The Gold Cup and the World Cup | Major League Soccer and Women’s World Cup
The 21st Century: An Ever Growing Soccer Universe
Soccer in Los Angeles had its beginnings in the waning years of the 19th century and in 1902 the Southern California Foot Ball League was founded. The Southern California League (Later to be renamed the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League) was founded in 1903 and would be the mainstay of amateur soccer for many decades; early champions included the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Guernsey S. C. and Los Angeles United. Los Angeles lagged behind San Francisco in the growth of organized soccer, and both regions were hampered by their isolation from the rest of the country. The California State Football Association had also been founded in 1902 (and launched the Senior Challenge Cup two years later), and organized college soccer came west in the 1920s, but both were dominated by San Francisco for a number of years. UCLA’s soccer team began play in 1937 and the Los Angeles Scots became the first Los Angeles based amateur team to win the Senior Challenge Cup, taking the title in 1941 and 1942. Outside of that however, Los Angeles soccer existed mostly in isolation.
Soccer began to take off after World War II with the Metropolitan League, Olympic League and Southern California League joining the scene, although the now-renamed Greater Los Angeles League remained pre-eminent. In the late 1940s, visiting international teams began to make Los Angeles a stop omn their tours. Hapoel F.C. of Tel-Aviv battled a Los Angeles all-star side to a 1-1 draw in 1948, and Atlante of Mexico made a visit in 1948, easily beating the Los Angeles Scots and the Maygars. One of the most prominent visitors was Manchester United which made two appearances during their 1950 tour. United arrived in Los Angeles in late May, opening with a 7-1 rout over the Los Angeles “A” Stars, followed four days later by a 6-6 draw with Atlas of Mexico before 15,000 excited fans. The “A” Stars would then go on to lose 3-1 to Atlas. Manchester United returned two years later, beating Atlas twice in a pair of close, hotly contested matches, and this was followed by a 1954 match between Borussia Mongengladbach and Plymouth Argyle, which Borussia won 3-1.
The Los Angeles Scots soon established their dominance in the GLASL, winning league titles in 1950, 1952 and 1954. By 1953, area teams began entering the U. S. Open Cup, including the Scots, Danish-Americans, and Pan-American SC. In 1955, the Danish Americans made it to the finals of the U. S. Open Cup, falling to New York’s S. C. Eintracht, and followed this with a State Cup title in 1957.
The seminal moment for Los Angeles soccer occurred in 1951 when Albert Ebert (died c. 2000), Fritz Ermit and four other German immigrants joined forces to form the Los Angeles Kickers soccer club. After several years of fielding competitive teams, Ebert began an aggressive scouting campaign, signing players from throughout southern California, and extending his search to other states and soon even other countries. Soon he had a powerhouse on his hands, and the Kickers dynasty began. They won the California State Cup in 1956 and followed that with seven consecutive State Cup titles between 1958 and 1965 (the last three after having absorbed the Victoria club, who had joined the GLASL in 1925). This string ended northern California’s long dominance of the California State Cup. The Kickers also began to win GLASL league titles, including in 1963, 1964 and 1965.
This opened a period of Los Angeles dominance in the U. S. Open Cup. Between 1958 and 1964, six Open Cup finals featured area teams: The Kickers in 1958, 1960 and 1963, the L. A. Scots in 1961, the San Pedro McIlvane Canvasbacks in 1959, and Los Angeles Armenians in 1964. The only Cup winners, however, were the Kickers in 1958 and 1964. The 1958 triumph was the first national title won by a west coast club. The 1960 match was memorable, featuring two teams that would win a combined six Open Cup titles during the era. Each was headed by a National Team player – Al Zerhusen for the Kickers and Alex Ely for the ASL’s Philadelphia Ukrainians. The match saw several lead changes and went into overtime where the Nationals pulled ahead to a 5-3 victory, with Alex Ely scoring ALL five Philly goals.
