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Open Cup soccer competitions across the world, such as the FA Cup in England and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, showcase some of the best the sport has to offer, as local amateur Davids take on professional Goliaths as nominal equals.
Capistrano FC, founded as a youth program in 2006 and entering only its third year of fielding a senior men’s team, made history simply by qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup and again by advancing to the second round.
And while the amateur David hurled stones at the professional Orange County SC side, the Goliath came out unscathed in the cup competition on Wednesday, April 5.
After a couple early Capo FC swings, OCSC showed off its speed and talent for a 2-0 halftime lead and an eventual 5-0 victory in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup at the Championship Soccer Stadium at the Great Park in Irvine.
“It’s building on experience,” Capo FC midfielder Sergio Montes said. “We didn’t know what we were going to face. We know the realm of OCSC, but actually facing them and playing here, next year we definitely know what we’re going to be battling against. … To play a team like this and actually get touches in and start getting in behind their defenders, that’s a huge testament to what we can achieve as a team, as a club.”
Montes was one of three San Juan Capistrano natives on Wednesday’s roster for Capo FC, along with starting defender Javier “Tico” Loya” and midfielder Joshua Casarrubias. Montes is also one of a handful of players who grew up in the club, including team captain and defender Marcos Cervantes.
“This is my childhood club,” Cervantes said. “I grew up playing in this club back in 2006, when it first started. Two years later, Pete Carey came on board in 2008 and took over the club as director, and since then, he’s always had a vision. What can you do for the community? How can you bring the community up? Just progress with the youth to the moment we’re at now. From then until now, I know it’s been a long journey, but it’s paying off.”
Capo FC debuted its senior men’s team in 2021, and it has steadily risen through the ranks of amateur and semi-pro leagues just outside of the three divisions of the U.S. Soccer Federation pyramid. Capo FC finished first in each of the leagues it has played in, with the United Premier Soccer League SoCal South Division 1 spring season in 2021, the UPSL SoCal North Premier Division fall season in 2021, and the NISA Nation Southwest Region in 2022. Capo FC will join USL League 2 in May.
As a team outside of that USSF pyramid, Capo FC needed to battle through local qualifiers to reach the U.S. Open Cup. With those first-place finishes, Capo FC entered the qualifying rounds for the 2022 Cup, but fell in the final qualifying round.
To qualify for the 2023 Cup, Capo FC once again made it to the final qualifying round in December 2022, and against the Lake Forest-based Orange County FC, Capo FC prevailed in a penalty shootout to earn its first-ever U.S. Open Cup spot.
“The last three years have been nonstop grinding,” Montes said. “No days off, no weekends off. It’s been a tough road, but we’re excited.”
In the first round, Capo FC traveled north to take on Ventura County Fusion, the reigning champion of the USL League 2, which the San Juan Capistrano club will join this summer. Capo FC stunned Ventura County, 4-1, as Hevany Ramos-Mota scored two goals and added an assist. Parker Scalzo and Joshue Gallardo also scored for Capo FC.
“To go out there with that hunger that we had, not just for the Open Cup,” Cervantes said, “but knowing they were the defending champs and to perform how we did, I think that says a lot about the boys and the group. We’re excited to go into the season knowing that.”
That win set up Wednesday’s date with Orange County SC, which competes in the USL Championship—a Division II league in the USSF soccer pyramid.
OCSC pushed the pace in the first five minutes to earn a couple free kicks that Capo FC coolly cleared away, and that gave Capo the opportunity for a possible early shock.
Ramos-Mota broke down the left flank for a 2-on-1 against the lone OCSC defender. Ramos-Mota slid the ball across to Scalzo with the chance at goal, but his shot deflected off the OCSC’s Daniel Pedersen right at the goalkeeper for the stop.
Three minutes later, Capo FC possessed the ball deep into the Orange County box, and Scalzo once again had a chance to strike that went low left and just wide.
“(Ramos-Mota) was basically the star of the show in the last game for them,” OCSC manager Richard Chaplow said. “I told him, ‘Well done’ after the game for the game before, because I thought he was exceptional. We knew he was a danger man. I’m glad that came but they didn’t get the goal, because it showed our guys what I was talking about them in the build-up. I think we showed our class after that.”
With yellow card after yellow card for Capo FC and set piece after set piece for OCSC, Orange County built momentum, and in the 33rd minute, Emil Nielsen burned his defender down the left side for the easy strike and the 1-0 lead.
OCSC struck on a header by Bryce Jamison just before halftime for a two-goal advantage at the break.
Capo FC ended up with seven yellow cards in the match, including two for Montes. Montes earned that red card in the 62nd minute, which forced Capo FC to finish the game with 10 players. OCSC scored its final three goals after that for the 5-0 victory.
While OCSC ultimately showed its professional polish, Capo FC earned the respect of the Division II side in a game that is a net-positive for the Orange County soccer community.
“We were a team that wasn’t much different from Capo at one point,” Chaplow said, “and obviously, we’ve grown into what we are today and hope to continue to move in a forward direction. It’s really nice to see the Capo fans behind (the bench). They had a bunch of kids behind the bench there. It was nice, because it had a little bit more of a local feel about it.”
Orange County SC moves on to the third round, where 18 MLS teams join the U.S. Open Cup fray. The third-round draw was pulled on Thursday, April 6, but results were not available at press time. OCSC returns to USL Championship action on Saturday, April 8, at El Paso Locomotive FC. The match can be streamed live on ESPN+.
Capo FC looks forward to its USL League 2 season, which opens on May 17 against the SoCal Seahorses at Whittier College. Capo FC’s home opener is set for May 27 against Redlands FC at JSerra Catholic High School.