El Farolito Continues Epic Journey in the U.S. Open Cup

By Angel Moreno/NPSL.com

El Farolito’s run into the third round of the Open Cup is one of the hottest storylines in American soccer – and with proper reason.

To even reach this point, ‘El Faro’ has had to overcome a much more arduous path than that of third-round foe Oakland Roots of the USL Championship.  All 24 USL-C teams are automatically entered into the Open Cup – 16 in the third round, and eight in the fourth round. 

The journey started in 2023 when ‘El Faro’ finished the NPSL regular season unbeaten at 9-1-0. The club won its second consecutive Golden Gate Conference title and clinched one of the NPSL’s eight spots for this year’s Open Cup.  The club was one game away from reaching the 2023 NPSL National Semifinals, losing 3-2 in the NPSL West Region Final to Crossfire Red.)

And in the last four weeks, the “burrito team” has delivered upsets of Portland Timbers 2 and Central Valley Fuego FC in the first and second rounds, respectively, to make it back to the third round of the Open Cup for the first time since 1993, when it won the tournament. MLS teams did not debut in the tournament until 1996.

“Everyone is happy and motivated by the experience and very grateful for the opportunity,” Lopez said. “We’re also anxious to know what is going to happen on Tuesday night.”

El Farolito and Oakland Roots go head-to-head at 7:30 pm PT from Cal State East Bay in a rematch from last year’s second-round matchup.  Oakland Roots won that game 3-1.

Now El Farolito has a chance at historic vengeance, with several players from last year’s matchup expected to lace up including top scorer Dembor Benson, who has three goals in two Open Cup matches.

“I think it’s amazing that these players have this opportunity to get a rematch from last year,” he said. The two sides also scrimmaged in the preseason. “We got to see the intensity that they can present, but also they know the type of team that we are. So there’s not going to be any surprises for anyone.”

But above all, Lopez feels the collective buy-in from the El Farolito familia as the club has the opportunity of making another historic run in the country’s longest running national soccer tournament.

“Everyone is very motivated and happy to be part of this group,” he said. “Everyone is very much involved in the idea and the project that we are carrying out this year.”

That project to field an Open Cup-winning team was first imagined by Lopez’s father and El Farolito founder Salvador Lopez, nicknamed Don Chava. 

Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1950, Salvador Lopez immigrated to the Bay Area in 1975, working at a nursery in Half Moon Bay, according to a 2007 SF Weekly profile.  He then opened Taqueria San Jose with two other business partners at 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco. He divested from the business and in 1983, opened the first location of El Farolito Taqueria across the street. 

Two years later he founded El Farolito, and in 1986 the club started its journey through the lower divisions of the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL), dominating the tables to reach the league’s premier division.

In nearly four decades, El Farolito has won 17 SFSFL Championships (11 division titles in 1991-92, 92-3, 95-96, 99, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017; 6 playoff championships in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017), three NPSL Golden Gate Conference Championships (2018, 2022, 2023), and its most famed hardware of all – the 1993 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy. 

Salvador Lopez stopped coaching El Farolito in 2011, and Santiago took over coaching duties. Salvador passed away in January 2021 at age 70.

“The club has always been focused on winning championships and the Open Cup,” said Santiago Lopez. “It’s always been that way since El Farolito was founded.  Trying to recruit the best players possible because we always wanted the best team possible and to win championships. Since 1985 it’s been like that.”

Sticking to that tradition, El Farolito’s roster is made up of players mostly from the U.S., Latin America, and even as far as Ivory Coast.  Some played professionally back home, like Honduran forward Dembor Benson and captain Johnatan Mosquera of Colombia. 

But how do these players from different reaches of the globe find their way to El Farolito – a team that does not hold any open tryouts, and its recruitment is by word of mouth and invite only?

Its level of intensity matched with its success make it an attractive place to play for former professionals, or players who are still yearning for high-quality action.

“We have some players that have experience professionally, but for one reason or another they are not professionals anymore, and they come across this project that we have with the Open Cup and NPSL, and they want to be a part of the club,” Lopez said. “Those are the types of players we want. The ones who are physically and mentally prepared to experience this high level of intensity.” 

To get players that are talented enough to play is one part of the criteria, Lopez says.  But it’s also a matter of understanding the level of commitment and discipline to make these opportunities possible in the first place.

“A lot of our guys understand these core values and the performance and the culture of our club,” Lopez said.

“El Farolito has always been about high performance and trying to get as close to the professional environment as possible,” Lopez said. “Since there’s no promotion or relegation in this country, the only chance we have to play a professional team in a FIFA match is the Open Cup.  That’s what we strive for.  That’s what we want.”


Photo Credit: Richard Ybarra and Peter Maiden/NPSL.com


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