After their successful 1963 season, the Kickers underwent a 9 stop world tour (financed by a Swiss promoter), going to Australia, New Zealand (Christchurch), Iran (against the Iran national team), Germany (Frankfurt) and others. In New Zealand they played 9 games against local clubs, with a 3-3-3 record. The Kickers had their biggest year in 1964, when they won an unprecedented Quadruple – probably the only time a US team has accomplished this feat – the GLASL league title, the Douglas Cup (southern California champ), the Cal State Cup and the U. S. Open Cup. The US Open Cup 2nd leg was more or less 2 games by itself, as three 30-minute overtimes re required to decide the game – each time one team pulled ahead the other would catch up.
After winning the State Cup in 1965, The Kickers absorbed Germania SC in 1966, and renamed themselves as the Los Angeles Soccer Club. They faded from prominence at this point, despite absorbing Hollywood Stars SC in 1972, and Alemania ’69 in 1975, but the club continues to play to this day, now known as LASC-Palonia United, as a member of the city-run Los Angeles Municipal League.
Los Angeles continued to make waves in the U. S. Open Cup after the Kickers dynasty. Orange County made the 1966 final, falling to the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals. In 1967, they made it again only to fall to the New York Greek Americans. The Greeks were just starting a three-year string of titles; the third was won at the expense of the L. A. Montabello-Armenians. Los Angeles Croatia made the finals in 1970, followed by San Pedro Yugoslavs in 1971 and 1972; all failing to win that final match. Victory was finally achieved by Los Angeles Maccabee (another still active club), whose dynasty snagged the Cup in 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1978, with additional Final appearances in 1980 and 1982.
During these dynastic endeavors, another popular attraction in the area was the Kennedy Cup, launched in 1961, and featuring teams from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Canada and Mexico. The Kickers, St. Stephens, and various all-star sides represented Los Angeles until the cup was discontinued in 1967. The Greater Los Angeles League fended off a challenge of the (apparently short-lived) Continental League which began play in 1966, attracting a number of area teams, filling a crowded amateur area which already had the California League and Pacific League. With all of this competition, the Greater Los Angeles League began to lose much of its vitality, never dominating the state cup or national competitions like in earlier days. Play continued, but its glory years were over.
The National Team’s first visits to the region were not games best remembered with fondness. Their first appearance was against Mexico on April 28, 1957 in a World Cup qualifying match at Long Beach, where they were soundly beaten 7-2. Things were even worse two years later when England smashed the team 8-1 in their first match within Los Angeles proper. World Cup qualification matches in Los Angeles against Mexico soon became a regular occurrence because of the guaranteed large crowd from the Latino population, and the US managed draws in 1960 and 1965.
College soccer slowly began to grow after World War II, but received a major boost in 1951 with the establishment of the Southern California Soccer Association, featuring UCLA, Cal Tech and USC as its major teams. Cal Tech was the first dominator, taking conference titles in 1951, 52, 53 and 57, but it was not long before UCLA began their mega-dynasty, earning fourteen conference titles between 1954 and 1974, and making the NCAA finals in 1970, 1972 and 1973.
The next major boost for California soccer was the arrival in 1967 of professional soccer with the establishment of the professional United Soccer Association and the National Professional Soccer League. As befits a large city during a time when two rival leagues are looking to place franchises, Los Angeles received a team in each league. In the USA, the Los Angeles Wolves were actually the English Wolverhampton Wanderers, while the Outlaw NPSL launched the Los Angeles Toros. The Wolves fared much better on the field and at the gate, winning the West Division and the league title, while averaging 7,773 fans, while the Toros finished dead last, drawing less than half of that. The two leagues merged the following year, while the new Wolves (No longer the Wolverhampton squad) finished a middling season before they and most of the NASL folded. So it was back to the amateurs and college, but at least area teams were still enjoying great success at this level, and the pro game would not be absent for long.
