LOCALS: Hollywood United aims for NPSL title
Hollywood United FC has a storied past, featuring more big names than the Galaxy could hope to sign -- movie stars, musicians and former footballers -- but it's reaching its greatest heights as a competitive club rather than a novelty act.
The Hitmen (13-2-1) are in Madison, Ala., this week for the National Premier Soccer League's final four, just 180 minutes from their first national title. They meet the Milwaukee Bavarians (8-2-2) in the first semifinal Thursday, and the winner takes on the Erie Admirals (11-1-1) or Jacksonville United (6-4-0) in Saturday's final.
Here's a quick take on Hollywood United:
ORIGINS: God save the queen, indeed! Former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were behind HUFC's formation in the late 1980s, spurred by an English ex-pat community of actors and musicians that gathered regularly at The Cat & the Fiddle, the Sunset Boulevard pub.
STAR POWER: HUFC played for years in L.A.-area amateur leagues, but it made its name in charity matches and exhibitions, bringing teams loaded with Hollywood vets and former soccer stars.
Anthony La Paglia, a fine goalkeeper in his youth, has supported the club financially and on the field, and others in red and black include actors Gilles Marini, Jimmy Jean-Louis and Donal Logue, musicians Ian Astbury, Robbie Williams, Ziggy Marley, director Danny Cannon and lots of big-name players, from Franck Leboeuf, a defender for France's 1998 World Cup championship team, to Scottish great Richard Gough to notorious English Premier League hard man-turned-Hollywood tough guy Vinnie Jones to American soccer Hall of Famers Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas and John Harkes.
GETTING SERIOUS: Hollywood United eventually moved into the Coast Soccer League, the most respected of L.A.'s amateur leagues, and vaulted into the 2008 U.S. Open Cup and past the Portland Timbers -- now a Major League Soccer club -- with two goals by Matt Taylor, a former Chivas USA forward now in Germany's second division.
The 6-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders that followed barely registered -- LaPaglia, former Canadian international Jason Mathot and L.A. Blues owner Ali Mansouri nabbed the rights to a Premier Development League team (those that belonged to the late, great San Fernando Valley Quakes), and HUFC had a semipro team in a national league. In two PDL seasons, the Hitmen won a Southwest Division title and reached the playoffs twice.
TROPHY HOUNDS: Economic concerns spurred management to leave the PDL and join cheaper rival National Premier Soccer League just before the seasons kicked off this year, and the first season has been unquestionably productive.
Hollywood United, coached by former Galaxy forward Jose Botello, won the Northwest Flight and head into the league final four with 57 goals in 16 games. Theirs is not secondary talent. Consider: Midfielder Emmanuel Bentil captained Ghana to the FIFA U-17 World Cup title 16 years ago. Captain Rene Corona (Corona/Centennial HS and Santa Ana College) spent two years with Chivas USA. Forward Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) also played for Chivas, and defenders Carlos Carrillo (from Salvadoran powerhouse Isidro Metapan), Marcus Watson (ex-Leicester City) and Leo Alvarez (UANL Tigres product with Colombian experience) and winger Arturo Albarran (several Salvadoran clubs) have pro experience, too.
Whitfield and Jose Miranda have combined for 20 goals this year, and left-sided midfielder Nick Blanco, a former Loyola Marymount standout, has had an exceptional stretch run. Among local players making contributions are goalkeeper Raul Calderon (Woodland Hills/El Camino Real HS and Pasadena City College), and left back Oscar Sims (Reseda/Reseda HS and Cal State Northridge), the son of former Guatemalan national-teamer Oscar Sims Sr. and brother of ex-CSUN All-American/MLS forward Willie Sims.