Nick Webster, the Fox Soccer Channel analyst and longtime So Cal coach, who was in charge of Cal FC in Wynalda's absence. “I think the referee realized the second he flashed a second yellow that he'd made a mistake, and when you're chasing with 10 [players], it makes it very difficult. That was the game-decider right there.”
Riemer headed home Lopez's cross to break the draw following a turnover as PSA was starting to assert control, then set up Ramirez on a counter with Cal FC pushed forward in search of an equalizer.
“Two minutes before, I was like, 'Christian, you've got to score a goal here,' ” said Blue Star head coach Jon Spencer, who is serving as PSA's technical director. “He literally said, 'Jon, good pep talk,' and he went and finished.”