Professional soccer returned to southern California during the great NASL expansion of 1974 when the L. A. Aztecs were born. The Aztecs’ first year was a peculiar mix of obscurity and success; averaging just over 5,000 fans per game, they won the league title that season. The following two seasons they played just above .500, but drew far better. Their first major signing came in 1975, when they added Julie Veee to their roster. Although he only lasted one season in L. A., Veee would go on to have a great career in the Major Indoor Soccer League. The Aztecs joined in the worldwide talent hunt of 1976 by signing former Northern Ireland striker George Best who would score 15 goals and 37 points his first season. He was joined in 1977 by Steve David of Trinidad who became the primary goal scorer with 26, many of them set up by Best who managed an amazing 18 assists as the Aztecs battled to the conference finals, falling to Seattle.
Meanwhile, the 2nd division American Soccer League expanded to the west coast, adding the Los Angeles Skyhawks who took the circuit by storm closing off their debut season with a league title. The Skyhawks were decent if nothing more in 1977, but had been joined by the nearby California Sunshine, and Santa Barbara Condors who did not do so well. Neither did the Aztecs in 1978; Best and David were shadows of their former selves, playing few games and scoring even less as the team fell to last place. In 1978, the St. Louis Stars moved to Anaheim as the California Surf. Featuring one of the few successful American players, Al Trost, the Surf finished 11-17, while outdrawing L. A. at the gate. By 1979, the Aztecs had moved from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Best and David were gone, replaced by Johan Cruyff and Leo Van Veen who provided some badly needed scoring punch, lifting the Aztecs to second place and a big boost in attendance to 14,333 per game. The Surf finished first in the National Conference West, but fell in the first round of playoffs while the Aztecs made it to the Conference semi-finals.
Meanwhile, the ASL added a second team, the Los Angeles Lazers. The Skyhawks, Sunshine and Lazers finished a tight 1-2-3 in the West in 1978, with the Skyhawks making it to the playoff finals, and the Lazers folding. California took West honors in 1979 but fell in the semis, and the middling Skyhawks folded due to financial woes, followed by the Sunshine a year later.
The rise of the professional teams was mirrored by a decline of the old-time amateur clubs and leagues. Many of the established amateur clubs (including the Los Angeles Scots, the Maygars, Scandanavians, St. Stephens, McIlvane, the Danes) folded during the the late 1970s. as well as a number of leagues, such as the Olympic and Metropolitan Leagues. When the Greater Los Angeles League’s longtime owner Tony Moeron died around 1976, the league was renamed the Budweiser League and a couple years later was renamed the Golden West League. Several long established clubs continued to play there including the L. A. Soccer Club (formerly Kickers) who won 2-3 league titles between 1978 and 2005.
The Aztecs persevered, and after a horrible 1979 season, they finished 2nd in division for 1980 and first in the 80-81 indoor season. By 1981, however, the well had run dry. The NASL was awash in red ink, and the Aztecs and Surf, bereft of their international stars played before sparse crowds in their final seasons. The Aztecs managed a respectable 19-13 record, but the owners couldn’t pay out any longer so the team, along with the California Surf, folded before 1981 was done. With the demise of pro soccer it was again back to the amateur and college scene, and even the amateur teams were not doing so well. The next amateur achievement of note was the San Pedro Yugoslav’s U. S. Open Cup appearance in 1986 (a loss to St. Louis Kutis). The L. A. Soccer Club had notable success at the Wonderkopal competition (founded 1965), winning it in 1972, 1973, 74, 78, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, 88, 94, 2000 and 2001.
At the college level however, things were beginning to warm up. Youth soccer was in experiencing explosive growth, both among boysand girls. College soccer was reaping benefits from this boom and colleges were adding soccer at a rapid rate, leading to the establishment of the NCAA 2nd division, and the beginnings of women’s varsity programs.
