Bettendorf, IA (August 6, 2023) – For the first time in nearly three decades, the USASA National Amateur Cup trophy is heading out west.
SC MesoAmerica won the 2023 USASA National Amateur Cup, 2-1, over Newtown Pride FC on Saturday night in Bettendorf, Iowa. The game completed a two-day tournament at the TBK Bank Complex with Meso winning its first-ever national title. By lifting the trophy, MesoAmerica becomes the first official entry into the 2024 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The Los Angeles, Calif. side is the fifth team to win the title since US Soccer began inviting the champion of the United States Adult Soccer Association’s top tournament to the following year’s Open Cup in 2018. Meso is also the first western team (Region IV) to win a USASA national tournament since the Denver Kickers won the 1995 Amateur Cup.
(Note: The team is also known by “MesoAmerica FC” and “MesoAmerica-San Carlos FC”)
Head coach Jimmy Pineda was overwhelmed following the win. It has been a long road not just from February’s state cup win, which put them in the regional final, but from a third place finish in the 2019 national tournament.
“We’ve been preparing for this for months, and months, and months since we won the state cup,” Pineda said. “I was thinking we have to go all the way to the end. We’ve been preparing, watching players. Trying to make a family, make a group that would last until the final.”
For Newtown Pride the result ends a stellar year for the club. The Connecticut side won the regional amateur cup, state-level league, and The Soccer Tournament (TST) for one million dollars. However they could not win their second National Amateur Cup after going all the way in 2019.
Prior to Saturday, the four amateur champions of the USASA regions descended on Iowa to compete in the national semifinals. Meso reached this point by winning the 2023 Cal South Adult State Cup in February. The team then beat National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side Napa Valley 1839 FC, 2-0, in the Region IV final last month. Striker German Alfaro said in a postgame interview that his group knew how deep the competition was.
“All these teams are really good (and) organized,” Alfaro said. “We had to match their momentum, their (physicality) even more. It took a lot of us and everyone was in the same symphony. The game shows how prepared (we were).”
The last time MesoAmerica reached the nationals in 2019 the team’s title hopes were crushed by that year’s Region III champion Horizon FC (Texas). In a bit of revenge, the Region IV representatives beat Region III champions Tobacco Road FC (North Carolina), 2-1, on Friday night.
Former Chilean professional player and youth national team player Piero Gárate scored in the first half to give Meso the lead. Bryan Medina doubled the advantage in what would be the game-winning goal before halftime. Tobacco Road’s offense struggled to adjust after scoring over 30 goals in the regional tournament back in Plano, Texas. Eric Chavez cut into the deficit but Tobacco was unable to find an equalizer.
One field over, Newtown Pride FC knocked off two-time national champion RWB Adria (Illinois), 2-1 after extra time, in the night’s other semifinal match. In a 2019 national semifinal rematch Newtown was pushed to the brink by the Croatian powerhouse. Early in the second half, a pull down in the Newtown box sent Milos Vucic to the spot. He converted in the 49th minute to put RWB up, 1-0. Momentum swung back to the Pride, who equalized in the 71st minute. A free kick found Felipe Dutra in the box, where he sent a right footed shot into the netting.
The game entered extra time still tied 1-1. Newtown finally capitalized late in the second half when Gabriel Ganzer made a run on net. A long cross near the right post found him between the goalkeeper. He knocked in his eighth goal of the tournament to win the game.
The National Amateur Cup Final on Saturday was the first meeting ever between MesoAmerica and Newtown. A battle of opposites, with Meso trying to make it to the national spotlight while Newtown tried to return after fate and COVID robbed them of so much. Back in 2019, Newtown became the second club to qualify for the Open Cup as Amateur Cup champions. However, the pandemic eventually cancelled the 2020 tournament, plus the 2021 tournament which the Pride won a random draw to qualify for.
In a wild opening 180 seconds, both teams found the back of the net. After Newtown kicked off, MesoAmerica immediately began pressing them in their own end. A backpass hit off a Pride defender and fell at the feet of Alfaro. He passed up to Bryan Medina on a run, onside but past the backline in the box. Newtown keeper Ryan Langkafel was too late in jumping on the ball and Medina slotted the shot in. His second goal in as many days put his team ahead, 1-0, in the first minute.
After nearly a minute of resetting, Newtown kicked off again. An attack formulated up the right side with a cross going into Meso’s box. Ganzer headed the shot on target, low and to the left, but a diving save by keeper Jesus Dautt kept it out. Quick reflexes by Erik Lorent on the rebound were enough to punch in the loose ball and make it 1-1.
The half ended with both teams getting chances but failing to score, leaving the match deadlocked.
Much like the first half, the second 45 minutes heated up quickly. After kicking off, MesoAmerica prodded the rested Newtown defense. Moises Vazquez launched a long pass to Alfaro on the left side of the box with the forward clear of any defenders. His left footed strike struck off keeper Langkafel and bounced into the net to make it 2-1.
This was Alfaro’s fourth time playing in the national finals. A 2018 semifinals appearance with San Nicolas FC, a third place finish with Meso in 2019, and a runner-up performance in 2021 with Cal FC all led the striker up to this point.
“It’s everything for me. It’s my fourth one so they had to give it to me,” Alfaro joked after the game. “ I’m glad we were able to do it today and very happy with the team’s effort. And everyone who supports us off the pitch. I’m very happy”
Newtown’s offense tried to find an equalizer but the Pride seemed exhausted from the previous day’s 120 minute match. Yellow cards flew in both directions before Tavoy Morgan, a goal scorer from 2019’s title game, was sent off. An attack up the right side saw Morgan pass the ball off before cutting in. He elbowed a Meso player in the head while passing him, earning a second yellow and a send off in the 90th minute.
Substitute Khalid Rose was also shown a second yellow in the 90+13th minute of stoppage for a hard foul during a MesoAmerica attack.
For their win, MesoAmerica wins $8,000 in prize money along with the Open Cup berth and trophy. Newtown Pride takes home $7,000 as the runner-up. Both Tobacco Road and RWB Adria were awarded $3,500 each for reaching the national semifinals.
Pineda knows his team is bound for the Open Cup next year and says Saturday’s win is “the best feeling” he’s ever had.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” the coach said. “We’ve been (practicing) for months and preparing like I said before. They act like a real family. They put all they have, all their power, all their energy to make this happen.”