There are a couple of young upstarts ready to take on some wily vets as the National Premier Soccer League’s West Region looks to whittle its playoff field down to two this weekend. And the youngsters might have the upper-hand.
Top-seeded Spartans Futbol Club (10-0-2), from Vancouver, Wash., and No. 2 FC Force (13-1-1), from suburban San Diego, are home for semifinal battles with Northern California powerhouses, and they believe they can hang with the old guard.
It isn’t going to be easy.
The Sonoma County Sol (8-2-3), who will face Spartans FC on Sunday afternoon at 3 at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, reached the NPSL final last year and advanced to the U.S. Adult Soccer Association’s National Amateur final in May. They traveled to Southern California to beat FC Hasental, 2-0, in a West quarterfinal last week and are looking for their fourth NPSL title-game appearance and second crown, to go with their 2009 championship.
The Sacramento Gold (9-3-1), who pipped the Sol for the Golden Gate Conference title and toppled longtime power San Diego Flash, 3-2, in last week’s postseason opener, play the Force on Saturday night at 7 at Linfield Christian School in Temecula, . They have won an NPSL title as recently as 2010, their second league championship.
Both are storied clubs in NPSL lore. Spartans and Force, both first-year clubs, believe they can make some history of their own.
Spartans FC ‘in the competition’
“Here’s what we’re looking for,” said Spartans head coach Victor Garcette, a revered figure in Portland-area soccer circles. “To upset this team. That’s our goal. We think to win. We don’t think any other way. If we don’t win, it’s because they were better.”
Spartans FC has been lights out all year. It ran away with the Northwest Conference title, winning by 13 points over Seattle Sporting FC, which was responsible for both draws on its record. They’ve scored at least four goals in 12 games — plus three in two more — and boast a potent attack that features former MLS midfielder Alex Nimo, Pachuca product Mane David Hernandez, and former Portland Timbers U-23 standout Christian Dasir.
They have another former pro in veteran midfielder Sergio Medel, who also serves as Garcette’s assistant coach, plus MLS prospect Roberto Farfan and 17-year-old Alfredo Valladares, who has a tryout set up with Pachuca when the playoffs are done.
The club, about 3 years old, previously competed in the Oregon Premier Soccer League, winning the title in its first year, Garcette said. He culled the best talent from that team and added to it to prepare for their initial NPSL campaign.
Garcette, who spent five years as assistant coach of USL Premier Development League power Cascade Surge, thought the group could be competitive, but he wasn’t expecting to be so dominant.
“Not really, to be honest with you,” he said. “I had experience building a team, and [I knew we’d] have to change a lot of players. Have to change everything. We went and did it, and I drafted all the players that people didn’t see them as doing anything, and they can do something. For me it was a blessing.”
The only team outside its conference Spartans has played this year is CD Aguiluchos USA, from Oakland, Calif. Spartans romped to a 5-1 friendly victory in mid-May. The Sol played three league games with Aguiluchos, a 3-2 road win in April, a 2-1 home win in early June and a 2-2 draw at home in their June 28 regular-season finale.
What does that say, if anything?
“What it tells me,” Garcette said, “is we are very close to be like as good as they are. I’m not going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, we can beat everybody!’ What I say is I believe that we are in the competition. I do believe we are.”
Force FC ‘here to stay’
Force FC arrived into NPSL with a potent roster and a belief they could be the best, and their dominance in winning the Southwest Conference title served as something of a confirmation. They’re based in Chula Vista, next to San Diego, but have been playing in Imperial County, primarily in El Centro, some 91 miles east of San Diego. Temecula is about 50 miles north of San Diego, in Riverside County.
Coach Diego Lucas Terry’s talent is primarily from San Diego and Tijuana, and the group, like Spartans, includes a former MLS player: forward Cesar Romero. Other standouts include midfielder Sergio Villalva, Force’s anchor; winger Alfredo Marcq, the owner’s son; and goalscorers Mohammed Al’Jaber and Mario Moreno.
Marcq, the player, says the team expected success “because of the quality of player we have. We have a lot of players who for some reason didn’t have the chance to play at a higher level,” but have the ability to do so.
Force FC is riding a 10-game unbeaten streak, all wins except a 1-1 draw at FC Hasental about three weeks ago, and their attack has generated at least three goals in 11 of 15 games — and five or six goals on three occasions in their last six matches.
The lone loss was against the San Diego Flash, a 3-1 decision in El Centro back on April 19. It was a turning point for Force FC, which beat the Flash in the next two meetings, 3-1 at home in mid-May and 3-2 in San Diego in their regular-season finale two weeks ago.
“It woke us up,” said Marcq. “Heading into the first Flash game, we hadn’t lost, so I guess you could say we were overconfident, and they kicked our ass. It woke us up, told us that we hadn’t won anything, and after that, all our players are a little more humble, and we take it game by game.”
The subsequent victories over the Flash, Marcq proclaimed, “says a lot, especially with their reputation. It says we’re here and we’re here to stay.”