One of the first Division 2 conferences was the California Collegiate Athletic Association, featuring the teams of the State college system. Cal State Los Angeles was the first powerhouse, winning conference titles in 1980, 1981 and 1983, and Cal State Northridge followed suit in 1984, 85, 86, 87 and 89, while making the NCAA Div. 2 finals in ’87 and ’88. The Southern California Intercollegiate Conference, eventually operating at Division 3, has been dominated over the years by Redlands and Pomona-Pfitzer.
Indoor soccer came to Los Angeles in 1982 with the Lazers. Never a very good team, the Lazers mostly languished at the bottom of the western Division although they did have a decent 2nd place finish a year before folding in 1989. Although the indoor game entered a funk with the demise of the Aztecs, it was not long before the region would make soccer history.
That history was realized at the 1984 Olympics. Soccer fans took the Olympics by storm, with soccer crowds surpassing even those of the New York Cosmos during their best years. Crowds were decently sized during early pool play games, but when they rose to 40,000, then 70,000 and more, people took notice. Finally the bronze medal game crowd topped 100,000, and the all-time USA soccer attendance record was set on August 11 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena when 101,799 fans watched France defeat Brazil for the gold medal. Soccer was by far the best attended sport in the entire games, accounting for nearly half of all tickets sold. Sadly, with all this excitement happening only about ten minutes of the final match were broadcast on television. But these olympic crowds made a major impression on sports officials throughout the country: Americans would show up in force to attend major soccer events, and this fact would help the US make their case in their successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup.
The Olympic competition suddenly made Los Angeles a hot destination for the national team, which had not played in the city since a 1977 friendly against El Salvador. The USA played friendlies against Columbia and El Salvador in October, winning both matches before large crowds. The USA team later made Torrance a stop on their World Cup qualifications schedule, playing two matches there in 1985 and another in 1989. Regrettably, the Olympic success was not enough to save the NASL, which folded later that year, and outdoor soccer appeared near death; the only major crowds were turning out for the indoor game. However, it was not long before the outdoor game began its slow rise to prominence both in Los Angeles and the rest of the country. In the midst of these doldrums, UCLA won the NCAA championship by beating American University on penalty kicks after EIGHT overtimes. The US played three matches in the region in 1985 (two of them WC qualifiers, the third a loss to England), but even these were not well attended, and visits from the national team were rare for the next few years.
That year also saw the launch of the Western Soccer Alliance. The following year it evolved from a four-team tournament into a professional (albeit 2nd division) league with two area teams, the Los Angeles Heat and the Hollywood Kickers. The Kickers won the league title that first season, with the Heat making a mediocre performance. Both teams struggled through the 1980s, with the (now renamed) California Kickers usually finishing last.
In 1990, the WSA merged with the 3rd American Soccer League to form the 2nd division American Professional Soccer League, with the Heat and the Kickers (now renamed the Emperors) along for the ride. The United States Soccer Federation was required to establish a 1st division professional league as a condition of hosting the World Cup, and the APSL was hoping to win the bidding war for designation. For the season, the Heat finished 2nd in the west and made the ASL Conference final, losing to the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. The APSL however was in dire financial straights and all but five teams folded after the season, dooming their chances for Division 1 status. Neither area team survived the franchisal carnage.
Angelinos did not have to mourn the loss for long, as their attention was taken up in 1991 with the inaugural CONCACAF Gold Cup with games split between the L. A. Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The USA cruised through their pool play in easy fashion, easily defeating Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and Costa Rica before facing off against Mexico, a team they had beaten only once since 1934. After a scoreless first half, the US scored twice in quick succession earning not only their 2nd win since 1934, but their first ever shutout. The championship match against Honduras should have been anticlimactic, but the US had to prevail on penalty kicks to get the title, their first continental championship. The following summer, Brazil and Colombia came for friendlies and leaving with victories, but close ones.
