After cruising to the top of the standings, the Fresno Fuego haven't made many friends with the four other teams in the Southwest Division of the Premier Development League's Western Conference. But their success has generated some new fans now that they're in the 2003 U.S. Open Cup.
"We want them to do well," said Nevada Wonders' General Manager Randy Roser of the Fuego. "They're representing our league, they're no longer going against us. We'd like them to get to the semifinals for finals. We just want to see them keep winning."
Fresno got its first win on Wednesday night in Fresno by beating the Chico Rooks 1-0 in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup at Fresno Pacific University. Jose Espindola's goal in the 80th minute lifted the PDL's Western Conference lone representative into the second round of the 34-team national tournament.
The Fuego will play the Utah Blitzz, a Pro Select League team, on June 25 in Salt Lake City. The winner of the that game will advance to the third round and most likely face a team from the A-League, the second level of professional soccer in the U.S.
Chico, which won the Southwest Division last season, now plays in the newly formed Men's Premier Soccer League, which the Reno-based Northern Nevada Aces compete in. The Rooks, who are currently in first place in the MPSL, earned a spot into the tournament by winning the USASA Region IV Qualifying Tournament last weekend in Albuquerque, N.M. Chico was playing in its third straight U.S. Open Cup and its fifth since 1993. Fresno is a new member of the PDL and is playing in its first U.S. Open Cup.
The U.S. Open Cup serves as our county's true national championship. It includes all three professional levels (MLS, A-League and Pro Select League), as well as both established amateur leagues, the PDL and United States Amateur Soccer Association, which is basically a men's league. The tournament dates back to 1914. The Columbus Crew are the defending champs.
Except for the 10 MLS teams, the other 24 teams get into the tournament by winning a series of qualifying games. Eight A-league, six Pro Select and six PDL teams, as well as the four USASA regional champions make up the 34-team field.
In another first-round game played on Wednesday, the Bridgeport (Conn.) Italians, the USASA Region I champions, beat the PDL's Chesapeake Dragons 1-0.
There are two other first-round games this weekend. The PDL's Raleigh CASL Elite will host D.S. United, the USASA Region II champion. The Milwaukee Bavarians, the USASA Region III champion, will travel to Iowa to play the PDL's Des Moines Menace. The Bradenton (Fla.) Academics and Mid Michigan Bucks of the PDL have received first-round byes into the second round.