Los Angeles Soccer: Hector Espinoza
Eric Wynalda, one of the finest strikers America ever produced, has built a team somewhat in his own image, and it's taking on America's soccer establishment with impressive results.
Thousand Oaks' Cal FC, a collection of misfit players with undeniable talent, have already conquered two better-fancied clubs in the 99th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, and Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, on Wednesday night, could be next.
Wynalda, a first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee who played in three World Cups, starred in Germany and scored the first goal in MLS history, knows that it's possible.
“We didn't enter this competition because we thought this would be fun,” the former goal-getter from Westlake Village, known to a new generation of fans as an at-times acerbic commentator on Fox's soccer coverage, told ESPN Los Angeles. “We really have high hopes. We set goals, we achieve them and we re-set.”
Wynalda's got, as he puts it, “a bunch of guys that everybody knows who they are.” There's former UC Santa Barbara star Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS), who trialed with the Chicago Fire during MLS's preseason after a stint in Serbia. And there's Artur Aghasyan, who has played with Real Salt Lake and been on trial a couple of times with Chivas USA. And Richard Menjivar (Panorama City/Monroe HS), a Cal State Bakersfield standout who impressed with El Salvador's U-23s during CONCACAF's Olympic qualifiers.
UCLA alum Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), who was drafted in January by the Houston Dynamo and trained with Chivas USA, is with the club. So is former Galaxy/L.A. Blues defender Mike Randolph (Chino Hills/Ayala HS) and Cesar Rivera (Pomona/Garey HS and Mt. San Antonio College), who led the Blues in scoring last year. And goalkeeper Derby Carrillo (La Mirada/St. John Bosco HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), whom El Salvador's national team has targeted.
And hopefuls such as Danny's brother, Diego (Thousand Oaks HS/Loyola Marymount), former U.S. youth national-teamer Pablo Cruz (Azusa), defenders Hector Espinoza (Garden Grove/Santiago HS and Santa Ana College) and Beto Navarro, and others.
They're all good players who have been overlooked or dismissed or something, and Wynalda's goal is to showcase their talents and help them find paths to the professional careers he thinks they deserve.
That's the whole point of Cal FC, which grew out of Wynalda's experiences the past couple of years working with Mexican third-tier club Murcielagos, which employed for a time current Chivas USA forward Cesar Romero.
“I think the one thing I could say,” Wynalda said, “is I have a very high opinion of some of these guys, but I'm the minority when it comes to that. People just aren't seeing what I see.”