On the college front, the 1990s began with UCLA launching a mini-dynasty in the Mountain West Conference, winning the northern division six tstraight times from 1992-97 and again in 1999, and returning to the NCAA finals where they defeated Rutgers in the 4th overtime for their latest national title. Cal State Dominguez Hills would win the first women’s NCAA title (Div. 2) the following year, 1991, and the Cal State Fullerton men made the Div. 1 semifinals in 1993. The first women’s college soccer dynasties were Cal State Dominguez Hills (Div. 2) which won six CCAA conference titles during the 1990s, and Cal State Lutheran (Div. 3), which won five SCIC conference titles between 1996 and 2004. The Women’s Amateur Cup was launched in 1980, and Southern California Ajax won the title in 1992 and 1993, but otherwise, cup titles have eluded area teams.
Pro soccer appeared at several levels in 1993. At division 2, the APSL added the Los Angeles Salsa. They were joined by the Golden Valley Earthquakes in the rapidly expanding USISL (Now United Soccer Leagues), and Los Angeles United in the new Continental indoor Soccer League. A year later, women’s soccer ascended to the next level with the Southern California Nitemares joining the USISL’s Women’s League (Originally the USWISL, later the W-League) for their debut 1995 season. To cap the pyramid, Major League Soccer was founded as the new Division 1 pro soccer league for the United States and it was clear very quickly that Los Angeles would have a charter franchise. The Salsa played decently but folded after two season. The Earthquakes played decently for eight seasons under various names. L. A. United was soon renamed the Anaheim Splash and consistently did well in the regular season, but falling quickly during playoffs, and they folded with the league in 1997.
The National Team literally set up camp in the Los Angeles region in the early 1990s as part of their preparation for the 1994 World Cup. The team established a full-time residency program to allow for full-time training of the players as a team, rather than having to rely on limited practices during call-ups; hence plauyers signed contracts directly with the USSF and did not play for clubs. This type of full-time training was seen as the only way to build up a team capable of making a decent showing at the World Cup.
As part of the training regimen, a series of exhibitions was held at their training complex in Fullerton, CA; this series continued throughout 1993 and early 1994, earning the US 3 wins and 3 draws against the likes of Bolivia, Switzerland, South Korea and Jamaica. By this time, the major L. A. venues were becoming very popular for matches featuring the Mexican team or visiting Latin American sides, because of the guaranteed large crowds. The Coliseum saw several 90,000+ crowds to watch the Mexican National Team or a major MFL club. Add in the US as an opponent and you’ve got one exciting match as fans saw on June 4, the final match for both teams before the Big Event. In front of 91,000 wildly pro-Mexican fans, the USA stunned the crowd into silence with a 1-0 shutout.
A month later was the World Cup, and to say this was the largest soccer event ever in the US was an understatement. With overflowing crowds, the Rose Bowl enjoyed eight 90,000+ crowds, 6 of them sellouts. Games included the United State’s stunning upset of Colombia, and the close loss to Romania to close Pool Play. Other highlights were the semifinal betwen Brazil and Sweden, the 3rd place match between Sweden and Bulgaria and the scoreless final between Italy and Brazil that went to penalty kicks and Brazil’s unprecedented 4th World Cup win.
Professional soccer returned in a major way in 1996 with the introduction of the Los Angeles Galaxy as the city’s Major league Soccer team. With a lineup featuring US and international stars such as Chris Armas, Cobi Jones and Mauricio Cienfuegos at midfield, Jorge Campos in goal and Eduardo Hurtado on the front line, the Galaxy looked to be winners, and they did not disappoint. From the opening day crowd of 69,000 to the 19-13 Western Division 1st place finish through the exciting playoff run right up to the inaugural MLS Cup in chilly Foxboro, MA, this was a season for the ages, and a triumphant return of pro soccer as Los Angeles had never seen before. The Galaxy lost a heartbreaking match in overtime in the Cup, but they led the league in attendance with over 27,000 per game at the Rose Bowl, with Hurtado the league’s 2nd best scorer, and Campos the top goalkeeper. The Galaxy capped it all off with a winning ticket to the 1997 CONCACAF Champions Cup where they defeated D. C. United in the first ever match between American teams at the semifinals, before losing to Cruz Azul in the title match.
