The first round of the US Open Cup will take place on May 10th with multiple matches pitting top amateur soccer clubs from around the country against each other. The only amateur side that has previously won this competition that will be participating in this year’s first round is El Farolito. A San Francisco-based amateur soccer club, El Farolito won the historic US Open Cup in 1993 when at the time they were called Club Deportivo Mexico and the Cup was known as the National Challenge Cup.
The Club was founded by Salvador Lopez, the owner of Taqueria El Farolito, one of the most famous Mexican food spots in San Francisco if not all of California. With the prime location directly outside of the 24th Street/Mission BART Stop, El Farolito is distinguished for being one of the originators of the San Francisco Mission-style burrito. Just next door to the restaurant is El Farolito Bar where I was able to meet with Head Coach, General Manager, do-everything-for-the-Club, Santiago Lopez, to talk about the history of the Club and the upcoming tournament. The bar is where all of the Club’s trophies and memorabilia are kept. Even the 1993 Open Cup trophy sits on a shelf at the bar.
(Just a few of the SFSFL trophies displayed at the El Farolito Bar)
Since its founding in 1985, the Club has played in the historic San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL). Salvador Lopez founded the Club because he had “always been a fan of soccer and wanting to compete,” said Head Coach Santiago Lopez. They won consecutive promotions immediately to the SFSFL Premier Division, the top tier of the League. The SFSFL is one of the oldest soccer leagues in the United States and even the World, playing league matches in the heart of SF since 1902. “It doesn’t matter who it is, every team is going to show up and play hard,” said Santiago. The League features its own 3-tiered promotion-relegation as well as some of the same clubs that have played in the League since the 1910s. The Olympic Club is the oldest current club in the SFSFL, having joined the League in 1916. It is perhaps El Farolito’s biggest current rivals. “They have so much experience. The players are so committed to the Club, the tradition, that the whole Club is amazing. Everything that the Olympic Club represents is prestige and tradition,” said the El Farolito Head Coach. The Olympic Club is the defending SFSFL champion, having topped El Farolito who finished 2nd last year in the League.
El Farolito is not the only club from the SFSFL to have won the US Open Cup. The League was the home of two-time Open Cup champions in 1985 and 1994, the San Francisco Greek-American Athletic Club. The San Francisco Italian Athletic Club won in 1976. Following the 1985 win for the Greek-Americans, their head coach, Lothar Osander, became the head coach of the US National Team, a position he held from 1986-1988. He also won the Cup with them in 1994. This means that in 1993 and 1994, the SFSFL won back-to-back Open Cups. This followed the San Jose Oaks win in 1992, making the Bay Area one of the most dominant soccer hubs in the US pre-MLS era. Santiago Lopez felt that, “The 90’s was the most amazing decade for Bay Area soccer. You had the Greek-Americans, you had El Farolito, you had the San Francisco Seals.”
The 1993 El Farolito Open Cup run included some big wins over top amateur sides of the day. They beat the defending Open Cup champions, the San Jose Oaks, in regional qualifying with a 1-0 win. They then won their regional final against Exiles SC. In the semifinals, they beat the Milwaukee Bavarians, a club that remains active today in the Premier League of America, and is a 4-time National Amateur Cup winner. In the match with the Bavarians, El Farolito was reduced to 9 men, but managed to force the game to overtime. Jose Angulo scored the lone goal for El Farolito in regulation, and then went on to score twice more in overtime to complete his hat trick and send El Farolito to the final.
(Not the 1993 Open Cup final picture, but most of the El Farolito team members at Boxer Stadium in 1993 before a SFSFL match.)
They then were pitted against the amateur power, the United German-Hungarians, in the final Cup match at Kuntz Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. The match was on national television on a tape delay. The United German-Hungarians were a club founded in 1910 that went into the 1993 Open Cup final with more history and experience than El Farolito. While El Farolito was able to reach the 1991 National Amateur Cup final, the German-Hungarians had already been to four Amateur Cup finals, including winning in 1965. They also appeared in the Open Cup final in 1977, a game in which they lost to 5-time Cup winners, Maccabi Los Angeles.
There was quite a number of talented players in the 1993 Open Cup squad for El Farolito. First there was striker Jose Angulo, a Columbian international. He was considered the heartbeat of the team. His biggest contribution was his hat trick in the semifinals. In addition, the team had two different multiple goal scorers in the final. Both Jose Cid Del Prado and finals MVP Elias Fonseca found the back of the net twice that day as El Farolito won 5-0.
The Open Cup win became the true establishment of the Club’s winning tradition. They also won the SFSFL that year to complete the double and establish themselves as a force within the League. The Club did hit some hard times about 7 years ago when they found themselves on the verge of relegation. That is when current Head Coach Santiago Lopez took over. It was bad enough that in his first game in charge he had to play himself. However, he was able to salvage a 4th place finish in what would be his lowest finish in the League as coach to date. El Farolito last won the League in 2015 under Coach Lopez.
