The improbable run of USASA team Roma FC continues tonight when the Dallas-based amateur team meets the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup.
According to assistant coach John Calandro, whose son John - fresh
out of high school - is the youngest member of the team, Roma's run has cost the
team's backers about $30,000. Those backers are Coach Michael Schell,
Calandro Sr., the players and their friends and families, and anyone kind
enough to visit the team's Web site
(www.romafc.net) to contribute something to an improbable cause.
U.S. Soccer pays each team $7,500 per game for expenses, which hasn't come close
to meeting the costs of flying twice to Southern California to play CD Chivas
USA and the Galaxy.
"Nobody's worried about the time they've had to take off from work, or the 7
a.m. practices, or any of that," says Calandro. "I know it's in the back of
their minds but all of these guys, in addition to having more talent than
anybody gave them credit for, are competitors.
A penalty-kick win over CD Chivas USA after the teams played a goalless
regulation and overtime propelled Roma to this stage, where a Galaxy team mired
near the bottom of the Western Conference standings and lacking an injured
Landon Donovan might seem a tad vulnerable. Roma's previous win was against
USL entry Miami, which despite fielding Brazilian legend Romario and
fellow 1994 World Cup champ Zinho couldn't subdue the amateurs.
"One key is they haven't given up an early goal," says former Dallas Tornado
player Charley DeLong, a soccer and football coach at Jesuit HS and de
facto assistant coach for the past month or so. "When you get past 45 minutes or
60 minutes you start to believe, and the other team maybe gets worried and
starts doing things they shouldn't."
Michael Schell's brother, midfielder Dominic, had a short MLS stint with
Columbus. Many of the players are veterans of indoor wars and list the San Diego
Sockers and Dallas Sidekicks among their former clubs. Juan Sastoque (one
of MLS's original Project-40 players), Mark Rowland, Jesse Llamas
-- the names may not ring out loudly but they've carved out a unique place in
the annals of American soccer: the first amateur club to defeat a fully
professional team in the U.S. Open Cup, the history of which dates back 92
"We were training at a YMCA field at 9 p.m. with two lights on and we could
barely see, and six guys would show up," said Calandro. "Training in the
morning, before guys go to their jobs, shows how dedicated they are."
Marveling at it all is DeLong, a former San Diego State player who rarely got on
the field for the Tornado but gladly settled in the city when offered the high
school job 25 years ago. He jumped into the Roma story when asked to help with
the team's conditioning and sunrise training sessions, of which the attendance
and intensity has flabbergasted him.
"Their attitudes, their dedication, their commitment, I can't say enough about
them," says DeLong. "They all have regular jobs, they have families and
responsibilities, and they're out there. I don't know if we've trained them long
enough and hard enough to play another 90 minutes against a tough pro team, but
I can tell you this: if they get beat it won't be because they didn't work hard
DeLong's days in San Diego preceded those of players like Sastoque, an alum of
El Cajon High who was stunned to discover DeLong had attended archrival El
Capitan. "We went back and forth and had some fun with it," says DeLong. "Soccer
is the world's game but sometimes you can't believe how small that world is.
"This really is a story of what the game is. Anything can happen. You can go
anywhere in the world - England, Italy, Spain, Germany, name the country - and
you'll see times where a little team beat a big team. A bounce here and there
where the ball goes in or hits the post, a goalkeeper making a few great saves,
and you have a chance to win the game."
Roma won't have the brilliant goalkeeping of Llamas when it takes on the Galaxy.
He had to stay behind in Dallas to be with his wife, who is about to give birth.
DeLong will also be back home, monitoring the game through phone calls from
The Galaxy will have been warned by Roma's victory over its rival.
"Chivas thought they were going to roll us over," says Calandro. "They only
started four regulars and then started throwing in their best players.
"In the locker room Patrick Shamu was telling the guys, 'Make them
respect us,' and that's kind of been our new mantra."