The MLS debut year was also full of international soccer for local fans as the Gold Cup returned to the scene. Half of the pool play matches were held in the region, with L. A. fans trekking to the Coliseum to see Brazil dominate Canada and Honduras. Meanwhile, the US cruised through its matches at Anahiem, drawing 52,000 to their 2-0 shutout of El Salvador. Ironically, the crowd was less than half of that when Brazil defeated the US in the semifinals, but 88,000 turned out to watch the US beat Guatemala for 3rd place, and Mexico stun Brazil 2-0 for the title. An even larger crowd turned out to watch the USA and Mexico draw during their last match of the USA Cup. One thing was clear, bring in Mexico and expect a sellout, but the fans may be rooting for the other side! Such was this successful concept that The rosebowl hosted two of the three USA Cup matches in 1997 and the Coliseum again hosted games of the Gold Cup. And true to form, any game involving a Mexico crowd was a sellout.
The success of the Galaxy’s first season came near the start of a wave of new teams at the lower levels leagues between 1995 and 1998. These included the Orange Zodiac in the Division 2 A-League (recently merged into the USISL), the Los Angeles Fireballs of the D3Pro League, and the Southern California Gunners/Chivas of the USL’s amateur Premier Development League. On the women’s side, the Southern California Nitemares folded after two seasons in the USWISL, but the Women’s Premier Soccer League (which had formed in 1998 when the W-League’s west coast teams bolted) added Southern California Ajax who won the league title in 1999 and 2001.
Most of the other lower division teams, both men and women, were short lived with mixed success. One final first was achieved late in the century: despite the enormous success of the Kickers and others at the U. S. Open Cup in the 1950s and 1960s, no L.A. based team made it to the National Amateur Cup finals until 1998 when Los Angeles Cassell fell to Schwaben of Chicago. The USAS Women’s Open Cup was inaugurated in 1996, and before long several Los Angeles based teams won titles, including Ajax Los Angeles (1998), Ajax Fram of Manhattan Beach (2000), Ajax of Hermosa Beach in 2004 and Ajax SoCal of the WPSL in 2005 and (as Ajax America) in 2007, and the expansion Pali Blues of the WPSL made a splash, winning the league title in 2008 and 2009, their first two seasons. UCLA returned to the pinnacle in 1997, winning another NCAA title.
Big time crowds returned again to Los Angeles as the Rose Bowl hosted several key games of the 1999 Womens’ World Cup, the first time this event had been held on US soil. Like the WC’94 tournament before it, all-time soccer attendance records were broken, and the US completed an incomparable decade of success on the field as the preminent Women’s team in the world. Best of all for the fans, the US was truly on top of the heap, as the longtime #1 ranked team, with their foundation – i.e. mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain, at the prime of their careers.
Until WWC’99, the National team had played a couple matches at the Fullerton campus, and one closed door match at UCLA in the city. But like with WC’94, the WWC games at Pasadena were a sight to behold. Although crowds were smaller than WC’94, they were huge for women’s soccer, especially whenever the USA played. Angelinos were treated to three high quality games – Nigeria’s 2-1 defeat of North Korea, Germany’s close 1-1 draw with Italy, and the unforgettable closing doubleheader where Brazil and Norway drew for 3rd place, and the US won on penalty kicks against China before 91,805, the largest crowd ever to see a women’s soccer game in the world.
The last two US Internationals to date at the Coliseum were played against Guatemala and Mexico in 1999 and 2000. The Rose Bowl hosted Iran and Brazil in friendlies before having one last hurrah as a primary host of the 2002 Gold Cup. The USA played 5 games at Pasadena, again cruising through pool play and winning the title after a scare by Canada during the semis. But without Mexico as an opponent, the title match had surprisingly small crowds, and to date (2010) the US has not played there since. The USA became the unexpected host of the 2003 Women’s World Cup after China had to withdraw due to the SARS outbreak, but southern California was bypassed this time around.
