Riverside County Cup 2018: A Champion Is Crowned

It seems like I have been preaching about the Riverside County Cup for a whole year now, but in reality it has just been an action packed month and a half. It started out with four clubs and quickly transitioned to three after unforeseen circumstances knocked the Riverside Coras Football Club out of the competition. The event marched on though and three markets collided to try to become champions of this prestigious event. The tournament changed from a bracket to a round robin style tournament featuring Temecula FC (NPSL), Toros Neza USA (UPSL) and City Legends FC (UPSL). But the tournament itself went through an evolution since the inaugural event in 2017, when the competition was settled between two NPSL rivals: Temecula FC and Riverside Coras FC.

This year's installment of the competition was settled after four matches and 22 goals. The Quails created an atmosphere for each match in this competition and showed the potential of regional soccer tournaments.

Match One:

Temecula FC 2, Toros Neza USA 1

The first match of the competition kicked off at TFC's home stadium, Chapparel High School. The atmosphere was incredible: music was pumping, fans were shouting, and the stadium was draped in signs showing support of their home club.

The action on the field warranted this special event. The tempo was fast paced while both teams looked to open each other up on the counterattack. In the first half, the Quails looked for the long ball and targeted the Toros left back from the get go. Temecula's multiple attacks at the Toros left back would lead to the first card of the match, in the 18th minute. Toros Neza tried to fight out of its own half, but was allowed little time on the ball. The first goal came in the 36th minute after a corner from the Quails. The first half was all TFC, as the Toros Neza attack was forced to shoot from bad angles, thirty plus yards out.

Once the second half started, it looked like control had switched from TFC to Toros Neza, as the Bulls piled on attempt after attempt. Toros Neza's passing became sharper and more accurate; it began to control the midfield and dictate tempo. This new passing mentality forced Temecula to have its once strong positional structure become dismantled as each player scrambled trying to force a turnover. Then, in the 75th minute, Toros Neza tied it up off a corner of its own. The game was on and the TFC backline became aggressive, stopping plays in the midfield and driving into the opponent's box. It was that aggression that helped unhinge Toros Neza and in the 90th minute. TFC scored, earning three points in front of its home crowd.

“Hats off to the Toros, they came out and played a great game. We were just a little better today, we had it all connected from our forwards to our mids and to our back. All around it was a great game and I look forward to the next one.”

-Man of the Match, Justin Picou of Temecula FC

Match Two:

City Legends FC 2, Temecula FC 3

The second match fell on October 13th, which is Non-League Day. Non-League Day is a day that celebrates the soccer being played in the small communities around the world, the communities that don't earn millions off broadcasting deals. These communities participate in the sport because they love it and gives their community an opportunity to create something unique; for the community, by the community.

City Legends came out quick in this first match. It used its fullbacks to apply pressure inside the midfield and forced plenty of turnovers from Temecula FC. The size difference became apparent early on and the Quails began to look for opportunities to find the heads of their tall attackers. At about the 25 minute mark, possession began to favor Temecula but the Quails still had problems breaking down the CLFC back line. After 35 minutes and a couple of huge saves from the City Legends keeper, TFC found itself on the board from a screaming shot into the top corner. Initially the aggressive CLFC fullbacks helped destroy plays, but the playstyle began to leave their backline open which led to many chances for the Quails attack.

The second half kicked off and it looked like City had begun to make some offensive progress through dribbling. The City attack was winning one-on-one duels, but just couldn't find the final pass. TFC began to sit and focus on playing defensively and countering when opportunities presented themselves. In the 72nd minute, TFC scored its second, then turned around and grabbed another in the 78th minute. The transition was killing City, but it was not done-for. Legends would put in two goals back-to-back: one headed ball after a scramble in the box and then a shot from outside the box in the 83rd. Their comeback would fall short as they couldn't grab a third and TFC picked up its second victory.

Match Three:

Toros Neza USA 2, Temecula FC 3

For the third match, Toros Neza USA welcomed the Quails to Grand Terrace High School and the Dirty Birds (TFC supporters group) followed. In the first half the Quails took a lead of 2-1 against the fighting Toros. Temecula FC would go on to seal the victory with a scoreline of 3-2.

Match Four:

Temecula FC 8, City Legends FC 1

With a win, the Quails would seal up their second straight Riverside County Cup. With a couple more weeks of UPSL play, City Legends propelled itself into first place within its division and had been playing strong soccer, earning results against top clubs within the division. But this second match against NPSL competition proved to be too much for City. The stadium was packed and the crowd was itching for the victory.

City played this game in the 4-2-3-1 formation and used the double-pivot to help seal up the midfield and offer more defensive solidity; a change from its normal 4-3-3 in which it would often only employ one defensive midfielder whose main focus wasn't to help the defense. This defensive tactic used by City forced TFC to send multiple numbers forward, often using five attackers to receive long passes from deep within midfield. The match wouldn't carry on too long without a goal. TFC claimed its first in the eleventh minute after a long diagonal pass found the left winger open in space. After receiving it, he sent in a long cross towards the back post, scoring the first goal. The early goal allowed the Quails to sit back and possess the ball in their own half while they waited for the City defense to open up. TFC would go on to score two more in the first half, while City was able to grab one in the 26th minute off a beautiful free kick on top of the TFC box.

In the second half Temecula would rain down five more goals and showed complete dominance in the match. Temecula had identified a weakness at the back post on crosses and scored seven of its eight goals from that tactic. Legends never adapted to Temecula's gameplan and the Quails continued to be relentless.

I caught up with Temecula FC’s head coach, Austin Levins, after the match.

Your team found the back post with almost every goal. Was that part of the instruction from you or was it something the players figured out on the pitch?

“We've been working a lot in the last few weeks on combination play and opening up with explosive speed. I think that was reflective with how the guys played today. We opened up chances at the last second and we were ready to pounce on it and hit it first time. Unfortunately for City Legends they caught the tail end of that and they've been punished by it today. Credit to them, they kept going to the final whistle.”

How does it feel to win the second ever Riverside County Cup?

“We are absolutely delighted. The guys played their hearts out. We worked very hard in training to change a few things from the NPSL season. We looked at our formation, who we had involved and redefined a few roles. They've done their club proud, they've done their community proud and we had great support. It's been a great four games. It just goes to show what the power of the game can be sometimes. Hopefully there are more clubs that want to be involved next year and we grow this tournament to be what it can be, it has shown the best of what's in Riverside County. Hopefully next year the tournament is even bigger and better and make it three in a row.”

For the second year in a row Temecula wins the Riverside County Cup. After the win the crowd in the stadium was ecstatic. The supporters came onto the field singing “Campeones! Campeones!” The Dirty Birds managed to save a few smoke bombs to let off  and filled the field with red and black smoke. It was an event that the community was proud to be a part of.

This regional tournament has shown that it can be something for the community and not just the teams playing on the pitch. Neighboring communities have the opportunity to build rivalries against other clubs giving fans more to cheer about. The dream of the Riverside County Cup is to include all amateur teams in the area. It will continue develop passion and give young players the opportunity to play in the very same competition they watched. Local soccer is all about pride and community, two things that were on display during these matches.

- Steven Ramirez