Amateur upstarts to challenge Republic FC in U.S. Open Cup

Once unsung Chula Vista FC has built some heavy-duty soccer cred as it prepares to play Republic FC on Wednesday night at Bonney Field in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Chula Vista FC was one of five amateur teams to reach the third round. But its 3-0 demolition of Arizona United SC in the second round last Wednesday in Scottsdale created national soccer buzz.

Arizona United is a third-division pro team that is a USL rival of Republic FC and is in the top half of the Western Conference standings.

Chula Vista is a fourth-division United States Adult Soccer Association member making its maiden voyage in the 102-year-old tournament. Against Arizona United, it started 11 players 22 or younger.

Coach Hector Diaz said the team was formed to give young Hispanic players who didn’t see college as an option a chance to showcase their skills. Among them is midfielder Alberto Diaz, who had two goals and an assist against Arizona United. He’s the younger brother of the coach.

The team operates on a shoestring budget and used social media to raise money for its trip to Sacramento. The players practice twice a week in a neighborhood park, using portable goals.

But Republic FC coach Preki said Chula Vista FC doesn’t play like an amateur team.

“We’ve watched them play a little bit, and they are a decent team,” Preki said. “They beat Arizona 3-0, so it’s no (fluke). I’m expecting a tough game.”

So does Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez.

“They are going to be hungry and, obviously for them, there’s no pressure, nothing to lose,” said Lopez, who is expected to play after being held out of Republic FC’s 4-2 win over the Sonoma County Sol last Wednesday at Bonney Field. “We’ll see how they handle playing in front of our fans, if they get a little excited or nervous.”

But Lopez said Sacramento has a huge incentive, too. The winner will face the San Jose Earthquakes at their new Avaya Stadium on June 16. Last year, Republic FC fell 2-1 to San Jose in San Francisco, and Sacramento is itching for a rematch in its quest to show that it is as good as its “Built for MLS” motto.

Chula Vista FC played with plenty of poise against Arizona United. Goalkeeper Sebastian Ortiz had five saves, and Arizona had no answer for Alberto Diaz. He scored in the 37th and 72nd minutes and set up Angel Pinal’s header goal in the 48th minute with a free kick.

“We better keep an eye on him,” Preki said.

The San Diego born-Diaz was in the United States National Team U-15 Player Pool before dropping off the radar until this week, when he was voted Player of the Round. He was selected over several other players, including Republic FC’s Tommy Stewart, who had a hat trick against the Sol.

Lopez will be well rested for Chula Vista FC after playing only nine minutes in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Oklahoma City Energy FC, a match that was twice delayed for an hour because of stormy weather. The USL points leader (with seven) was red-carded after a physical confrontation with an OKC player, forcing Republic FC to play a man down most of the match.

Lopez is expected to miss at least the next USL match Saturday against the Real Monarchs SLC at Bonney Field, but he is eligible to play in the Open Cup.

“I take the blame for that game, and I haven’t been able to sleep because of it,” Lopez said after Tuesday’s training session. “I let down my team, and as a leader, that’s unacceptable. He got in my face. I reacted and pushed his face. Whether it was a red card or not, it was stupid, not professional.”

Lopez became the first Republic FC player this season to be ejected, and it’s his first red card with the team. He had no cautions and had committed only five fouls in his previous nine USL matches.

With Lopez now a target of opposing teams, Preki said the midfielder has to be smarter.

“He’s not a kid anymore,” Preki said of Lopez. “No matter what was said, or if he was provoked, he’s got to be solid in those moments and not let anything get to him.”

Today’s match

Chula Vista at Republic FC

  • U.S. Open Cup
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Radio: 1140