The big crowds began to thin a bit for the National Team in the 21st century. The USA Cup was history, the Gold Cup began scheduling games in other cities to spread the wealth, and the US moved World Cup qualifiers against Mexico to northern cities during the winter, to give the US more fan support and a weather advantage. The Coliseum is still a popular place for Mexican clubs and Internationals, but since 2002, all but a single National team match in the region has been played at the 27,000 seat Home Depot Center in Carson, home of the MLS’s Galaxy. The men have played eight matches at Carson since 2004, three of them Gold Cup matches, but the small capacity has dimmed the excitement somewhat, and they have only sold out once. The story is similar for the women’s team; after a lightly attended friendly at the Rose Bowl against Ccanada in 2002, all subsequent matches have been at Carson, to crowds even smaller than the men have drawn, even for World Cup qualifiers.
Area women’s soccer teams began to make their presence known as the millennium wound down. Cal Polytech became the Big West’s first dynasty, winning conference titles in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, and often battling with Cal State Fullerton who took titles in 1996, 2001, 2005 and 2006. UCLA reached the NCAA finals for the first time in 2000, losing to the North Carolina juggernaut, and returned in 2004 losing to Notre Dame, and 2005, falling to Portland. On the men’s side, the UCLA Bruins began a new dynasty, winning the NCAA championship in 2002, and four consecutive Pac-10 titles from 2002-2005, and Cal State Dominguez Hills won the div. 2 title in 2000, and reached the final a year later. At division 3, Redlands won four SCIC conference titles between 2001 and 2008.
The Los Angeles Galaxy hit their stride when they returned to the MLS Cup in 1999, losing to D. C. United. Since then, every season has seen the Galaxy either host an international tournament or all-star match, or play a title match in a league championship, cup competition or tournament or earn a spot in such tournament. The Galaxy qualified for the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup, which was delayed until January 2001, and then cancelled in favor of the one-shot CONCACAF Giants Cup which the Galaxy declined to participate in. They also qualified for the World Club Cup Competition but that was cancelled due to the collapse of the organizer. In 2001, they were runner-up in the MLS Cup, while winning the U. S. Open Cup. In 2002, they accomplished the reverse, earning them a spot on the CONCACAF Champions Cup where they lost to Nexaca (Mexico) in the quarterfinals. No titles in 2003, but the Galaxy hosted the All-Star match between the All-Stars and Guadalajara. In 2004, they hosted the inaugural MFL Interliga tournament (and hosted again in 2006, 07, 08, 09 and 2010). The Galaxy has been fortunate to have top coaching from Sigi Schmid, Bruce Arena and Ruud Gullitt, as well as some top players, most importantly, US National standout Landon Donovan, who currently is the most prolific goal scorer in national team history, and a perennial Honda Award winner.
The Galaxy finally won their first double in 2005, winning both the U. S. Open and MLS Cups. This time, Saprissa defeated them in the CONCACAF quarterfinals, but the Galaxy were not done yet. In 2006, they returned to the U. S. Open Cup, losing to the Chicago Fire. This was also the year that they made headlines across the world with the signing of David Beckham to a long-term contract which was worth 6.7 million dolalrs the first three years. This was the USA’s biggest player signing since Pele, and to get one of the world’s top players while still in his prime was a major accomplishment. In 2007, they helped inaugurate the inaugural North American Superliga where they lost to Pachuca in the title match. The following year they hosted the inaugural Pan-Pacific Championship, winning the third place match against Sydney FC (Australia). In 2009, they returned to the MLS Cup, losing to Real Salt Lake and again hosted the Pan-Pacific Championsip, losing to Suwon Bluewings (South Korea). And of course there’s the Interliga for 2010.
