The oldest soccer league in the United States is entering its 118th postseason, but the circumstances that decided the fourth and final playoff berth will be discussed and debated in local circles for quite some time.
The San Francisco Soccer Football League, or SFSFL for short, has been operating on The City’s fields since 1902 — 11 years before the establishment of the U.S. Soccer Federation. An amateur league from its inception, the SFSFL follows a traditional format of promotion and relegation among its three divisions. In other words, teams are rewarded or punished for their performance by either elevation to the next highest division or demotion to the next lowest one.
This season’s top tier, the Premier Division, just witnessed its wildest regular-season finish in league history. The league’s playoff format allows for the top four teams in the regular season to duke it out in the postseason. The San Francisco Glens — whose second team competes in the SFSFL — and SF Battery both entered the finale even in the standings for fourth place. The former possessed the tiebreaker on overall goal differential throughout the campaign by only one goal.
Playing at Boxer Stadium prior to Battery’s game against Mezcala SC last Saturday, the Glens not only needed to beat the SF Italian Athletic Club, but by a large margin to put the pressure on their competitors.
“We knew we needed to score a lot of goals,” said Glens midfielder Sebastian Das. “That was obvious from the beginning and [head coach] Bill [Chu] let us know about it throughout the game.”
The Glens did not disappoint, scoring eight goals to take a commanding 8-0 lead in the second half—the last two coming from Jose Mendoza and C.J. Brill. However, in the closing minutes, SFIAC slipped two of their own into the back of the net, shortening the final margin to 8-2.
“After we gave up those last two goals, I wondered if that would come back to hurt us, but I mean, we were up by seven goals,” said the Glens’ Daniel Connolly.
Adding the prior one-goal advantage heading into the contest, the Glens now held a seemingly insurmountable seven-goal lead in the standings before Battery even took the field. Even if Battery somehow ended up even in the standings by winning by seven goals, the Glens would still advance because they also held the next tiebreaker — overall goals scored.
Mezcala, Battery’s opponent, had already clinched the third seed, and responded by showing up with just nine players — two short of a full 11.
The SFSFL rules state that a team can compete shorthanded but with no more than seven players. In other words, there would be no forfeit—an automatic 3-0 win for Battery that would have handed the Glens the playoff spot. Despite the lopsided lineups, the game would proceed.
Battery raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first half. Compounding matters for Mezcala, goalkeeper William Nin — a field player who was forced into netminding duties — separated his shoulder midway through the first 45 minutes. Now Mezcala was reduced to defending with eight men with over 60 minutes left on the clock.
Battery found holes in the fatigued defense to score five more times with 20 minutes left. However, the undermanned Mezcala octet refused to quit. In fact, the underdogs’ left side, led by Kareem Lacayo and Pat Balderramos, effectively shut down multiple advances to keep the margin from growing.
The valiant performance was bound for the SFSFL history books. With just one minute and stoppage time left on the clock, the scoreboard still read 7-0 — a margin that would have seen the Glens advance to the playoffs.
Then, Battery found space in the box with some pinpoint passing and hammered home the playoff-clinching goal in the waning seconds. They will now face defending champion Olympic Club in the semifinals on Sept. 8, while Mezcala takes on SF Viking SC. Both games will take place at Boxer Stadium.
“It’s frustrating,” said Chu. “We were good enough to make the playoffs, and we won’t get that chance because of how it all played out. I just feel for our players. You’re never guaranteed to have the same group next year, and they worked so hard to get to that point. To have it taken away like that just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I’m just so proud of them though on the season they had.”
SF Mayor’s Cup Finals set for Beach Chalet and Crocker-Amazon on Monday
The inaugural San Francisco Mayor’s Cup tournament is in full swing. Hosted by the SF Glens and featuring over 100 teams from California, Nevada, and Utah, one of the biggest youth soccer tournaments will come to a close on Monday.
Multiple brackets with boys’ and girls’ teams from the Under-9 to the Under-19 divisions will culminate in tomorrow’s finals, which will take place at Beach Chalet and Crocker-Amazon. Check gotsoccer.com for all the results.