Commentary

Cal South welcomes all clubs -- affiliated or not -- to its new 'open' state cup format


The soccer fields of Southern California seem to have little in common with Florence in the Renaissance.

Diogo Gama  thinks otherwise.

“Imagine if there was only one painter there then,” the Cal South director of soccer says. “He would never get better.” The environment in the Italian city in that exciting time helped artists learn from each other, improve, and share their wonders with the world.

In 2022, Southern California is filled with talented young soccer players. But because the environment is so fragmented – with an alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies and leagues, all keeping their players walled off from others – the quantity and quality of competition is artificially limited.

So Cal South took a bold step. The organization – with more than 204,000 players, coaches, referees and administrators — will run its next State Cup as true “open” events. Hundreds more teams will be eligible. Winners then advance to regional and national tournaments.

All Cal South teams – as well as those overseen by other groups, such as the Elite Academy, Development Player League, Girls Academy and, importantly, “any other affiliated/unaffiliated league that participates in Cal South geographical area” – can participate.

Teams must co-register with Cal South. However, they still play in their regular league; they have nothing to do with Cal South, beyond trying to win a state and national title against, Cal South CEO Terry Fisher says, “the best of the best.”

That’s not idle talk. Fisher has spent 50 years watching the fits-and-starts progress of soccer in the United States, from his post as the youngest head coach of any pro team in the nation (Los Angeles Aztecs, 1975), through USL championships as coach and general manager, and as a member of U.S. Soccer’s board of directors.

The growth in players has been mirrored by an explosion of groups that control them. When Fisher coached in the North American Soccer League, the holy grail for youth players was the McGuire Cup: US Youth Soccer’s U-19 boys national championship. Today, several different bodies crown “national champions.”

Cal South officials believe that is detrimental to the growth of the game. Rules that prevent top teams in different leagues from facing each other dilute American soccer. Artificial walls “do far more to protect revenue streams than to help players,” they said in announcing open criteria for the State Cup that begins in January.

“The time has come to stop the craziness, and create an event that invites alternate youth models to compete side by side, and aggregate the youth organizations on a level playing field,” Fisher says. “This is an opportunity to reunite the best players in Cal South, and not hide behind artificial claims of ‘best’ or ‘better.’ Do it on the field!”

“We really want what’s best for the players: give them access to competition, have a good experience, and get better in the process,” Gama adds.

The open state cup is well-timed, officials say. As U.S. Soccer, and American society in general, focus increasingly on diversity and inclusion, an initiative like this – which will include unaffiliated leagues, some of them serving immigrant populations – offers competition and exposure to players who might otherwise be overlooked.

In fact, Gama says, Cal South is actively reaching out to unaffiliated leagues and teams. “We want everyone to be part of our ecosystem.”

There are obstacles. Some teams may worry about “retribution” by their leagues if they enter Cal South’s open State Cup, says technical director Steve Hoffman. Leagues may actively try to block teams from registering for the tournament.

“We’re not trying to take anybody else’s money, or move in on their marketing,” Fisher pledges.

Travel may be an issue for some teams. Gama hopes that U.S. Soccer’s Innovate to Grow Fund can be used to offset expenses.

One other challenge: U.S. Youth Soccer requires that every league in a state cup be “sanctioned.” Cal South has simply “sanctioned” every league from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.

Over the next few years, in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup, the eyes of the world will focus on the United States, Fisher says. As an American soccer hotbed, Southern California will be in a special spotlight.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be a Petri dish for the growth of the game,” the CEO notes. “It’s time to stop making rules that restrict the growth of the game. Now we need to open it up.”

He says a “truly open” State Cup is a great way to start.

Photos: Cal South
5 comments about "Cal South welcomes all clubs -- affiliated or not -- to its new 'open' state cup format".
  1. Dan Popp, August 24, 2022 at 11:03 p.m.

    It's a great idea! For too long, clubs and leagues have limited their competition to "known" entities. This format opens up the competition to all.  The MLS doesn't bow out of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup because they are worried they'll lose to a lower tier club - and this year's US Open Cup was so Exciting, because Sacramento made it to the Finals.

    This Open Cup model in Cal South is exactly what the state's (and the US) youth soccer landscape needs.  

    Let's hope that all the clubs and leagues in Cal South have the fortitude to compete.

  2. Michael Borislow, August 25, 2022 at 1:26 p.m.

    Massachusetts Youth Soccer knows this concept has merit and will be succesfull.  We have practiced this "open" policy for the past 6 year with great success.   More State Association's should put this practice in play.  Kudos to Cal South.

  3. Kevin Sims, August 25, 2022 at 3:28 p.m.

    Access. Inclusion. Competition. WIN!!!

  4. R2 Dad, August 29, 2022 at 1:41 p.m.

    The big clubs will be looking at this as a recruiting tool. Is there any compensation when players get transferred out of the little teams to the big ones?

  5. Ric Fonseca, September 6, 2022 at 2:27 a.m.

    As one who has been involved in the development of soccer in the Greater Los Angeles area, I am very pleased that someone has finally stepped up and said "enough is enough" in the way the  this competition has been handled.  Simply put, I find no one else who whould've had the abdonimal fortitute to change the selection processes, and I must say that Terry fisher is the one person.
    During my seven year-plus stint as a (formely) CYSA-S commissioner and one of the only Latino on the Board, I found the old system to be exclusive and nothing else, that is, the desire to keep the status quo while other unaffiliated and many times, affiliatec clubs were left out in order to protect a specific Distric, League, or Club.  My terms as Commissioner were of course, many times rewarding, but when the time came to prepare, it was nothing but a very dejecting processes to see very capable and highly competitive teams get willfully and wantonly left out, so it was no wonder that many of those "unaffiliated" teams, clubs, and leagues wanted nothing to to with the old CYSA-S.
    Now, mind you, I've known Terry Fisher since he came into the collegiate scene in the early 70's, and notwhithstanding his age, I felt then that he knew what todo, whether it was with a university-college team, followed by the fledgling NASL and LA Aztec team.  He was then a force to be beckoned with, and though some may have found him to be somewhat obtuse and very demanding, I am very unwont to say that he indeed was a "soccer force to be beckoned with."
    So, withouth further ado, I say, to Terru and CSA South, GO FOR IT AND FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!

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