On May 26, our Peña hosted and celebrated the third straight Champions League Final victory at Big Wang’s in downtown LA. Smiles and hugs filled the bar between Members, families, and friends. However, the smiles and cheers were then replaced with serious discussions and voting as it was our annual General Meeting only eight days later on June 3rd. This is a custom stemming from our Bylaws which the Board and Membership meet to discuss and vote on a range of topics related to the past season’s activities, financial accounts, and future plans. After four hours, the meeting adjourned with optimism for the upcoming season. Before leaving, I asked our Chairman Carlos Hernandez if there was anything I could do for the Peña. His response was, “Ask Juventus SoCal about their interest in playing a pick-up game.”
Since their founding in 2011, Juventus FC Southern California Fan Club (Juve SoCal) has gathered to support and celebrated a Serie A title every season. During the days of serving the Peña as Chairman, I became close friends with their Founder Farhad Sadikhov and current President Saeed Mizoon. Earlier this past spring, the concept was loosely floated about organizing a pick-up game between the two clubs, but with no actual date in mind. The Board had delegated this responsibility to me, and I immediately sprung into action.
After contacting Saeed about this proposal in late June, he happily agreed and began to organize his Members. By July 4, Juve SoCal had their team with an appointed coach. After the holiday, our Board informed the Peña Members about the proposed pick-up game and asked for volunteers to play. One week later, La Peña Madridista Sur de California team was compiled. The players immediately nominated me as their coach, to which I agreed with honor. Now that both clubs had the teams confirmed, the final step was to choose a date and venue.
Both sides understood the best time to hold this game was after the World Cup ended and before the new season began in mid-August. After reviewing the calendar, the mutually agreed date was to be Saturday August 11, which was one week before both La Liga and Serie A began their seasons. Since I never played nor knew of an indoor soccer complex, I reached out to a close friend Kristian Garcia from LAFC’s Black Army 1850 Club, who recommended Intaktics Soccer in Harbor City. I asked him to inquire on our behalf, and after a couple of exchanges, a deal was reached to reserve the field for two hours (3pm-5pm) with a referee included. Once I relayed to each Club what their contribution would be, the payments from players came flying in. The stage was set for an epic pick-up game, which was proudly dubbed the inaugural SoCal Supercup!
Two weeks before the game, we held a closed-door training session. The team met at Woodland Hills where we would meet for the first time. The complex was in perfect condition and there were banners of memorable moments in history hanging on the walls, such as Zidane’s volley goal from 2002. After everyone exchanged greetings and changed into their kits, it was all business for 90 minutes. We ran offensive and defensive drills, discussed the game day field dimensions, duration of time, and substitution pattern. The players began to understand each other and where they could fit on the field. I watched with careful eyes and a whistle in my mouth. Once it ended, we took a team photo and sent it to Juve SoCal to politely remind them to get ready for August 11!
When the day arrived, there was a lot of enthusiasm not only from Members but also families and friends. Everyone arrived promptly at 2:30 p.m. and patiently waited outside in the blazing 90-degree sun for the big door to open. Juve SoCal’s coach Travis Gallardo and I joked beforehand as to who would dress better. To our amazement, we both showed up wearing dark suits, which looked spectacular for photos but felt excruciating in the sauna-like atmosphere.
Once we were let in, fans took their bench seats, players changed, and the anticipation skyrocketed. The venue manager Alan Chavarria spoke to me and Travis about the rules of indoor, location of team benches, and waited for both teams to signal readiness.
Before kickoff, both teams agreed to take photos as a group, individual teams, both captains, and both coaches.
After this I called over the team to give one final pregame chat. We went over the starting lineup, strategy, and substitution pattern. The looks of determination and passion from each player’s face was thrilling. After I screamed, “UNO, DOS, TRES...”, the team followed with a proud shriek of “MADRID!”. The whistle blew and the Supercup was on!
The first half belonged to Juve SoCal. Their Vice President and starting forward Matteo Rubbinato scored early and often as their Catenaccio defense stifled our passing offense. Despite the constant offensive movement with our 3-1 formation, our team was not prepared for the counter attacks up the middle. By the end of the first half, Juve SoCal was up 8-6.
Once the third quarter progressed, the intensity of play began to rise. Legs were intentionally being stuck out. Feet were getting stepped on. Bickering between opponents increased. Halfway through the quarter, Travis walked over to me and said, “I think we both should calm our teams down. This is getting a little too heated.” I agreed and that is what we did once the quarter ended. Juve SoCal was up 10-8 and 20 minutes away from the victory.
During the last quarter break, I called the entire team for one final huddle chat. It was made very clear that we had to press higher to force them to turn the ball over as well as shoot on goal once crossing half field. We ended with a unified and heartfelt “MADRID” scream. The fans knew this was almost the end and they stood up to cheer louder in support. As the quarter progressed, the high press worked. Juve SoCal tried to pass their way up and kept turning the ball over. This gave our wingers the opportunity to catch them off and shoot. Our central midfielder Marlon Lopez surprised everyone with two booming shots from the left side to tie the game at 10. With ten minutes to go, our left winger Moises Altamirano pressured the goalkeeper who tried to play the ball with his feet, stole the ball and knocked it in to give our Peña the lead at 11-10.
After a quick response by Juve SoCal to tie the game up at 11, there were only five minutes left which I informed the team in Spanish. The intensity for every loose ball and missed shot was extraordinary. It felt like a Champions League Final. Looking over at the Juve SoCal sideline, it seemed that fatigue had taken over while our players looked emboldened to push for the winner. With two minutes to go, Juve SoCal tried to move the ball up. Our right winger Mynor Maldonado intercepted the ball, which holding midfielder Roberto Garcia took up the right flank. Since there was daylight he took the shot, which was saved by the right foot of Juve SoCal’s goalkeeper. Fortunately, Moises was at the right place and right time to slip it to the back of the net for the game winner. The Peña supporters and fellow teammates jumped in euphoria.
As the final moments ticked away, Juve SoCal sent everyone up, including the goalkeeper to try to tie. My orders were to maintain the wall of 3 in front of the goal with only Moises waiting at center midfield for any possible counter attack opportunity. The tension rose with every blocked shot or intercepted forward pass. After a handful of shots off target, Alan Chavarria blew the final whistle and La Peña Madridista Sur de California pulled off a remontada to win the inaugural SoCal Supercup 12-11!
After the initial celebration, our Chairman Carlos urged us to applaud Juve SoCal for the tremendous effort and great sportsmanship, which we and our supporters did. Of course the first Juve SoCal player to come and congratulate us was their President Saeed and soon a line of congratulatory hi-fives formed similar to what occurs after AYSO games. By the time all players had changed, everyone headed over to a nearby cantina for a postgame happy hour celebration. Once everyone arrived and sat down, Members from both Clubs were chatting about the recently played World Cup and the upcoming season.
What started as a simple idea turned into a groundbreaking event where both regional supporters’ clubs came together to not only inaugurate the new season, but also celebrate our sixth anniversary which was August 6. Both teams and fans enjoyed this special event and were proposing to meet again within this upcoming season.
Despite the fact that the clubs support two teams from different leagues, the unified passion everyone shares is soccer. Everyone said goodbye and wished each other a wonderful season. Only time will tell if the two worlds will collide in Champions League. Until next time, La Peña Madridista Sur de California holds the bragging rights to the region as Superchampions! ¡Hala Madrid y nada más!
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