To qualify for this year’s Open Cup 1st round, El Farolito thought they would have to win 4-5 games in qualifying rounds. However, it turned out to be only 2 matches. In the 1st qualifying round back on September 17th, El Farolito topped the Davis Legacy at home, scoring twice within 10 minutes before holding on for a 2-1 victory. In the 2nd qualifying round, they traveled to Lake Forest, California to face Strikers FC South Coast. El Farolito saw two red cards go against them in the match within 30 minutes, reminiscent of the 1993 semifinal. However, El Farolito took a 2-0 lead while reduced to 9 men, before winning the match 2-1 to reach the 1st round proper of the Cup. “We just played 2 lines of 4” to see the game out, said the Head Coach. They currently sit on top of the SFSFL table on goal differential through 6 games.
One of their top players on the Open Cup roster from last season, Dylan Autran, recently signed a pro contract in the Finnish 2nd tier, so he will be unavailable for this match. Some of the top players to look out for in the upcoming match begin with the most local product, Emanuel Caldera. Caldera was born in Nicaragua but grew up in the San Francisco Mission District just a few blocks from the El Farolito Restaurant. The current captain for the Club is the goalkeeper, Jorge Rosales. He is from Redwood City, California. The most versatile player is Alex Lopez. Head Coach Santiago Lopez says that he can play anywhere on the field, including at the back or as a winger. “You can put him at a 90 thousand seat stadium or at Boxer Stadium and you’re going to get the same whole hearted attitude.” One last player of note is Gabe Silveira, a player who is currently playing for El Farolito and is on their roster for the current season, but last year played for the Burlingame Dragons. “He still doesn’t know if he’s going to play with the Dragons against us,” said Santiago at the time of this interview. Since he hasn’t played for either side yet in this year’s Cup, he would be eligible to play for either team.
El Farolito will welcome local PDL side and San Jose Earthquakes affiliate, the Burlingame Dragons, to their home, historic Boxer Stadium. Boxer Stadium is home to most SFSFL matches and is named after former SFSFL president, Matthew Boxer. The stadium is located just off of the Balboa Bart Stop in San Francisco. “It’s a tough field,” said Santiago, when I asked if he felt Boxer would give them a home field advantage. “No definitely not. You can play any field and anything can go wrong. It can go bad. Soccer has to do with a little bit of luck. Preparation will increase the luck, but at the end of the day anything can happen.”
Santiago said that he likes the draw with the Burlingame Dragons, “Because it’s going to be entertaining. Both clubs don’t know each other.” He went on to say, “We have more games in preparation than them, but there are no games that we can go to and watch them play and scout them.” However, he did recognize what Burlingame represents. “We know the Dragons are going to be an extremely tough team, because they know how to play soccer. Maybe they haven’t worked together, but truly they have quality players. The Dragons are doing something extremely right and they are sending players to MLS, defenders that are debuting and scoring in their first MLS game. That’s amazing. We know we are up against a tough machine.” He then went on to talk about his opposing Head Coach in this match for the Dragons, the newly hired former MLS goalie, Joe Cannon. “Goal keepers to me are extremely good readers of the game. I know he’s well prepared, definitely more prepared than me, no doubt.”
When asked about potentially playing the Deltas, Santiago said, “We can’t think about that game right now. I do think about it because of the possibilities and what might be the test ahead of us, but you can’t. First is the Dragons, and I think they are the same level as the Deltas.” He has great respect for the new San Francisco pro side as well. “There’s support from the City, there’s a great coaching staff, they are doing things extremely right and that reflects on the team. A lot of the players you can tell they work their a** off.” He has really enjoyed watching the Deltas so far this season. “Number 10 (Kyle Bekker) is very active. I think he is the best one there. He’s extremely good, and the left back (Kenny Teijsse) doesn’t get the ball enough. I really don’t know why he doesn’t get the ball. They play through the right side a lot.” He went on to add that “Jackson is super quick and #25 (Danny Cruz) and #9 (Hienemann) all work so hard” up front. He also mentioned that he “like(s) having the Deltas in town.”
We then discussed what he felt were the expectations and goals for El Farolito in the Open Cup this year. “We expect the players to give 100%, because they know the commitment that the Club has with them.” He went on to say that the pressure is on them, because “we are up against teams that know the history of the Club, so we expect them to work hard and represent the franchise and what it is. You know, we are not a big Club, 1983 is not a long time. There are clubs in our League that have way longer history than us.” As for El Farolito going forward, “My dream would be to put El Farolito back onto the national stage, like they were once before in the 90’s, and have the team acknowledged [by other teams] like f*** we are up against El Farolito. We are up against lions. We are up against a strong team.”
El Farolito is really what the US Open Cup is all about in my opinion, a chance to showcase a historic club from a historic league in the same competition with the top professional soccer sides of this generation. This is why this Cup exists. It’s a chance for us to talk about some of the greatest amateur soccer sides in US soccer history that might otherwise be forgotten nationally, like El Farolito. With the match kicking off at 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, because Boxer Stadium doesn’t have lights, it will feel like an old time Cup event. However, because these are amateur players, they all work other jobs or go to school outside of soccer. “We already told everybody you better call in sick or something or say you’re on vacation so you can show up,” Santiago told his players. These types of matches are what makes the Cup so special.