The San Francisco Olympic Club men’s soccer team. (Courtesy / SF Olympic Club)

The San Francisco Olympic Club men’s soccer team. (Courtesy / SF Olympic Club)

Olympic Club, led by former pros, qualifies for U.S. Open Cup

SF Olympic Club men’s soccer team claims one of 12 bids for national knockout tournament

The San Francisco Glens of USL League Two are proud to partner with the Examiner in covering local soccer.

The Olympic Club is one of the oldest athletic clubs in the United States, so it’s fitting that its men’s soccer team appear in the country’s longest running national competition.

On the strength of goals from former pros Matt Fondy, Bryan Burke and Javier Ayala-Hil, the Olympians earned a berth in the 2020 U.S. Open Cup for the very first time by defeating fellow amateur side Azteca FC 3-1 in Aurora, Colo. on Saturday night.

“We knew we were going to face some challenges with the altitude and the weather, but we have a lot of guys who have experience playing at a high level, so we felt pretty prepared,” said Ayala-Hil.

Established in 1914, the Open Cup is America’s answer to England’s Football Association (FA) Cup, a national knockout tournament renowned for allowing both the biggest professional clubs like Manchester United and non-league semipro teams alike the opportunity to compete for the trophy.

Stateside, while Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs like the San Jose Earthquakes and defending champion Atlanta United FC will enter the Open Cup in the later rounds, 12 automatic bids for the first round were up for grabs via the Local Qualifiers route which mostly-amateur teams utilize to make the tournament.

The San Francisco-based Olympians captured last season’s local SFSFL crown and breezed through their first two qualifying rounds by a combined 8-2 margin before facing an Azteca FC squad on their home turf in the third and final qualifier.

The Olympic Club raced out to an early advantage thanks to a fifth-minute goal by Fondy, a Burlingame native who played seven seasons as a pro and 16 MLS games.

Although the hosts would equalize with a penalty kick early in the second half, the deadlock was short-lived. Burke — who starred at the University of San Francisco and later played on several pro clubs, including the now-defunct San Francisco Deltas’ NASL champion side — netted in the 63rd minute to put the Olympians back on top.

They would nurse the narrow lead until four minutes to go. Ayala-Hil, who played in Germany and Puerto Rico during his career and spent the last two seasons as head coach of the USL League Two’s San Francisco Glens, scored an insurance goal to put the game away.

“I had a couple chances I probably should’ve put away, but it all worked out in the end to give us the cushion we needed,” said Ayala-Hil, who dedicated his goal to his two-month-old daughter, Nina Paloma.

Now, the historic Olympic Club, founded in 1860, will have a chance to compete for the Lamar Hunt Trophy against the likes of Chris Wondolowski and the Quakes, or Carlos Vela and LAFC, if they can get far enough. The U.S. Open Cup first round is slated for next May and will be streamed live on ESPN+.

“It’s a great feeling,” Ayala-Hil said. “The entire team is excited to play in such a prestigious tournament. We have great chemistry. We just enjoy being on the field again. We’re capable of competing against semipro and pro teams, with anyone.”

Ryan Maquiñana is the Director of Communications for the San Francisco Glens.

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