In 2005, Chivas became the city’s second MLS team, and immediately set up shop as a tenant at Home Depot Stadium. Chivas was owned by the Mexican team Chivas Guadalajara, and their initial focus would be on promoting Mexican players. This concept never took hold, and the team generally went on to play second fiddle to the more successful Galaxy, although they did have an impressive second season, and have rewarded the fans with generally competent play.
As the end of the first decade of the 21st century approached, the region saw an increase in new teams at the lower divisions. The Southern California Seahorses (launched 2001) were finishing their first decade in the USL’s amateur PDL and were joined by the L. A. Storm in 2006, while the Socal Fusion began play in the rising National Premier Soccer League, and won their championship a year later. The Storm only lasted two seasons, but in 2008, the Legends fielded teams in both the PDL and the W-League, while the WPSL added the short-lived L. A. Rampage, followed in 2009 by the more successful Socal Rush. College soccer was good to the region in 2008, with UCLA women winning their fourth consecutive Pac-10 title (and 6th in 8 years), and making a trip to the NCAA finals. They were joined as conference champions by the men’s team, and by the women at Long Beach State (Big West), and Cal State Lutheran (SCIC). 2009 saw Cal State Dominguez Hills fall to Grand Prairie State in the NCAA Div. 2 women’s final.
At the amateur level, the Golden West League (formerly the legendary Greater Los Angeles League) succumbed around 2005 when its long time owner (a long time major FIFA referee) passed away. The league folded, but a nucleus of major clubs (including the LASC, Croatia and LA United) moved on to the L. A. Municiapl League. Around the same time, the California State Soccer Association had severe organizational problems, and it was shut down, with Cal South (founded in 1974), taking over all state operations for the entire state.
Women’s pro soccer finally arrived in Los Angeles in 2009 with the Sol, a charter Women’s Professional Soccer franchise, and the third team to crowd Home depot Stadium’s schedule. Headed by Brazilian superstar Marta, as well as National team stalwarts Shannon Boxx and Stephanie Cox, the Sol drew 14,000 to the WPS’s inaugural match at Carson, defeating the Washington Freedom 2-0. They would go on to reach the WPS Final, falling to Sky Blue F. C. of New York 1-0. Unfortunately their success was short-lived, as financial problems caused the team to fold shortly after winning the title. Combining this with the Galaxcy’s losses in MLS Cup ’09 and the Pan-Pacific Championship, this was possibly the first time that three major championships in a sport were played (and lost) by teams from the same city.
The Southern California Soccer Association (Cal South) now oversees more than 230 adult amateur leagues with over 2,000 teams and 160,000 active players. One of those clubs is the legendary Los Angeles Kickers, still active as Los Angeles Soccer Club-Palonia United in the Los Angeles Municipal League (Super Metro Division), where they won league titles in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Only a few of the other old time clubs are still active, including L. A Croatia, and Los Angeles United (formerly United Arentinian) who play along with LASC-Palonia in the Municipal League, as well as L. A. Maccabee and L. A. Hungarian who field old-timer teams. The only other older leagues still active are the California Soccer League and the Pacific Coast Soccer league who both have primarily Latino teams. But a plethora of new amateur, recreational and youth leagues make southern California the largest hotbed of amateur soccer in the country.
By this time, Los Angeles was probably the largest hotbed of soccer in the nation with a burgeoning youth scene, several prominent youth clubs in national super-leagues & academies, two successful pro teams, several college powerhouses, the nation’s most scheduled venue for international tournaments, and several prominent residents on prominent overseas teams and the national teams. With MLS’s Galaxy and Chivas USA, the PDL’s Legends, Seahorses and Riverside County Elite, the NPSL Socal Fusion, the WPSL Legends and Rush, and the W-League’s Legends, not to mention the numerous youth clubs regularly winning national titles at various age groups, the growth of the game in Los Angeles has been a phenomenal story of large-scale growth from humble beginnings.